Going deeper

Refurbished Victorian housing in Palmerston Road, Walthamstow
Housing in Palmerston Road, Walthamstow

Local architects Carolin Mertens and Martin West present their vision for a more energy efficient and healthier borough

Waltham Forest Council’s draft Local Plan suggests the borough build 27,000 new dwellings over 15 years. Soon after its publication, the council announced a ‘Climate Emergency Commission’ would look at ways to reduce carbon emissions locally.

Our suggestion is to join up both initiatives into one holistic master plan. Waltham Forest has 104,000 existing homes, 70% of which are below par when it comes to energy efficiency. As a borough with areas of high deprivation, thousands of people are inevitably burdened with fuel poverty, leading to ill health and anxiety.

Residents, both rich and poor, spend hundreds of pounds on unnecessary energy bills every minute. If that energy was saved, we could meet one quarter of the total target reduction for carbon emissions required to avoid a climate catastrophe before 2050. Waltham Forest Council has the opportunity to lead the way by setting an example.

One way to do this is by a deep retrofit of homes – we call it “going deeper”. It begins by looking at the total performance of every household, then putting sustainable measures in place to reduce energy bills by about 80%. It is smart because it replenishes the old while making way for the new. It means doing really good designs on what and where to insulate, what to keep or throw away, how to stop drafts, and which bits to bring up to a top specification in a cost-effective way.

You start with a plan for a whole house and run a bit of software on it. Then you create a design that works out how little energy your house will use throughout the year. You discover what kind of boiler is best, where windows go, when it gets too hot in summer or cold in winter. Then you balance these parameters to optimise comfort and reduce energy in use. This informs how much fresh air each bit of the house needs, depending on how many live in it. That’s vital. Without clean air over time people discover mould growing in their new bathroom, the tell-tale sign that the air you are breathing is stale and that it’s making you feel unwell.

Going deeper doesn’t stop there. It is where the emerging Local Plan and Climate Emergency Committee come together, to make a real difference to all Waltham Forest residents and bring benefits to the wider community – not only delivering warmer homes but creating a circular economy. And it is highly rewarding, offering employment for thousands across the borough, resulting in physical and mental health benefits.

We believe the Local Plan should make space for a local retrofit market. That will require an integrated approach, impacting mostly at neighbourhood scale. But the reward is a well-managed economic community, helping residents and businesses and an engaged local authority. Going deeper builds stronger relationships. It just feels right.

Carolin Mertens and Martin West are partners at Syndicate West Architects, based in Walthamstow Village. For more information:
Email info@syndicatewest.co.uk
Visit syndicatewest.co.uk