Lessons from an Old House

My husband and I fell in love with an Edwardian house 18 years ago. It was built over 100 years ago – like about 20% of the UK’s housing stock. In fact less that 18% of the UK’s homes were actually built after 1990, so there are a lot of older houses around. Over the last almost 18 years we’ve made a number of improvements – and learned some things along the way. 

Older homes do have character – and unfortunately they also often leak heat! When we first moved in the house was almost all single glazing and very draughty. We knew we needed double glazing but we also wanted to respect the lovely old wooden sash windows and not replace them with plastic. 

The priorities when we moved in however were 1) a functioning cooker 2) a functioning shower and 3) a new boiler as the old one was on its last legs. The new boiler was fitted that first winter, and the amount of fuel we were using immediately started to go down – with it, thankfully, the bills. With the stinky old boiler removed from the downstairs loo, and a new external boiler fitted, we were able to create a new shower room, crossing two items off our moving in list in one go.

The downstairs of the house was all wooden flooring (apart from the kitchen and the new shower room) We loved the idea, it’s easier to clean, more forgiving of pets and muddy wellies and better for an asthma sufferer. The bit we were less keen on was needing two pairs of socks on during winter months!

The floors were worn and had been stained with different varnishes. Restoration for cosmetic purposes also provided us with the opportunity to add insulation. The flooring company took up all the old boards, laid thick insulation below (we opted for a high standard as we only planned to do it once), then refitted them. The boards were sanded, sealed and we opted for the gaps to be filled. That’s done by mixing the wood that’s been sanded off with resin. It changed the look slightly – but that was a price worth paying to lose the extra pair of socks. Again our energy bills dropped significantly.

Along the way, advised by our plumber, we fitted thermostatic radiator valves and a smart heating controller. I’m a bit of a geek and sad though it may seem it pleases me to tweak the temperature of our house through an app on my phone.

It took some time due to the cost but we did eventually manage to achieve double glazing throughout, whilst retaining the wooden sash windows whose character we love. The company we used did a mixture of restoration – where the frames were in good enough condition – and replacement where the years had taken too great a toll.

When we moved in I made thick curtains – interlined in some cases – to cover the large sash windows. Although the biggest improvement to the windows was certainly the double glazing, the curtains played their part – I cannot imagine how much colder it would have been without them! Even now, through winter months, if I’m home at dusk I go around and close the curtains as the light starts to fade. It’s certainly noticeably cooler if we come home late or forget to close the bedroom curtains until bedtime.

We had solar panels installed about 10 years ago and are currently considering battery storage and whether, as technology has moved on a little, we could manage any further panels. 

Is there anything I would do differently? Well we had the kitchen done about 12 years ago. We inherited a hand built wooden kitchen when we bought the house, and although now a bit dated in style it suits the house and is solid as a rock. I played with layouts, added some extra units in a mix and match style, and had the old wooden work tops, which had started to rot around the sink, replaced with granite.

Here there are two things that with hindsight I would do differently. The build ran over budget due to a few unexpected issues (another of the joys of an older house), so we decided against changing the kitchen floor. I do still like the old quarry tiles, but if I were doing it again I would add underfloor heating as that room is still the hardest to heat.

And although I still love the granite worktops I was so desperate to have, a lot has changed in 12 years and I know I could more find more sustainable work tops now. That said, the granite may well outlive me, as once you have it, it’s very tough!

The main thing about buying an old house is being prepared to spend some money on its up keep and – if you can – make improvements. Seeing the amount and cost of energy you use go down significantly is very satisfying.

Think, and plan, before you make changes too. Careful planning can avoid unnecessary waste (and expense) and prevent you making changes you’ll later regret. After all, you don’t want to strip out all that character that drew you to the house in the first place!

If you need help to plan or visualise your project, do give me a call. 

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