Exeter-based property developers Grenadier break new ground as they begin work converting historic St Margaret’s School in Exeter, into new sustainable homes.

Sustainability is a relatively new topic of conversation in property circles, but it’s one which Grenadier are well versed in. In fact, it’s not just a conversation, but the ethos on which this property development business was built back in 2005.

With an increasing number of new builds popping up in and around Exeter, why is renewable technology and energy efficiency now just as important as the number of rooms, or square footage when purchasing a property?

When you think of period properties you often think of high ceilings, ornate cornicing and grand staircases. You don’t typically associate them with sustainable features such as solar panels or indeed electric vehicle charge points. This, however, is just a taste of what the previously all-girls school in the St Leonards area of Exeter will be offering new homeowners.

Situated a short ten-minute walk from Exeter city centre, St Margaret’s Residences will provide a mix of 38 high-quality apartments and three townhouses, setting a new benchmark in sustainability for period homes.

With an ethos centred around developing projects that are sensitive to the surrounding environment and that enhance local communities, Grenadier are one of a handful of truly sustainable development companies in the UK.

For Aiden Johnson-Hugill, Grenadier Property Director, this is just the start: “Thinking about your impact on the environment should never come as an afterthought, it must be the starting point of any project” he says, adding “People often ask why St Margaret’s Residences has taken so long to develop without knowing the research and preparation that has gone into making these homes as energy-efficient as possible.”

“We are essentially challenging the myth that period properties can’t compete with new builds by transforming period properties into sustainable homes. It’s been a challenge for developers to date, but something Grenadier are committed to. Our hope is that more businesses will follow suit and make a real difference to the way homes are built.”

Breathing new life into old buildings
A period feature in particular abundance at St Margaret’s Residences is the beautiful sash windows – a feature many of us can only dream of having in our homes. Unfortunately sash windows are renowned for losing heat which often results in high heating costs.

“We spent time and money researching effective ways to retain heat in a period property, whilst preserving the character of these old and unique buildings” says Aiden.

This is something which caught the attention of Historic England, a body that helps people care for, enjoy and celebrate England’s historic environment. Grenadier came up with a low-tech, simple but highly effective solution of reworking the windows to include unique fittings which ensure they are virtually draft-free.

Aiden recalls the moment they tested the modified windows. “Grenadier had built a special room in which to test the efficiency of the traditional sash windows. This type of window typically suffers from gaps around the frame and rails, and so we installed brushes into the sash as a form of draught-proofing. The tests were very successful – as we extracted air from the purpose-built test room, the high level of air tightness caused the ceiling to come down!”

“At first this may seem a troublesome outcome but in fact it was a perfect result. It showed that traditional sash windows can perform as well as new build windows in the most extreme test conditions.”

Johnson-Hugill added: “This kind of test is something we feel is fundamental as we are striving to achieving EPC B energy efficiency ratings for the historic buildings and EPC A for the new builds. All but one of the buildings at St Margaret’s Residences is Grade II or Grade II* listed, making it a challenge to transform them into a minimum of EPC B. Most listed and historic buildings typically have a very low Energy Performance rating and can struggle to get above a D.”

The latest chapter
St Margaret’s School for girls was first opened in the 1902 in Southernhay West, but soon relocated to Magdalen Road during the First World War to accommodate the increase in pupils. The Head Teacher Miss Jago and her close friend Miss Edmonds, who would later become her successor, helped welcome pupils through its doors well into the 21st century.

Now entering the site’s latest chapter, St Margaret’s Residences is returning to its original use as Grenadier begins developing the buildings into new energy efficient homes for the area.

What can you expect from St Margaret’s Residences once it’s built?
Aiden says: “We are striving to create the perfect blend of old and new.”

He adds: “St Margaret’s Residences is in one of the most sought-after locations in Exeter, it’s close to the vibrant Magdalen Village with good access to the bustling city centre and quayside. The area has plenty of local independent shops and a wealth of restaurants, bars and artisan coffee shops. It truly is unlike anything else. We like to say it’s a private haven in the heart of the city.”

As concerns for the environment take centre stage worldwide, St Margaret’s Residences is at the forefront of sustainability. A ground-source heat pump will be introduced to supply sustainable heating and hot water to residents, while solar panels will be incorporated seamlessly onto the roofs to preserve the character of the buildings and provide clean, renewable energy. Electric car charging points will also be added for the residents to use.

Working closely with industry experts means Grenadier can carefully access and design each project. Hugill-Johnson says “Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do. We pride ourselves on pushing the boundaries of sustainability to deliver projects that not only benefit the homeowners and the community, but also the wider environment.”

Here’s to breathing new life into old buildings!

Find out more or register your interest at www.stmargaretsresidences.co.uk