Cambridge Open Eco Homes

Open Eco Homes hosts are volunteer homeowners with real experience of eco-renovation or new-build, willing to share what they’ve done and learnt from their work. They are independent messengers encouraging others interested in retrofit or new-builds.

928 t
Est. annual reduction in carbon
emissions (tonnes CO2 eq)

1,800
Est. number of people
who benefit directly

Open Eco Home tour of a retrofitted home
A new-build Open Eco Home
Open Eco Home tour

Our story

Open Eco Homes (OEH) was started in 2010 by Andy Brown, a home energy expert and trustee of our charity, Cambridge Carbon Footprint (CCF). He realised that visiting local energy-efficient homes and discussing how the hosts achieved this would really inform and inspire visitors to create their own versions. With a small team OEH was launched and his vision has been working out well every year since.

The UK faces an immense challenge in terms of home energy. New builds could be net-zero carbon, but standards and quality are much lower. We need to retrofit a million homes a year to reach UK net zero emissions. Our hosts are early adopters, showing how it can be done in varied ways.

OEH Hosts are volunteer homeowners (& sometimes tenants) with real experience of eco-renovation or new-build, willing to share what they’ve done and learnt. They’re trusted, independent messengers, not trying to sell anything. Quite a few were previous OEH participants, which they say really helped with their retrofit or new-build.

Visitors find it inspiring to see round homes (particularly those similar to their own) and to discuss what saves carbon and would suit them. And finding out what wouldn’t suit them too, which is useful information! These free tours (in-person or online) last about 1 hr. In-person tours are booked online and are normally limited to 8 visitors each, with hosts running several tours a day.

We create a detailed 2-page Case Study for each home to help visitors and others learn more from them. These form a valuable archive on our website. Other resources provide information and ideas on eco measures, from the easy wins all the way up to whole house retrofits or new-builds.

We also run expert talks around the time of the tours to help people build their skills and knowledge. They complement the learning from the tours.

In 2020 all OEH tours and talks were online, owing to Covid. This worked better than we expected with 556 participants joining Zoom tours and talks, plus 1,279 You Tube views since. An estimated 928 tonnes CO2 will be saved by improvements inspired or enabled by the tours and talks. 2021 will still be mostly online, but we look forward to running OEH face-to face, or maybe as a mixture. Hoping you find this useful.

Our advice

There are more homes than you might think in your local area that have been retrofitted or new-built to minimise carbon footprints and energy use, and many homeowners are happy volunteering to share with others what they have achieved and learnt. The homes DON’T need to be perfect!
Our homes are deeply personal, not just a technical problem.
Many people who are interested in retrofit or new-build are STUCK, confused by the plethora of information and choices, Often getting started with quick wins, like these https://cambridgecarbonfootprint.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Quick-Wins-5.pdf helps them make progress on home energy improvements, notice more and get motivated for bigger projects. For deeper retrofits, get help with a Whole House Plan.
There are lots of co-benefits to a well-designed low-carbon retrofit or new build, like: better indoor comfort in winter and heatwaves, increased usable indoor area, improved light, less noise and better indoor air quality - allergy sufferers love MVHR-filtered fresh air. Contributing to climate solutions. Also lower energy bills, but this probably won’t match the costs for years and is a problematic motivator.
Homes are very complicated, so don’t give specific advice, unless you’re sure.
Choose speakers (and hosts) who are good communicators, rather than too techie. Brief them on their audience.
There are pros and cons to online tours vs in-person tours - Pros: online tours maintain a level of privacy for home-owners and people are able to attend from further afield. Possible during Covid-restrictions/anxiety. Cons: Nothing beats standing in someone’s home and seeing, hearing and feeling a cosy but well ventilated home or to see and discuss in person how renewable energy and energy-saving technologies work.
With a core group, you can start small with your own version of OEH, maybe with just 1 or 2 homes and a talk and then build up. See the mostly dormant Green Open Homes with good advice for organisers: greenopenhomes.net/support-for-organisers.
We raise enabling sponsorship from local, green, building-related businesses and receive useful donations from participants to help us improve OEH and reach more people.
It's been suggested that we run an open monthly social, support and advice-sharing meeting - sounds good!

Our metrics

  • Number of participants at tours and talks.
  • Zoom polls.
  • YouTube views https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLevc5ellpHAeQZ3uH8SqZkSl-RfnGwQvM
  • Eco-measures that participants intend on implementing as a result of OEH - from participant surveys, also asking guesstimated resulting % home energy saved.
  • CO2 savings estimated from above, allowing for reality vs intention.

Read more: https://cambridgecarbonfootprint.org/open-eco-homes/

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