In the media: energy efficiency in old homes

Our energy saving advice for the Guardian’s environment editor

18 November 2014

CSE’s Annette Lamley joined the head of environmental practices at the National Trust and a leading historic buildings advisor to give the lovely old home of journalist John Vidal a once-over. The team (jokingly refered to as the “Green Police”) advised the Guardian’s environment editor on the best energy saving improvements for his half-timbered cottage, in terms of cost and efficiency.

They discussed the differing approaches to adapting older versus modern homes – “slapping insulation inside or outside solid brick or stone walls, even installing double glazing, might not just be inefficient, unaesthetic and expensive, but could add to damp problems and harm the fabric of an old building.” For the full article see here.

Old homes are beautiful and interesting, but also difficult and expensive to keep warm. John Vidal said “it was a case of never having the money to “modernise” a traditionally-built house.” Happily, all three advisors suggested doing “the common sense things before spending heavily on fancy kit.” For John’s house this meant draught proofing, upping the loft insulation and fitting LED lights.

For straightforward advice on renovating older, more unusual properties, we’ve produced a Love Your Old Home workbook. Four steps guide owners of traditional homes (pre 1919 in conservation terms) through the process of planning energy efficiency improvements, and include advice on avoiding damp and getting planning consent for listed buildings, or those in Conservation Areas. The workbook also lists the improvements you could make to each area of your home, in order of those least likely to cause harm to the historic significance (which are often the cheaper fixes).

Learning from experience

CSE has partnered with both the National Trust and with English Heritage to help people living in traditional dwellings understand how to make them more energy efficient, without impacting on their historic or aesthetic value. Earlier this year, the National Trust opened 16 of its stately homes as part of the Green Open Homes Network for behind-the-scenes tours of their renewable energy installations. The open homes concept of improving your property, and inviting others to learn from improvements, has been hugely popular. For old homes it works particularly well, as owners of similar age or style, hard-to-treat homes have access to reliable, relevant advice.

Based on the success of this peer-to-peer learning, we are later this week partnering with Cheltenham Green Doors to hold a free all-day conference on 'Greening Cheltenham's Heritage’. This will address the challenges faced by owners and occupants of Cheltenham’s heritage buildings when carrying out energy saving renovations. Speakers will share their experiences and good practices, and there will be opportunities for all delegates to have their say in group sessions and a panel discussion.

Annette's top tips

These are the pointers Annette gave John Vidal for his listed cottage.

1. Older homes deal with heat and moisture differently to more modern construction types. Look at the property as a whole system rather than considering measures individually and think about their cumulative impact on the way that the building fabric functions.

2. Consider all the simple and cheap measures first, before investing in more expensive measures such as external wall insulation – like draught excluders and heavier curtains. Think about floor coverings or rugs to block air infiltration and keep feet warm.

3. Keeping your home in a good state of repair can make a big difference, and in most cases is likely to maintain or even improve the heritage value of a home.

4. Typically, about 25% heat is lost through the roof, in comparison to 35% through the walls, 15% through the floor and 25% from windows and draughts. But the cost of insulating the roof is usually much lower than the cost of solid wall insulation, so it is often more cost-effective to do the roof first.

Image: Phil Shirley, flickr

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