The hardest part when making home improvements is actually taking the plunge and getting started. Most people take their time when it comes to big changes. This makes sense. Houses and people are complex and unique. It makes sense to get to know what you want before you take action. Most of the things that you see in our Open Eco Homes are the result of many years of careful thought, planning and implementation.

Consider what you want your home to become. Often a plan starts with some back of the envelope ideas that people find a compulsion to write down. These first ideas are incredibly powerful and keeping a record of them to refer back to can help you remember what you first wanted to achieve when you started out.

While you are planning is it also important to bear in mind that at every stage in the process there are a few ‘easy win’ actions and opportunities that can help you to get the most out of your eco home journey. So whatever stage in the planning process you are, we hope you find something useful in this section. For those wishing to start with small steps  you will find information on this page on Easy Win Actions and Making the most of OpportunitiesFor those ready to get started on bigger projects, you might want to focus on Creating a Whole House Plan.

Easy wins

Sometimes we only have a small amount of time and money to invest in home improvements. While all homes are different and it is hard to know what is suitable for your home without having a proper assessment done, there are a few easy actions which are suitable for most homes.

Some tips on the order to do things:

  • Strictly speaking you need to work on ventilation, draught-proofing and insulation before anything else. These will determine your basic comfort in the house and also the effectiveness of everything else that follows.
  • Work on passive heat (how the building itself regulates heat) before active heat (heating systems)
  • Only think about generating energy once you’ve tackled electrical efficiency. It is far more effective and cheaper to save a Watt than to generate one.

Easy wins can help you get started, notice more, and think about what you want. Make sure your improvements are high spec, doing the best job possible rather than ones you’ll regret later as inadequate.

When money is tight and time to research is short, these easy win actions are a good place to start. Take a look at our ‘Easy wins’ information sheet for more inspiration.

Taking opportunities

There are moments when you have to work on your home that can be great opportunities to put in eco-measures. There are also some jobs that are more efficient and easier to do together.

Combining jobs

  • If you need to replace a roof, think about fitting external wall insulation and any solar roof systems at the same time. You can save money on implementation and the disruption only happens once.
  • If you have scaffolding up for one job, what else can be done whilst the scaffolding is up?
  • When you’re re-decorating or improving a room think about how you can improve the thermal comfort and efficiency of the room at the same time.
  • If you’re taking on a bigger job like re-wiring, for example, it’s a good time to add internal insulation, fix any ventilation issues and install LED lighting.

Making the most of major changes

If you’re planning an extension or another major change such as fitting a new kitchen or bathroom, re-decorating, changing things when a child leaves home, use the opportunity to retrofit other parts of the building.

Focusing on one room

If you can’t retrofit an entire house, but use one room more than any other, why not make that room particularly cosy? The cost of retrofitting a single room is much cheaper than a whole house and could make life a lot more enjoyable. This could be particularly the case for older people who need a safe cosy space that can be heated cheaply to keep happy and healthy.

A Whole House Plan

If you are ready to tackle a larger project working on more of the house at once, you will need a plan for the entire home. There are two key pathways you can take to achieve this:

1. Hire a professional

Retrofit Co-ordinators or Architects can explain your options and help develop a good plan. They can oversee the building work too. Be ready to summarise your aims and what you want your home to become – along with your budget. Talk about  implementing the plan in phases, if needed.

To find professional help:

  • Personal Recommendations: OEH Case Studies.
    Our hosts always provide details of who they worked with. While we can’t comment on their credentials, it may be a useful place to start to get some ideas.

  • TrustMark Guide and finding professionals.
    TrustMark is the Government Endorsed Quality Scheme covering work a consumer chooses to have carried out in or around their home. When a consumer uses a TrustMark Registered Business, they know they are engaging an organisation that has been thoroughly vetted to meet required standards, and has made a considerable commitment to good customer service, technical competence and trading practices.”TrustMark.

  • RetrofitWorks Ecofurb.
    “RetrofitWorks is a not-for-profit cooperative who offers its services at the lowest possible cost to further our mission lower energy bills, create healthy homes and achieve Net Zero.”RetrofitWorks. For more info see video and the Ecofurb website. 

“The architects, Eco Design Consultants, did the Passivhaus calculations, designed the extension and provided an options report which sets out the steps required to achieve different levels of energy efficiency.” – Bart, 2020 Open Eco Homes host.

Read Bart’s case study and watch the online tour of his home to find out more.

2. Create a DIY whole house plan

Most people decide to go with a professional but it is possible to create your own whole house plan. If you decide to do this, you’ll need to be prepared to spend a lot of time researching and preparing for your retrofit.

“The project has taken several years and been completed in stages, part DIY and partly with local builder Matt Salmon. I designed the changes myself, submitted the plans for approval, then check with engineers and hires M J Salmon Builders to project manage.” – Shaun, 2021 Open Eco Homes host.

Read Shaun’s case study and watch the online tour of his home to find out more.

Need more inspiration?

Transition Cambridge have a useful tool on their website that can help give you some ideas of where you could start and what type of help you’ll need with your home improvements.


The Centre for Sustainable Energy provides advice and information on a wide range of energy saving topics. This is to help people understand all about different forms of insulation, how to get the most out of the heating in their homes, as well as help understanding their energy bills.