Chester Road welcomes Macclesfield's first net zero carbon Victorian home

By Alex Greensmith

24th Mar 2022 | Local News

Macclesfield will soon have its first 'net zero carbon' Victorian house.

That is according to claims from Macclesfield homeowner and architect Cathy Mocke, and retrofit builder/engineer, Richard Marlow.

Their property on Chester Road - built around 1880 as the Butcher's Arms public house - was empty and in a state of disrepair when sold at auction in 2020 to local residents Cathy Mocke and husband Simon Bushell.

Now, it's being completely refurbished to become a low energy six bedroom house, which is so well insulated that it only needs 20% of what would be the normal space heating demand for a property of that size.

Most of the energy will come from solar panels and an air source heat pump, but also from energy generated within the building itself by its occupants, appliances and equipment.

The house will use no fossil fuels and overall running costs will be a third of what they would have been after a standard refurbishment.

That's a saving almost five tonnes of carbon emissions per year, equivalent to planting approximately 2500 trees a year. As Cathy cheerily proclaimed: "the building will run on air, sun and people!"

Cathy and Simon who live in Macclesfield have worked in building design and construction for over 25 years, they intend to rent the building to tenants.

"We are really excited to have the opportunity to do our bit to reduce our carbon emissions through this project whilst also creating a comfortable, healthy home for our tenants," she said.

"This retrofit will future proof the building for many more years to come ensuring its legacy as a home and as an integral part of the townscape."

As an architect working internationally and with a passion for sustainability, Cathy Mocke had always intended to make the building as energy efficient as possible. The project was delayed during the pandemic, but this proved to be serendipitous, as she met Macclesfield-based low energy experts and builders, Richard Marlow and David Hobson, who last year were just launching their new business Ariva Renewables Limited.

Tackling the carbon footprint of an existing building - 'retrofitting' as it is known - is much more complicated than building new and can be an obstacle even to those with experience.

Cathy and Simon joined forces with Richard and David to develop an all-inclusive, low energy 'retrofit strategy' for the building which they hope will be a model for other older and period properties in Macclesfield and beyond.

"It was a challenge," said Richard Marlow.

"But we had the skills and worked out how to do it affordably but to highest standards. [It is] Great that it'll be so cheap to heat and comfortable to live in.

"We've shown what its possible to achieve even in a draughty old Victorian property. It's rare to be given the opportunity to carry out such a thorough retrofit on a building of this type."

The team have tracked and recording the challenges and lessons learnt along the way, with the intention of applying these to future projects and to be able to inform others who may want to carry out similar projects.

The team are so pleased with the results they hung a banner outside the property, opening a discourse and challenging whether anyone knows of a more energy efficient 19th Century house in Macclesfield.

Macclesfield is known for these character properties, and this project proves they can be preserved while being future-proofed as well.

The Macclesfield coalition hope their project will encourage other homeowners and landlords to consider a radical retrofit of their properties.

Whist the initial overall costs of a low energy retrofit are higher than a standard conversion, Cathy is adamant it is the right decision and money well spent.

She has calculated that the additional investment will be recovered within seven-to-eight years, and they will continue to benefit from reduced running costs, as well as the obvious reduced impact on the environment.

"The need to reduce our use and reliance on fossil fuels is critical to limit increasing average temperatures across the globe," said Cathy.

"Residential properties account for around 20% of all carbon emissions and the opportunity to limit climate change by retrofitting poorly performing buildings is paramount."

The team reduced the energy demand of the building with thermally efficient doors, windows, insulation and airtightness, which exceeds the current building regulations.

As a result of improving the fabric of the building and conserving energy within the building, the energy needed to heat the space is about 80% lower than if the retrofitting had been done to current building regulation standards.

The Macclesfield partnership estimate it is equivalent heating the entire 6 bedroom building with only two standard sized radiators!

Energy is conserved within the building by using a mechanical ventilation system with heat recovery (MVHR) so that heat generated in bathrooms, the kitchen, by equipment, appliances and even people is captured through a heat exchanger and re-used.

The MVHR system also maintains an exceptionally healthy air quality within the building as it filters out allergens and pollutants and kills bacteria and viruses.

The externally located air source heat pump (ASHP) provides additional heat energy to the fresh air supply from the MVHR unit, (already part heated by the recovered heat from the building) to keep the rooms at a comfortable temperature.

In summer months the ASHP can switch to cooling mode to counteract heat gains from the sun.

The ASHP also provides hot water for the bathrooms and kitchen. A low profile 5.6kW solar photovoltaic array on the roof provides additional electrical supply to power the entire system.

Cathy added: "We won't be completely off-grid all year round but very close to it".

The project's trades, suppliers, labour and materials are locally based and locally sourced wherever possible.

One of the challenges of low carbon, low energy retrofits is the lack of knowledge and skills in the building industry and supply chain.

Macclesfield Builder and renewables expert, Richard Marlow, has been working on low energy building design and implementation for over 20 years, but building team he's put together are all relatively new to low energy retrofit.

He took the decision to use the project as an opportunity to train the team in the building methodologies and good practice associated with low energy residential retrofits.

The intention is that Ariva Renewables will have a pool knowledgeable and experienced workers to call on for future projects, as well as helping to up-skill the workforce who can then go out and work on similar projects and train others.

"The value for the team to have the hands-on practical experience of working on a project like this cannot be underestimated," Richard explained.

Throughout the build, Cathy Mocke and Richard Marlow have shared their experiences through environmental group Macctastic Eco Network and other community, building and development related networking groups.

The pair have hosted several guided tours for homeowners, builders and developers to inform, educate and inspire others to consider a low energy approach.

"Our aim has been to explain what we're doing and why, explain the challenges, processes and systems and the impact of each of them on energy demand," Cathy also said.

"We make it clear that people don't have to do everything, but they can do something, and making the right decisions up front can positively impact reduced energy use, even in the short term, whilst future proofing their buildings – and allowing for future add-ones as the technology becomes more available.

"We have had some amazing feedback with several visitors now looking at implementing some of the systems within their own buildings".

Cathy has also presented the scheme at several events for other landlords, developers and investors across the country, and online to take the message further afield. She is hoping to do a talk for Macctastic Eco Network in the near future.

Cathy Mocke and Simon Bushell moved to Macclesfield with their two children in 2015.

Cathy is a qualified, registered Architect and a member of the Royal institute of British Architects (RIBA). Simon is a designer and arts project coordinator.

Together, over the years, they have bought and refurbished several properties for themselves and their family, as well as properties for other end users.

Macclesfield: You can follow Cathy on Instagram.

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