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Resolving Impact of Carbon Challenge on Built Heritage NHPP Activity 2A2

Research carried out 2011-2015 focused on resolving the challenge for energy efficiency and lower carbon emissions in historic buildings while minimising damage to their significance. This work was part of the National Heritage Protection Plan.

Modern photograph showing a terrace of traditional housing
A terrace of traditional housing © Historic England

The carbon challenge and historic buildings

The drive towards a 'carbon-neutral' economy may have a significant effect on adapting our historic building stock to increase energy efficiency. Moreover, it may affect decisions about whether to conserve or reuse such buildings or to build new ones instead. To ensure that those concerned can make appropriate decisions that avoid unnecessary degradation of our most significant heritage assets, we developed the evidence base for the energy performance of historic buildings.

Scope of the activity

Policy makers were faced with a lack of reliable data about the energy performance of historic buildings and about those of traditional construction. Most assessments of energy use were based on theoretical models and produced results that often underestimated the actual performance of older buildings. For example, traditional buildings often perform considerably better in terms of heat loss through their fabric than stated in previous standard models and assessment methods.

To be able to advise which modifications are the most suitable and effective for mitigating and adapting to climate change, we needed to understand more about the energy behaviour of older homes and the effect of any alterations to them.

There was a significant lack of research into the energy performance of traditional buildings, data on traditional materials, how occupants behave in older buildings, overheating, indoor air quality and ventilation rates. We were concerned that poor knowledge about the thermal and moisture performance of traditional buildings means retrofitting may have been damaging and ineffective.

To fill this knowledge gap we are carried out a programme of research including fieldwork, modelling and laboratory testing. This helped us understand more about the thermal performance of traditionally constructed buildings and provides best practice advice and guidance for owners on refurbishment and adaptation to reduce energy use.

Projects in this activity

Thermal performance of traditional building elements

In situ and laboratory research to establish the thermal performance of traditional building elements including windows, walls, floors etc:

  • Research into the thermal performance of traditional windows demonstrated that current calculation methods may be pessimistic about the performance of traditional windows and the opportunities for improvement
  • Similar conclusions are drawn from research into the thermal performance of traditional brick walls
  • A programme of in-situ testing to measure the degree of heat loss - the 'u-value'- of traditionally constructed solid brick walls, to assess their thermal performance
  • Support for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings'  (SPAB) programme of research into the u-values of traditionally built walls and related energy efficiency issues. The interim findings were published in a series of research reports. You can access these through the publication links below

Insulating solid walls

Insulating solid walls has become a considerable focus, particularly with the introduction of The Green Deal and other schemes which place an emphasis on the thermal retrofit of traditional solid walled houses. Given the technical risks associated with insulating walls internally, external insulation is often an option worth considering, where aesthetics allow. However further research was needed to gain a fuller understanding of the issues.

This report on tradional wall insulation covers projects in three towns of Northern England: Liverpool, Blackpool and Stockton-on-Tees.

Victorian brick cottage to be tested as part of an energy efficiency study: such traditional buildings may perform better than previous models have estimated
A Victorian brick cottage tested as part of an energy efficiency study: such traditional buildings may perform better than previous models have estimated.

Whole-house thermal performance and impacts of interventions

On-site testing and monitoring of the performance of a solid walled late 19th century brick terraced house before and after energy-saving improvements were made. The results of the study will be used to:

  • Evaluate the cost-effectiveness of energy-saving options
  • Contribute towards Historic England guidance on refurbishment decisions of existing houses
  • Help develop standards for monitoring thermal performance in traditional buildings

You can read the full report of the results of the research carried out on a house at New Bolsover.

Examining the environmental performance of a whole historic area: a case study in Soho

Historic England has worked with Westminster Council to look at approaches to improving the environmental performance of the historic buildings of Soho and has produced a practical guide to retrofitting in this context. The guidance looks at individual case studies, building elements, different types of buildings and considers how communities can help.

Modern photograph of a red brick building being used to test the thermal efficiency of traditional buildings
A Victorian terraced house being used to test the thermal efficiency of traditional buildings

Technical risks of insulation

The project involves on-site monitoring and laboratory tests to understand the technical risks associated with insulating older buildings; for example, assessing the risk of condensation at the interface of the insulation and the building's fabric, looking at the impact of reducing ventilation and the potential for fungal and other damage.

Improving energy models for traditional buildings

The aim of this project is to examine and test the suitability of energy models when applied to older buildings.

Microgeneration and traditional buildings

This project aimed to deliver advice and guidance on the application and suitability of microgeneration of energy to traditionally constructed buildings.

Guidance for owners on improving energy efficiency

The project gives best practice advice and guidance for owners and managers of traditionally constructed buildings.

Image of the cover of English Heritage's publication on Energy Efficiency and Historic Buildings
English Heritage's publication on Energy Efficiency and Historic Buildings

Guidance on alterations to legislation concerning carbon reduction

This project will provide advice, guidance and training in response to changes to existing and new legislation arising from the Government's drive to reduce carbon dependency.

Expected protection results

  • A sound evidence base so that informed decisions can be made on improving the thermal and energy efficiency of traditionally constructed buildings
  • A better understanding of energy use in traditionally constructed buildings and of the potential benefits and impacts of different kinds of measures to reduce energy use
  • Best practice advice and guidance for owners on refurbishing and adapting their properties to reduce energy use
  • Best practice advice, guidance and training in response to changes to existing and new legislation to reduce energy use in older buildings

Links to other NHPP activities

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