Category Archives: Efficient Homes

People Power and Warm Homes

solid wall internal insulation

What can we do to help our tenants keep warm in winter?

With sustained rises in fuel prices and the ensuing increase in fuel poverty, this is a question we at Latch (Leeds Action
to Create Homes) 
had been asking with increasing urgency. Latch refurbishes empty houses which we then let as good quality homes for homeless people. These are mainly Victorian terraced houses which tend to be cold and expensive to heat, even when refurbished to a good standard. We were seeing more and more tenants who couldn’t afford to keep their homes comfortably warm, leading to money problems, condensation and mould and health issues.

Victorian terraces and other old houses are often described as ‘hard-to-treat’ as they have solid walls and attics, so can’t have cavity wall or loft insulation. In 2013 (the most recent year we could find data for) of the 8 million solid walled homes in the UK, only 3% were insulated.

In 2012, we worked with Andy Walker from Sure Insulation CICThermal Camera Checks and Jonathan Lindh from Leeds Environmental Design Associates to develop an affordable and practical system for improving the thermal performance of our Victorian terraced housing. This resulted in the manual ‘Very low carbon building improvements for Leeds Victorian terrace homes’. The approach focuses on energy conservation, through installing high spec insulation and airtightness measures, using readily available building materials.

We fit 150mm rigid insulation to the inside of the external walls and the loft room; mineral wool insulation underneath the ground floor; triple glazed windows and high performance external doors; and constant running extractor fans to the kitchen and bathroom to keep the air quality high and take care of condensation risks. We pay massive attention to detail, minimising thermal bridges and draughts. This is really challenging as every house is different and it can be very difficult to work out where air is getting in. However, where we’ve had airtightness tests done we’ve had excellent results far exceeding the Building Regulations for new-build housing! We generally achieve a B for EPC ratings after improvements are carried out.

Recently we’ve been surveying our tenants who’ve lived in these newly refurbished houses for a full year. They report only needing Drilling Insulation 1the heating on for a few hours in the morning, even in the middle of winter. The house then stays comfortably warm all day. They don’t have any problems with mould or condensation, and opening the windows keeps the houses comfortably cool in summer. The tenants can afford to heat their homes and are really happy.

We‘re working closely with the Sustainability Institute at Leeds Beckett University to monitor the properties for any problems and to try to establish savings in carbon and fuel costs. Our tenants only have a limited budget for fuel, so many of them won’t save a significant amount of money but will be able to afford to keep warm, something they couldn’t do previously. We’re also working with the Centre of Refurbishment Excellence to ensure that we’re up to date with best practice and the latest developments in the field. So what’s next?

  • We’re planning a programme to improve all our properties over the coming years, starting with the coldest.
  • We’re working closely with tenants who’re struggling to heat their houses adequately to ensure that they’re maximising the amount of heat they get for their money, by switching to a moreDrilling wall insulation 2 competitive supplier and making sure they waste as little heat as possible.
  • We’re planning to build four one bedroom houses to Passivhaus standard. The houses will be designed and built with high levels of insulation, airtightness and controlled ventilation, so that heating bills will be under £50 per year.
  • We’re exploring the viability of offering Passivhaus building and retrofit services commercially and applying for PAS2030 accreditation.

We’re convinced that high spec insulation is the way forward for Britain’s cold and draughty housing stock: reducing fuel bills, carbon emissions and poor health associated with cold and damp housing. I’ve seen local schemes like Better Homes Yorkshire that are being used to offer some energy efficiency improvement grant funding for private rented and owner occupiers. This is a good start but what we need now is the political will to commit big money to insulate big numbers of houses so that economies of scale really kick in, and a skilled up workforce to do the work.

Mags Shevlin is the Refurbishment and Training Manager at Leeds ActionGetAttachment to Create Homes (Latch). Latch is a charity that renovate derelict, empty homes with unemployed volunteers to create good quality new housing for homeless people. When she’s not renovating homes you’ll find her in the garden, up a hill or on her yoga mat.

To find out more about Latch, watch their film or visit their website

Always a Warm Welcome

Leeds WinterWhat’s the worst bit of weather you remember?

Mine was the winter of 2010/11, which heralded the coldest December in Britain since records began with a mean temperature of -1oC and widespread hardship throughout the country.

Sometimes there are some climate events that stick in the mind, the kind that changes the way you plan for bad weather in the future.

Leeds was not immune from this and many of our services experienced higher demand than usual, particularly those assisting vulnerable people or people facing fuel poverty (spending more than 10% of household income on heating and electricity).

The challenge was there: how do we help the most vulnerable people to reduce their fuel bills and prevent people from falling into fuel poverty?

Leeds City Council got together with a number of its partners in the third sector, including Care & Repair Leeds, Groundwork Leeds and Leeds Community Foundation to submit a bid to the Department of Health’s Warm Homes Healthy People Fund to provide enhanced services for households during winter 2011/12.

Even though winter 2011/12 was not as severe as the previous year, the fund of £232,800 helped many people and supported thousands more.  For example, an 80 year old woman was ready to be discharged from hospital following treatment, but her heating heating or hot water. The fund allowed the Warm Homes Service, run by Care & Repair Leeds to fix the heating system so that she could be discharged to a warm home that same week.

Since then, even though central Government no longer funds the scheme, Leeds City Council Public Health has continued to provide enhanced winter services, culminating in this year’s Stay Winter Wise Campaign with a range of help for people to keep warm including:

  • The Warm Homes Service: managed by Care and Repair Leeds helping homeowners/ private tenants by repairing/ servicing heating systems if someone in the household is vulnerable or suffers from a cold related illness. Contact: 0113 3918336/ ravinder@crleeds.orgRobert Curtis Warm welcome blog
  • The Green Doctor scheme: run by Groundwork Leeds, undertake additional home visits for low income households including elderly and those with young children, providing face-to-face practical advice on reducing energy bills or basic energy efficiency measures such as draught-proofing, reflective radiator panels and pipe lagging. Contact: 0113 2380601/
  • Chapeltown CAB’s Fuel and Income Advice Survey: to low income homes will be re-starting soon. Contact: 0113 2629479
  • Grants of up to £2,500 for 35 local community groups and agencies: were awarded to support vulnerable people during winter and reducing social isolation. The scheme administered by Leeds Community Foundation, has supported projects including clubs and activities, home visits, befriending schemes and help for rough sleepers, all taking place between January and March 2015.
  • Winter wellbeing packs: for vulnerable households, funded by multiple partners, including Public Health, Area Support Teams and Clinical Commissioning Groups .The aim of the packs is to build cold weather resilience and they contain practical items such as hot water bottles and thermal socks. These packs were then distributed through channels such as the neighbourhood networks.

The campaign is unique in the way that partners work together to refer to and promote each-others services. For example, this year around thirty staff and volunteers from organisations which had received winter wellbeing grants, were provided with winter warmth training, to help them assist people with energy bills and refer them to the partner schemes such as the Warm Homes Service and the Green Doctor.

Last winter, 277 households suffering from a cold related illness were assisted with heating repairs, improvements and emergency heating through the Warm Homes Service, 226 additional home visits to vulnerable and low income households were made by the Green Doctor, providing energy and fuel bill advice and small scale energy efficiency improvements, 190 low income households were helped with fuel bill and income advice by Chapeltown Citizens Advice Bureau, achieving an estimated £238,582 of additional annual income between them, whilst around 7,000 residents were helped by 31 winter warmth community grants.

The good news is that Leeds City Council have committed to funding the scheme for the next three winters, so that vulnerable residents in Leeds can continue to keep warm during the cold weather.

Robert Curtis 1Robert Curtis works as a Programme Officer in the Sustainable Energy and Climate Change team at Leeds City Council.

The Future is LILAC


Talk about housing cooperatives and some people think of hippy communes or the 70’s BBC comedy The Good Life with Tom and Barbara turning their garden into a farm complete with chickens and a goat.

When we set up LILAC (Low Impact Living Affordable Community) it wasn’t about escaping from modern life but living sustainably. Like-minded group of people coming together with vision and passion; demonstrating how ordinary people can build their own affordable, ecological community. Together we created an award winning and first ecological, affordable cohousing co-operative in the UK (and possibly the world) based right here in Leeds.

After six years of planning and hard work, it was completed in March 2013, the £3M project involves 20 homes (6 x1 bed, 6 x2 bed, 6 x3 bed, 2 x4 bed) and a common house. LILAC is a member-led, not-for-profit organisation, and I am one of the cofounders and current residents.

A small group of us got together and developed clear values that motivated and guided us along the way. These included: sustainability, co-operativism, equality, social justice and self-management. We were driven by concerns over the need

SDP2342-0387to respond to climate change and energy scarcity, the limits of the ‘business as usual’ model of pro-growth economics and the need to develop resources so that communities can determine and manage their own land and resources.

In a nutshell, LILAC responds to three key challenges of our age:

  1. Committed to tackling climate change:to do our bit in Leeds, we explored what low impact living could mean in practice, in terms of using high performance building techniques and natural materials to deliver buildings to the highest ecological standards. LILAC chose a prefabricated strawbale and engineered timber system called Modcell for the construction of the houses. Modcell was chosen due to the huge environmental benefits of using natural building materials. As carbon is stored and then locked up in natural materials a typical strawbale house actually sequesters 50 tonnes of CO2 over its lifetime. To meet CSH (Code for Sustainable Homes) 4 and provide the space and water heating needs of the community, small solar PV array and Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) units were used as well as high efficiency gas boilers with solar thermal water heating units. Our take on low Impact living is about much more than just the building fabric though. LILAC aims to reduce the overall ecological footprint of the neighbourhood through positively changing the way the residents live and interact through community agreements which outline the ways in which they use communal resources and open spaces.
  1. A new affordability model: we developed a response to the affordability crisis through pioneering a new model in the form of a Mutual Home Ownership Society (MHOS) – an equity based leaseholder scheme that guarantees affordability in perpetuity for its members. The houses are not bought or rented. But members are assigned equity and acquire it through a monthly charge. The cost of buying the land and building the homes owned by the MHOS and financed by the mortgage is divided into equity shares. Each equity share is owned by a member and financed by the payments members make each month, which is equivalent to 35% of their net household income. Members take back some of the equity they have paid when they leave, after deductions for depreciation, maintenance and loan interest. Members have to sign up to a lease and various community agreements which cover aspects of community life such as pets, car use and working at home. This has been the aspect of LILAC that is really caught people’s imagination, as it is a direct intervention in a housing market that is out of control.
  1. A pioneer of community living:drawing on the cohousing principles of design. Cohousing is an established method of building affordable housing communities and neighbourhoods. There are hundreds in Denmark and North America, and a small and growing number in the UK. The key principles are:

– Participatory member-led process that responds to local needs and skills of the wider community

– Site layout and design that intentionally foster community interaction, wellbeing, safety, natural surveillance and inter-generational support, and purposeful reduction and separation of car use.

 Using this design approach,

?????LILAC’s design is based around a car free home zone, with only 0.5 car parking spaces per home. This has been reached through a mixture of car-pooling, sharing and potential car club.

The LILAC project is now full, and we have a healthy waiting list which is testimony to the broad desire in Leeds for people to live differently. LILAC holds regular tours so check out for planned dates. LILAC has teamed up with other innovative housing providers across the city to launch a new umbrella organisation called Leeds Community Homes which aims to develop up to 1,000 community-led homes across the city over the next 10 years. A public launch of Leeds Community Homes will happen in late 2015.


Paul Chatterton is a writer, researcher and campaigner. He is currently Reader in ‘Cities and Social Change’ in the School of Geography at the University of Leeds where he co-founded the ‘Cities and Social Justice’ Paul ChattertonResearch Cluster and MA in ‘Activism and Social Change’. He is currently Director of the University’s Sustainable Cities Group. He has written extensively on urban change and renewal, civic experimentation and movements for social and ecological justice. He is co-founder of the public charity ‘Antipode’ dedicated to research and scholarship in radical geography and an associate editor of the journal ‘City’. Paul is also co-founder, first secretary and resident of the pioneering and award winning Leeds based low impact housing co-operative LILAC (

All his work can be found at His new book just published on the LILAC project in 2015 with Routledge titled ‘Low Impact Living a Field Guide to Ecological, Affordable Community Building’ is available at (20% off with code DC361). The book launch will take place on Thursday 16 April 7-10pm at the LILAC Grove Common House. Copies of the book with a 30% discount will be available on the night Drinks and food will be provided. Book here via eventbrite.

Energy Efficiency

How to insulate, improve boilers and use less energy in both homes and offices. It was decided that government policy makers, private landlords, utility and energy companies should be heavily involved in this work.

Challenges: changing the way people use energy, encouraging private landlords to invest in their properties and ensuring the Government have a strong policy on energy efficiency were highlighted.

Ideas organise training for people in how to be more energy efficient and look at introducing a minimum standard for homes and offices. The perfect world idea was to provide local authority funding and target communities where properties are of a poorer standard or energy consumption is high.