Does retrofitting your home strike you as too difficult to take on yourself? Or does living in a leaky, old house feel like a life sentence you’ve been committed to? Retrofit might not be as impossible as you first thought…
James Morton, a Scottish doctor, writer and former Bake-Off contestant, has been cooking up something new over the last year. He has gone from baking to building by tackling the challenge of retrofitting his and his partner’s own century-old home in Glasgow, getting hands-on with some of the installation himself.
We sat down with James in the dead of winter last year to find out how the experience was going.
With the help of architect Matt Loader, Loader Monteith Architects and some contractors, James and his partner Fenella have been on a roll with the retrofit. And he’s already starting to feel the difference. Even down in the minus 10 temperatures of 2022, the home’s temperature remained pleasant, according to James.
As James himself admits, it’s not been without its challenges, cost or time, and the work hasn’t stopped yet either. While we sat and chatted to James, his wife was upstairs doing the final coat of paint in their bedroom…
James and his spouse bought an Edwardian sandstone terrace house in Glasgow which had not been updated since the 1970s. Despite its character, the house was leaky and outdated. But the couple saw it as an opportunity to turn it into a modern, environmentally friendly home.
They sought out an environmentally-focused designer and got to work updating their outdated 1970s extension and improving the overall layout. After thorough research, they chose architect Matt Loader, Loader Monteith Architects. With experience in historic buildings and sustainability, they were the perfect choice to ensure the retrofit respected the existing building and delivered in the long term. And while the team was handling the design and building control stages, James and his partner rolled up their sleeves and got to work on the DIY retrofit of the rest of the house.
They wanted to use their experience as a case study for others who may be facing the same challenge.
The whole team worked on two projects: retrofitting the old house and modernising the 1970s extension.
Matt helped ensure that the right-sized radiators were acquired to work efficiently with a heat pump and involved James in conversations about achieving air-tightness in the existing property.
The couple got involved and decided to strip out the old internal parts of the house, put in new windows, and install proper wood fibre sustainable insulation. They worked with Matt to achieve a degree of airtightness, while also maintaining the house's character and cosiness.
They've also secured permission to install solar photovoltaic panels on the roof, which is a first for their area. The cohesive strategy they've implemented includes electricity generation, a heat pump, and a battery source. They are excited to give a tour of their transformed home, set to be eco-friendly without sacrificing the home’s character and comfort.
For some of the work, James and his partner tooled up and got hands-on, learning a lot from the internet. But they found that how to actually put in certain systems was not that well known, so they deferred to Matt the architect for expertise and sought some help with contractors. Pointing to the room he’s in, James says:
I did this room in wood fibre and basically showed some builders that Matt put us in touch with how to do it upstairs. James Morton
James, Fenella and Matt have been working closely with Home Energy Scotland to ensure that grants and interest-free loans are accessible, making the greening of the house more affordable.
The most interesting part of the journey is that James isn't a builder. He's a doctor and baker.
James and his wife have proven that even a DIYer can tackle a home retrofit with help, and the results have been amazing.
On top of that, for James and Fenella there's an inherent fascination in sharing this journey and making people understand what might be possible, sharing progress on Instagram over the last year.
I've just a general interest in DIY. I worked as a sort of joinery apprentice for six months in my gap year. But apart from that, I was an enthusiastic DIYer. James Morton
Matt and James had two main bits of advice for others who are considering retrofitting their domestic housing.
Managing the finances of a home retrofit can be a tricky balancing act. That’s why James and Matt turned to Home Energy Scotland for help with grants and interest-free loans. Thanks to their efforts, they were able to secure funding for a heat pump, solar panels, battery storage, and more.
To ensure that you're making the most of your home renovation project, it's a good idea to consult with an architect who is passionate about what's possible. You don't need to break the bank, but finding an architect who is invested in your vision can be a valuable step. With their expertise, they can help you create a plan that maximises your budget and brings your dream home to life.
James' and Fenella's journey is a story of an old tenement house, a couple's determination and an architect's vision, all coming together to create an environmentally friendly and comfortable home for them.
The Edwardian retrofit is a perfect case study for what's possible, especially given that there are many similar properties in their local area and across the UK.
The project demonstrates that with a can-do approach, you can transform your home, even without the building background.