Retrofitting with care

Blogging here has been on hold recently because I’ve been busy writing my next book: Old House Eco Handbook. It’s a companion volume to Old House Handbook and, instead of focusing simply on the care and repair of buildings, it builds on the subject to consider all aspects of retrofitting from insulation to energy generation. Above all, we’re looking at how old buildings – mediaeval to Edwardian – can be made more sustainable and energy efficient without destroying what makes them important. This is tricky technically, practically and aesthetically and there’s certainly no one size fits all solution.

It’s worth remembering that many old buildings already possess values associated with being ‘eco’, ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’. Old houses frequently have high thermal mass, helping to prevent overheating in summer, use natural materials in their construction and have components which are easy to repair, while the materials used to build them are generally reusable.

Importantly, old buildings are a valuable resource for the future – especially when successfully ‘retrofitted’ to improve their energy efficiency and reduce their environmental impact – and have a significant role to play in maintaining and creating communities and aesthetic interest.

But, and it’s a very big ‘but’, for building to remain sustainable into the future we must take care in the process of retrofitting. Without fully understanding how a building works there’s a very real risk that, at some point in the years to come, we may find ourselves rectifying problems created due to the use of ill judged techniques and materials. This will be incredibly wasteful of resources, and damaging to the buildings involved, and is my key concern, especially as we head towards the implementation of the Green Deal.

Old House Eco Handbook by Roger Hunt and Marianne Suhr, in association with the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), is being published by Frances Lincoln in spring 2013.