Isabel and Andrew’s story: Farm-cottage renovation

Isabel and Andrew are modest about what they’ve achieved with their home in Norfolk. “We’ve just done a house up. Compared to most green builds, it’s a bit boring!” says Isabel.

Contrary to Isabel and Andrew’s initial impression, their refurbishment didn’t have to be extraordinary for Ecology to see its positive potential – they just needed to invest in insulating the property to a high standard.  In doing so, they have dramatically improved the building’s Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating, without the need to incorporate any complex technologies.

Both full-time osteopaths, the couple had previously been living above their practice in Norfolk. As their family grew, they knew that it was time to move somewhere bigger. A long search led them to the property that is now their home – two former farmworkers’ cottages that were everything they had been looking for in terms of location and space. Most importantly, it was an opportunity to create a family home that reflected their tastes and lifestyle, while regenerating a long-neglected property.

“We’d searched for ages. We wanted a big garden, and we wanted a detached home – opportunities like this just don’t come up very often,” explains Isabel. “When I saw the cottages in the newspaper I thought they’d be an amazing possibility, and so I came along with a builder friend to take a look. Andrew hadn’t even been inside when we bought them!”

Eager to get going, they started on the renovation, which involved creating a single property out of the two cottages and adding an extension.  But they soon ran into a problem – because the house had no kitchen or bathroom, it did not meet the terms of Isabel and Andrew’s existing lender.

“Getting a mortgage was the biggest challenge,” explains Andrew. “Initially, we decided that we’d strip the property out … we removed the kitchen – which was really just a standpipe and a microwave – and a toilet upstairs that hadn’t been used for a while. Unfortunately these need to be in place – regardless of whether you can use them or not – to get a residential mortgage.” The couple discovered that the removal of these basic amenities meant that – in the eyes of most mortgage providers – the property was not considered habitable and, as a result, many lenders were unwilling to offer support.

After a lengthy search, Isabel found Ecology – a specialist in extensive retrofit projects. She learned that, while Ecology’s focus was on the property’s environmental impact, this didn’t necessarily mean having to create a green roof or use cutting-edge renewable energy systems. Something as simple as installing high-quality insulation could vastly improve the property’s environmental performance.

Isabel and Andrew were relieved to find that the process of getting a mortgage was straightforward: “When you phone them [Ecology], you actually speak to someone friendly who knows who you are – you don’t just feel like a name and number; they were really interested in what we were doing,” recounts Andrew.

The work took three years, two of which were spent living offsite. With the roof removed, the house was reduced to four outside walls before it was built back up and an extension was added for the new kitchen. The works proved more expensive than anticipated, but by approaching Ecology and agreeing on some additional funding, Isabel and Andrew kept the project on track.

While they’ve aimed to create a simple, practical house, the dramatic transformation from tumbledown cottages to warm and welcoming home has resulted in plenty of interest from passers-by. It’s performing well on EPC measures, too, providing a comfortable and efficient space for the family.

“We wanted a house that is cheap to run, light and warm,” says Andrew. “We focused on insulating the house as well as we possibly could. We’ve also wired everything so that we can put solar panels in at some point if we want.

“I love this house now. I look forward to coming home – it’s just a great place to live.”

Find out more about Ecology’s renovation mortgages.