Energy efficiency and the historic environment

Climate change has an effect on our lives, whether it is noticing changes in weather conditions and patterns or in making an effort to reduce our energy bills and carbon footprint.

To help reduce the effects of climate change, the UK government is trying to reduce the country’s use of fossil fuels and to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least 26% by 2020 and by at least 80% per cent by 2050. Homeowners can play a part in tackling climate change by making their homes more energy efficient.

Historic buildings

Historic buildings should not be exempt from pressure to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and the council recognises that owners of historic properties want to improve their buildings and make them more energy efficient. Historic buildings can be sensitive to change and some measures to improve their energy efficiency can harm a building’s historic character or appearance. Historic buildings are often very adaptable and with a little consideration most can be made more energy efficient without harming their character. Historic buildings won’t always be able to fully meet modern expectations in terms of levels of insulation and that there is a need to balance improving energy efficiency with preserving a building’s historic character.

Below is some information and advice on the type of changes that can be made to improve energy efficiency without harming a building’s historic character. There is also advice on the type of consents that may be required for different types of improvements.

How traditional buildings work

Before considering any improvements to a traditionally constructed building it is worth looking at how they differ from modern buildings in terms of construction and thermal performance.

  • Traditional buildings are often thermally efficient. This is due to the way they are built. They often have thick walls and small windows which means they are cool in summer and warm in winter.
  • Traditional building materials are often energy efficient and are very durable and environmentally friendly. The materials were bought locally and did not require much energy to produce, such as making bricks from local clay and using mud and horse hair to add to daub and the same is still true today.
  • Similarly traditional softwood window frames have a very long life if properly maintained and regularly repainted, unlike UPVC windows which may need to be replaced every 10 to 15 years. UPVC windows also require a great deal of energy to make and dispose of them, where as draught-proofing and secondary glazing an historic window requires much less energy to do and is a much longer-term solution.
  • With traditional buildings energy was used to make a wall or a window in the first place and more energy will be used if they are replaced. Today materials are rarely bought locally and often travel many miles before they reach their final destination, which also has an energy cost. Much less energy is consumed or wasted if historic features are kept and repaired rather than replaced.

It is important to remember that traditional buildings perform differently to modern buildings and that they need to breathe. Modern impermeable products can reduce a building’s ability to breathe and can trap moisture which can cause lasting harm to historic fabric and/or long term maintenance problems. It is important that you understand how the work you are doing impacts on your building in both the short and the long term.

Work should ideally be capable of being reversible without harming the built fabric. The council’s conservation officers are happy to answer any queries you may have on any aspect of upgrading a listed building.

Guidance on making improvements

The thermal and energy efficiency of traditional buildings can be improved. The cheapest method is to draught-proof doors and windows. A lot of heat lost through windows is due to draughts between the sashes or casements and the frame. Draught-proofing is quick, cheap and easy and has instant results. Improving roof insulation is another quick and effective method of improving energy efficiency.

Historic England's guide Energy Efficiency and Historic Buildings gives homeowners advice on how to make relatively simple improvements.

Historic England has also produced other guides that look in more detail at how you can reduce energy consumption in a traditionally constructed home. These range from how to improve a building’s performance through insulation to small scale renewable technologies or ‘Microgeneration’ such as solar panels and heat source pumps.

Read further information on energy efficiency and historic buildings

Find ways to improve the energy efficiency of your home

Listed buildings

For further information on the type of work that might need consent, visit the Historic England website.

Take a look at our listed buildings webpages.

Contact details

If you have a planning enquiry, send a message to the Planning Development Team

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