Sunday, 23 August 2009

Eco-homes give new life to Welsh mining village

Victorian pit terraces reborn in community devastated by closure of local colliery
Amelia Hill, social affairs correspondent
The Observer, Sunday 23 August 2009
The coal on which the village was founded has long gone, but the community of Penrhiwceiber in south Wales is determined not to lose its identity completely.
A row of Victorian terraced houses, built for miners' families 150 years ago from locally quarried stone and grey slate, is undergoing a nine-month modernisation programme which will leave the facades untouched while the insides are transformed into cutting-edge eco-homes.
"These homes were designed to house a close, neighbourly community, where miners' wives would gossip with neighbours on the doorstep and the only big room was the front room, which was kept posh and only used for funerals," said Andrew Baker of the Cardiff-based firm overseeing the project, Rio Architects.
"But they were built in the style of the time. The rooms are so dark that you have to keep lights on all day and the ventilation is so poor that there are serious problems with damp," he added.
"The heat flows out of the houses in great waves and the cold air gushes in because the insulation is so poor and the windows so ill-fitting."
Solid-wall terrace housing is one of the biggest challenges to councils and communities trying to improve the energy efficiency of their housing stock, said Margaret Minhinnick, director of Sustainability Wales. "This project, if successful, will show an exciting way forward that we expect will be taken up across Britain as a whole," she said.
"We are going to transform these Victorian terraces into modern, light, spacious, energy-efficient homes," said Baker. "They are going to be gutted, redesigned and reconfigured to make the maximum use of space and light."
Where once there were outside toilets and doors opening on to the street, the houses will boast balconies and open-plan extensions. The small windows will be expanded to afford full views of the landscape.
"These are going to be both amazingly energy-efficient houses and very beautiful as well," said Baker. "We will install solar panels [to heat] domestic water, insulate all internal walls, replace all electrical plumbing and put energy-saving devices into every room."