TEN years ago couple Tim Nicholson and Joanne Bowlt spent the night in a North African house dug underground to keep it cool.

But they never imagined they would spend £60,000 on their own home in North Oxford to make it more environmentally friendly.

In 2004 they undertook a journey from Oxford to Oxford on New Zealand’s South Island which took them through some of the world’s poorest countries. Along the way they witnessed signs of global warming and witnessed places battered by storms and floods.

Since August, the couple, who live with their sons Benjamin, six, and two-year-old Sam, have spent thousands on their 1960s four bedroom semi in Benson Place, creating new walls filled with extra insulation, putting solar panels on the roof and on underfloor heating made of polystyrene.

Now they hope it will be so energy efficient, it will make them money.

Mr Nicholson, 46, who works for solar panel installation firm The Renewable Energy Co-operative, said: “It was the journey to New Zealand that opened our eyes to the environmental issues people are facing because of climate change.

“We visited Mumbai in monsoon season. The whole world seems to be experiencing more extreme weather which is consistent with scientists’ predictions for global warming.

“Unless we take radical action – and even if we do – we will experience dangerous climate change.”

  • How to go green:
  • New brick walls on two sides of the house are filled with 20cm insulation.
  • Solar photovoltaic panels on the roof will generate electricity and three large solar thermal panels will heat water. In the summer the family expect to have so much hot water they will use the excess heat to dry out logs in their log store and might even be able to share some with neighbours.
  • On the front of the house they have used Kingspan Kooltherm foam board insulation, not disruptive to neighbours’ views.
  • The heat-recovery ventilation system will take damp air out of the bathroom and fresh air into the bedroom, using the warm air to heat the fresh.
  • A Specflue wood-burning boiler stove will heat water for showers and first floor radiators.


He admitted the project was ambitious but hopes elements of it might inspire people to attempt their own modifications.

On June 14 and 15, the family will open their house to the public as part of Oxfordshire Green Open Homes.

The scheme has been created by Oxfordshire’s Low Carbon Hub and Community Action Groups with £20,000 from Bristol’s Centre of Sustainable Energy.

The aim is to give people ideas to make their own homes more environmentally-friendly.

Mr Nicholson said: “We want to use the event to show people what is possible.

“I’m not saying everybody should do what we have done but hopefully it might give people ideas.”

The family hopes that the house will be so energy efficient that the solar panels on the roof will make excess electricity that they can sell back to the national grid, and they will have enough hot water to share with their neighbours.

  • The Nicholson family have made a website about their project, including a list of modifications and suppliers at oxfordgreenhouse.co.uk Anyone who is interested in opening their own green home in the summer can contact lois.muddiman@lowcarbonhub.org.uk