The first solar panels in the street

‘Cars slow, dog walkers stop, and curtain twitchers step outside, as solar panels descend upon Ursula’s roof.’

A slightly ‘Sci-fied’ account of solar installation! 

"Ta daa" Ursula and her new solar roof

 I went to Haywards Heath to meet with Ursula (and her little dog Tin Tin) to take a look around her bungalow and find out how the eco-renovation is going three months in…

What changes are you having made to your bungalow?

Insulation, to include: external wall, underfloor, loft and cavity wall insulation. (The idea being the bungalow becomes like a cocoon.)

Solar panels, to include:  roof panels, tubes at the back of the house, and a control system indoors.

Underfloor heating:  solar-powered (but supported by gas.)

Underfloor heating pipes

The solar-powered underfloor heating pipes

How far into the renovation are you?

I’m three months in. It’s expected to take around six months.

What was your motivation behind the eco-renovation?

Mainly to save energy and prevent climate change, as well as saving money. Fuel is only going to get more expensive and oil is a finite resource.

How has it been so far?

Fine (she says, with a beaming smile and a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders!)

Has the solar started working?

The panels have been on the roof for two weeks. According to the control panel, I have already saved £140. (And that’s with builders using power for all their equipment etc.)

The solar control panel

Solar control panel. This allows Ursula to see the energy supplied, the Co2 saved, and the money saved in pounds

Were you given any indication of potential savings?

Well, a lot will depend on my usage. The solar installer did provide a quote on estimated savings. But, that quote is based on what you are paying at the time, not with the inevitable, continued price rises. So in actual fact they probably underestimated my savings.

Did you have an accurate idea of final costs?

 It would have been nice to have a more accurate breakdown of costs.

The quotes and estimates did take a long time. And the problem with the estimates is that they are not necessarily like-for-like. Some builders will break the cost down, and give you separate quotes for each job, for example; one for the solar installation, one for the loft insulation, one for external wall insulation and so on and so forth . Whereas other builders just quote you one lump sum for the whole job. That meant it was hard to work out exactly what was costing what, it was quite tricky to compare.

The architects provided really good advice, but I think they are used to bigger jobs, schools or companies for example, so I  think they did find it hard to scale.

Did you receive any grants?

Yes, for the loft and wall insulation.

Any surprises along the way?

I didn’t realise how good the floor would be. It’s of really good quality and I can tile over it. The finish will be completely even and you won’t even know the difference.

It also surprised me just how shocked the builders were at how much insulation they were putting in compared to the what they would usually. Their reaction was that it seemed an unnecessary amount.

Anything you know now that you wish you knew then?

Not really. It was very hard to visualise how it would end up. It would have been nice to have had a clearer idea of this, a bit more visual indication.

Advice to others considering it?

Hmm. Three things I would say…

1 – Allow lots of time to get quotes and estimates. It took a long time for the architects to complete the survey and then, seeing’s as the works a bit more specialist, actually finding builders to do it.

2 – Do it now. But you have to think of it as a long-term investment. If you can only afford to do one thing,  insulate, insulate, insulate.

3 – Check out the parity solutions website. They tailor energy-saving solutions to the individual. So, depending on your budget, they will recommend the best place to start. They conduct a survey to establish the most effective and affordable measure for that specific family or household.

Inside a bungalow that's undergoing eco-renovations

Ursula and Tin Tin in the midst of the eco-renovations

What were the first steps you took ?

1 – I spoke to Parity Solutions.  They provided me with a home energy master plan, so I could then decide for myself what was going to be effective and affordable.

2 – I searched for a local architect who specialised in energy-saving saving projects. I found a firm called ecotecture who specialise in energy-saving new build and renovations.

3 – We discussed at length what I had in mind, then the architects prepared plans for the work we had agreed and drew up specification to send to builders.

4 – I found a good builder to start building it!

And that brings us to now.  As we left the bungalow (cocoon-in-the-making),  Ursula welcomed me back at the end of September, when the eco-renovation is due to be finished, to get some all-important Grand Design style after shots!

I look forward to returning to find out how her and Tin Tin are settling back in and to hear more about how much energy and money she is saving.