Somerset Green Homes: Serena’s story

Serena, standing by her extension to the front of the property

Serena bought her end-of-terraced home in the mid-1990s when the council were selling much of their housing stock. She had first moved into the property as a tenant in 1983 and already started making eco improvements.  

‘I’ve been aware of climate change since the 1970s and have gradually been adapting my lifestyle year by year, so when I bought my former council house in the 1990s, I started making it more energy efficient so that now it is close to Zero carbon.’

The first of these eco improvements was putting in a wood-burning stove to replace the open fire in the kitchen with a back boiler to run bedroom radiators and a towel rail.  

To help keep the heat in, the windows and doors were draught-proofed through a local eco improvements scheme. The insulation was also improved by originally moving the existing fibreglass insulation in between the rafters. Later she added insulation board to the ceiling in the loft and bedrooms where the roof comes down to just over the windows. Over time, the windows and doors were double-glazed. This started with the installation of French doors in 1998, then bedroom windows in 2000. Most recently in 2017, new windows were installed as part of the front room extension. Double-glazed sliding doors covering the porch has also made a huge difference to the heat of the house. 

As a single parent who was self-employed with family tax credits, Serena had to make the eco improvements slowly as she saved the required money. This is an example of how anyone can do it whatever their income and type of home. 

She started to play around with the idea of solar thermal, and in 1998 built her own solar water heater using black plastic pipes on the shed roof. This was then upgraded to a black radiator and then using a purpose-built panel some years later. In 2018, this old system was made redundant as a PV immersion controller module was added. This uses surplus solar electricity to heat the water in the hot water cylinder using an immersion element. This set-up provides hot water all year round, supplementing the wood stove in the winter months. 

1.4 kW Solar photovoltaic panels were installed in 2008 at a cost of £6,500. Her home was one of the first properties in Glastonbury to have solar electric panels. The solar array may be quite modest in comparison to some properties now, yet it still generates enough money from electricity produced over the summer daytimes to equal the cost of electricity used at night and over the winter months. 

In 2009, a new woodstove was installed with a new double coil hot water cylinder and upgrades to radiators. Serena has a share in a local woodland, and collects dead wood to use for her stove. She also gets a delivery of wood 3 times a year. This delivery makes up the bulk of the fuel costs for heating and hot water, which was just £400 last year. Her reliance on fossil fuels is minimal. She only uses gas for cooking, and occasionally uses a gas heater on very cold days in her office. 

Outside of the property, her passion for sustainable living continues into the garden. In fact, the garden has been certified as wildlife friendly by Somerset Wildlife Trust! There are two water butts for rainwater harvesting, a pond, compost heaps, a wood pile, wildflowers as well as fruit trees, a vegetable patch, herbs and cottage garden flowers. 

Despite having limited funds, Serena has shown that with planning and imagination, it is perfectly possible to make eco improvements to your home, whatever your budget.

You can see the Somerset Green Open Homes webinar with Serena here:

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