Retrofit and Energy Efficiency in Historic Buildings
Our free to download publications include technical advice and guidance on retrofitting historic buildings to improve their energy efficiency.
Successful retrofit takes into account the construction of the building and ensures the aesthetic character is maintained. Certain retrofit strategies, specifically those for modern construction, are not appropriate for historic and traditional buildings.
The drivers for energy efficiency include:
- Reducing carbon emissions and fuel bills
- Improving comfort levels
- Complying with statutory requirements, such as the building regulations or the Private Rented Sector Regulations
Improving energy efficiency
Our overarching guidance How to Improve Energy Efficiency sets out our whole-building approach, which considers:
- Historic significance
- An understanding of all the factors that affect energy use
- How to devise an energy efficiency strategy for any building
Checklists of potential improvements are included and their respective benefits, comparative costs and technical risks.
Energy efficiency research
Our guidance is informed by research on understanding the energy performance of historic buildings and the effects of energy efficiency measures. The Heritage Counts report highlights the importance of our built historic environment and explains why it has a vital role to play in the journey towards a low carbon future.
Some improvements may not deliver the savings predicted and can harm the building, as well as the health and well-being of its occupants.
Our current five main areas of investigation are:
- Thermal performance of traditional buildings
- Moisture accumulation in building fabric due to energy efficiency measures
- Modelling of hygrothermal behaviour of building fabric as a risk assessment tool
- Whole-building approach to energy saving in historic buildings
- The SPAB Building Performance Survey
Further information can be found on our research pages.
Our Advice Note 14: Energy Efficiency and Traditional Homes (2020) provides guidance on the policy and regulatory context for making energy efficiency improvements, and assessing harm to the heritage significance of listed and non-designated buildings.
Learn more: Historic England webinars
- View the 2023 webinar on Retrofit Fundamentals.
This webinar explains the fundamentals of historic building retrofit and clarifies where to start when considering improving the energy efficiency of traditional buildings.
- View the 2021 webinar on Climate change adaptation: Assessing future summertime overheating risk in historic buildings.
This webinar discusses key findings from an on-going research study to assess overheating within historic buildings. Using the Historic England estate as a living lab, the Cambridge, Newcastle, Swindon and York offices have been analysed with dynamic thermal modelling software.
- View the 2021 webinar on Achieving an EPC rating and the implications for traditional buildings.
Following the government consultation on ratcheting Energy Performance Certificate targets for non-domestic buildings, Historic England commissioned feasibility studies on two of their own Grade II listed office buildings to assess what impact this would have on historic buildings and the limitations of the EPC asset rating therein.
- View the 2020 webinar on Climate change adaptation: Whole house approach to retrofit.
Old buildings are very variable and there is no 'one-size-fits-all' solution to retrofit for traditional buildings. The 'whole house' approach considers the interrelationship between the occupants, the building fabric and the services of individual buildings. It then aims to find bespoke balanced solutions that save energy, sustain heritage significance and maintain a healthy indoor environment whilst managing the risks of unintended consequences.
Learn more: Podcasts
- AJ Climate Champions podcast: Historic England’s Morwenna Slade on the limitations of ‘fabric first’ (November 2022). Our Head of Historic Building Climate Change Adaptation explains why insulation is the area of highest risk when working with heritage buildings.
- RICS: A Future-Thinking Outlook on Residential Retrofit with Historic England’s Hannah Reynolds (August 2023). As a part of the Expert Working Group for the RICS Residential Retrofit Standard, Hannah Reynolds discusses how to shift misconceptions about retrofitting traditional buildings and the release of a brand-new consultation for the RICS Residential Retrofit Standard.
Learn more: Sustainable Traditional Buildings Alliance (STBA)
Historic England is one of the supporting organisations that make up the STBA, a forum for sustaining and improving traditionally constructed buildings.
The STBA's website offers guidance on:
- Planning Responsible Retrofit of Traditional Buildings. Part funded by Historic England, this guidance looks at the complexity and uncertainty in the way older buildings, new technologies, nature and people all perform and interact. By taking a whole-building approach risks and liabilities can be reduced.
- The Responsible Retrofit Guidance Wheel. Funded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (now part of the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy), the guidance wheel is an online interactive tool. It lets you look at how over 50 measures interact and the risks to consider before installing.
- STBA Whole House Approach. This guidance outlines the whole-building approach to retrofit which takes a holistic approach based on the context of the building taking account uncertainty, the complexity of interactions and conflicting values.