Sustainable Homes

a 21st century home: character • comfort • low carbon

Our way into this low carbon way of thinking was to think that homes matter: they provide more than just shelter; they provide a personal and family environment, a sense of place and security, a base from which to relate to neighbours and the community, a space for creativity and hospitality. They support us to live healthy, fulfilled lives. And together – especially somewhere as architecturally rich as Highgate – they provide a sense of local identity.  We’re aware that Highgate is an affluent area, and that most of the people reading this are privileged enough to live in ‘nice homes’ – yet they may not be warm in winter, or may incur high fuel bills. We aspire to making our homes fit for the 21st century – retaining their character, providing high levels of comfort, and significantly reducing their carbon emissions.

Both the Climate Change Act 2008 and binding EU targets commit the UK to reducing carbon emissions significantly.  Following the 2015 UN climate conference in Paris, there is additional drive to reduce carbon emissions across all activities, domestic, national and international. Achieving this will require a complete transformation of the UK’s existing homes to reduce dramatically domestic emissions – and it’s perfectly possible to reduce the carbon emissions from a home by between 60% and 80%, as some local homes have shown. About 30% of UK’s carbon dioxide emissions come from energy use in the home, with heating and hot water responsible for about 75% of that. (And carbon dioxide emissions from the wealthiest 10% of UK households are twice as high as those from the poorest 10% from energy consumed in the home). Some 85% of the UK’s existing homes will still be in use in 2050, presenting us with a national low carbon refurbishment challenge. Some 6-7 million houses with cavity walls, 7 million lofts and 1 million homes with solid walls need to be insulated by 2018.

When I became Chair of the Highgate Society in 2009, I was determined to bring something really ‘environmental’ into the Society.  The Environment Committee (which has existed since the Society started in 1966, and on which the reputation of the Society is justly built) has largely been concerned with the built environment of Highgate and also streetscapes, including tree preservation. 

The group began to think that a focus on making homes sustainable and ‘fit for the 21st century’ would suit the ethos of the Society.  Over the years the make-up of the group has changed in minor ways.  It now consists of Sarah Harrison, Cara Jenkinson, Sydney Charles, Jill Boswell and Catherine Budgett-Meakin.  We have ‘branded’ all our events with consistent features, such as yellow bunting decorating our posters and railings for our events.  We welcome any individuals who would like to get involved and who are interested in sustainable living issues.

In September 2012 the group held a successful first event over a weekend : 21st Century Homes – character – comfort – low carbon at Channing School generously allowed us to use part of their classroom block for what was, in effect, a conference. About 250 people came during the day.  Local home owners who had installed energy efficient measures opened their houses for visits on the Sunday.

We held a ‘winterproofing your home’ workshop which also attracted a good crowd, many of whom were new to the Society and held a joint meeting with the Environment Committee’s Planning Group on Conservation and Sustainability, with a speaker from English Heritage and a number of different perspectives represented on the panel.  The group organised thermal imaging for 34 homes in early 2013, followed up by a workshop to analyse the findings.

Early in 2014 we held a ‘Be Warmer Event’, aimed principally at older residents who have cold and draughty homes and do not want to spend large sums of money. 

2014 saw the launch of the Homeowner Packs: prepared for the local estate agents to hand to anybody buying a local property, the aim was to encourage new Highgate residents to make the energy efficiency measures while they were carrying out the inevitable changes new homeowners embark on.  These packs are available to Highgate Society members and others at a discounted price of £5.

2017 saw three events, all concerned with domestic energy issues: an evening concerning the Whole House was followed by one on Windows, doors, heating and water, and finally by an evening on Renewable Energy