Eco Renovation of the YHA’s first UK ‘Green Beacon’ Youth Hostel in the North York Moors National Park

The eco-renovation of a dilapidated village school building is the YHA’s first UK ‘Green Beacon’ Youth Hostel. The eco renovation interventions demonstrated on this project are an example of what could be done throughout the UK to improve environmental performance standards of all our existing housing and community building stock. It could be argued that if this eco-renovation approach to existing buildings were adopted on a wider scale it would have a more significant environmental impact in terms of drastically reducing our collective carbon emissions, than any contribution made from the small percentage of low energy new-build projects.

Building Brief

Whilst it is laudable that most architects spend much of their time designing beautiful and inspiring new buildings, they only account for a small percentage of our built environment. If we are to make any serious progress towards reducing our collective carbon emissions we need to address the generally appalling energy performance standards of our existing building stock.

Lockton was typical of so many buildings of that period, with zero insulation in the roof walls or floors, and with condensation running down single glazed metal Crittal windows. The leaky building lacked any draft proofing and produced extremely high-energy bills from electric space and hot water immersion heating, whilst only providing minimal comfort for occupants. The outdoor toilets and showers were clearly not ideal, even for the dwindling number of hardy YHA visitors.

The client brief asked us to turn the building around, to breathe new life in to the dilapidated facility by bringing external sanitary facilities inside the warm fabric of the main building and providing high comfort standards for new visitors. We were asked to exceed current building standards wherever possible, with a green environmental agenda and reduced running costs, with renewable energy within the permitted guidelines of the National Park Authority in a North York Moors conservation village.

The eco-renovation and green extension of the building is now complete. The proposed 2.5 kW Proven wind turbine on an 11m high tower was omitted early in the planning negotiations as it was seen as inconceivable to permit it within the traditional vernacular village setting. To our pleasant surprise the local planning authority warmly embraced all other ecological innovations and in fact provided £ 80.000 seed funding from their North York Moors National Park Authority – ”Sustainable Development Fund” to support the project.

The completed renovated building demonstrates a simple sustainable model within an existing rural context. It has been conceived as an integrated eco system within the boundaries of the site and aims to be as self-reliant as possible in terms of its service energy supply systems and the treatment of its waste streams. The building has been adapted to make more efficient use of the available space and consume less energy in use.

Youth Hostel Association Introduction

Lockton Youth Hostel is situated in a solid red brick former village school built in 1860 standing in the middle of Lockton, a small village in North Yorkshire. Although the old school itself is not listed, Lockton is in a conservation area and is located just inside the southern edge of the North York Moors National Park (NYMNP). The building was in use as a school until 1974.  Since 1977, the building has been in operation as Britain’s smallest self-catering hostel for the Youth Hostel Association (YHA).

A lack of change in the hostel was perceived as contributing to a decline in visitor numbers and loss of revenue. Low bookings, poor financial performance, together with a drafty run-down building and inadequate outside toilet and shower provision for guests, led the YHA to consider closing the hostel.  They reached a point with Lockton where major work needed to be done to the hostel to ensure its viability.  The YHA felt that a new management approach of upgrading in a sustainable manner would help them ‘re-brand’ their organisation by creating a new, more forward thinking approach.  Due to the small size of the hostel, the YHA felt that they could experiment with the sustainable refurbishment of the hostel because it would be a relatively low financial risk.

Existing Building Fabric

The first task was to see what could be sensibly achieved to insulate the existing structure without loosing too much usable internal floor area. The existing solid brick cold and damp walls were dry lined with UK Therma Fleece sheep’s wool insulation and the gap between the existing ground floor joists was insulated with a wind break breather paper laid on top of the joists, under the re-laid floor boards and dressed up behind new skirtings to prevent incidental air infiltration from the ventilated timber suspended floor. The ceiling was insulated with Warmcell recycled cellulose newspaper loft insulation providing a warm hat to the building.

The old Crittal single glazed windows were replaced with 1.4 U value, Low E, argon filled double glazed energy efficient timber windows from a local joinery workshop. The internal surfaces were re-plastered and all component junctions were draft sealed to improve thermal performance. Adjustable trickle ventilation was provided to all spaces and a stove vent to provide combustion air was added in the main common room.

The layout of the building was adjusted to increase bed space numbers from 18 to 22. A glazed conservatory entrance lobby/cloaks area was provided as a passive sunspace and draft lobby. Existing doorways were widened to ensure full access for disabled persons and a dedicated accessible bedroom and toilet / shower room were provided to the new BS 8300:2001 standards. Particular care was also taken to accommodate wheelchair access in the new kitchen layout.

New Building Fabric

The large rear extension was formed by using, in part, the existing high stone boundary wall as an outer leaf to create a 100mm full fill insulated cavity masonry envelope. The low-pitch north roof hosts a bio-diverse Erisco Bauder living sedum green roof system and four south facing Rayotec / Schott evacuated tube solar hot water panels. The existing south facing slate roof houses the photovoltaic electric panels.

A new glazed conservatory offers a passive solar entrance to the building as a pre heat buffer zone and forms the entrance lobby and notice board space as well as providing access to a small outdoor dining courtyard and boot drying room. It is normally hard to justify an isolated conservatory space in cost and energy terms. However if it is an integrated multi-functional space it becomes not only a net solar gain asset for the building, but also a most beautiful sun kissed place, for very little additional cost.

A reclaimed York flag stone floor finish to the well insulated floor slab combined with a reclaimed brick back wall, provides thermal mass to the conservatory glazed space, retaining the sun’s latent heat and reducing the flywheel effect of rapid cooling down or overheating associated with most other conservatory spaces.

Renewable Energy Supply System

Having worked hard to create a low energy building fabric, thereby reducing the potential energy demand for the building, we worked with Steve Wade from Wind and Sun, to design and install a solar PV system. The Youth Hostel uses a grid-connected 1.28kWp photovoltaic (PV) system consisting off 8No BP Solar 160Wp monocrystalline PV panels, which were installed above the existing slate roof. PV generated electric power is first used by the hostel internal loads; any surplus being exported to the national grid. At night or when power consumption exceeds power generated, electricity is imported from the grid as normal. All power flows are ‘seamless’ from the point of view of the user.

The system should produce approx. 1000 kWh of electricity per annum. A display is incorporated in the Sunny Boy PV inverter to show people staying at the hostel how much is being generated. Inclusion of the original 2.5kW wind turbine would have meant the Hostel could have been a net exporter to the grid. Due to financial constraints the PV array is not large enough to produce 100% of energy demand.  However, the PV array at Lockton makes a significant contribution and has been important in terms of raising awareness of PV’s, which are rare in the North York Moors National Park.

Heating System

By design, the increased levels of insulation to the existing school and the construction of a well-insulated cavity wall north extension helped reduce the energy requirements to the hostel. In the hostel’s public area a 4/6kW efficient Hwam Vivaldi wood burning stove fuelled from CO2 neutral locally harvested fuel timbers provides space heating and a social focus to the main space.

A back up high efficiency LPG Vokera Pinnacle 16 condensing boiler was installed linked to the same hot water cylinder as the solar panels to provide domestic hot water and heating via radiators to the bedrooms. Ideally we would have avoided the use of fossil fuels altogether but space & cost constraints forced our hand. Mains gas was not available in the village. LPG (in an underground tank) was the cleanest burning and most efficient fuel obtainable. If space had not been an issue and we had our time again we would have been keen to install a zero CO2 wood chip central heating / hot water boiler. Sadly no space was available to deliver or store large quantities of wood chip on the tight site in the middle of the existing village.

Solar Hot Water System

The Youth Hostel has a large hot water demand with up to 22 people requiring hot showers at the end of each day. To reduce water heating from conventional heating sources sixty-four individual Schott high vacuum tube collectors with Aluxid absorbers are linked to a stainless steel 280 litre DHW storage cylinder. The solar circuit is a sealed and pressurised system using expansion vessels, pressure relief valves, automatic air vents, circulation pump, and a special controller to operate the pump when the solar panels have useful heat to add to the cylinder.

Local Rain Water Collection

One of the most wasteful aspects of all buildings is the use of clean drinking water for low grade washing and toilet flushing. All the building’s washing water and toilet flushing water requirements are met by collected rainwater from the main hostel slate roof via Lindab galvanised gutters, down pipes and a Wisy smoothing inlet filter to be stored in a buried 1500 litre underground GRP Rainharvester Tank. Collected rainwater is then pumped via a submersible pump and floating suction filter, to a holding tank ready for gravity feed use on demand.

Waste Streams

One unisex Sun- Mar Excel (electric) dry composting toilet was fitted by Eastwood Services, with a mechanically vented soil pipe system to allow evaporation to air of excess urine. Dried human solids, along with kitchen wastes and garden debris material, will be composted and then returned to the land as an invaluable non-toxic fertiliser. The above simple system demonstrates that human wastes do not need to become toxic pollutants of our rivers and seas, but can be recycled and reused within an integrated eco-system to become an invaluable resource, furthering new life within the boundaries of the site.

Low Energy Appliances

All appliances have been carefully selected to eliminate unnecessary electrical demand and to optimise the efficiency of the required essential items, including low energy lighting and interpretation / computer system etc

Healthy Internal Environment

The naturally absorbent and breathing masonry construction creates a vapour hydroscopic envelope without the risk of condensation.  Non-volatile solvent, water based Auro emulsion paints to plaster work and natural Auro colour stains to exposed timber along with the avoidance of formaldehyde based toxic materials, have lead to a healthy internal air quality.


Does it pay to finance and run ecological features?  This is a big question a lot of clients ask us. All we can say is that this eco renovation project cost approximately £ 178,000. The YHA client only invested about £ 30,000 of the capital cost, the rest was funded by sponsors and grants. The finance gap of £148,000 was filled because third party external funders were enthused and inspired by the client’s genuine commitment to the environmental agenda.

The YHA would not have received funding beyond their £ 30k budget if they had not taken the deep green approach to the project. Since re-opening YHA member bookings have exceeded all expectations, so projected rental revenue looks good for the long-term future and because of the low energy design and renewable technologies inputs, running cost will be negligible.  The above financial scenario seems like a win / win situation for all parties, including the environment.

Interpretation & Education

To help make YHA members / visitors aware of their impact on the wider environment and help them understand and appreciate the ecological interventions included in the building, we worked with OB Design to interpret and make accessible every small detail via colour coded, wall mounted ‘Awareness Point’ markers throughout the building. The client also commissioned an informative video to be played within the common room to run along side an interactive touch screen, web-based ‘Resource Centre’.

Click edit button to change this text.