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Review: Green Guide for Historic Buildings

published by The Stationery Office for the The Prince’s Regeneration Trust

With retrofit now high on the agenda there’s a desperate thirst for knowledge but a huge lack of reliable information, especially when it comes to listed and historic buildings. Addressing the energy efficiency and environmental issues relating to old buildings of all types and sizes poses real and complex problems and may, potentially, have repercussions in the future. The owners of such properties, developers involved in this sector and building professionals, such as architects and surveyors, are all searching for reliable, long term solutions.

The Green Guide for Historic Buildings: How to improve the environmental performance of listed and historic buildings seeks to offer answers and highlights ways of making old buildings more sustainable. As its name suggests, it guides the reader through some of the areas and technologies which must be considered. Chapters include statutory requirements, targets and policy; planning a sustainable project; reducing demand for energy and resources; moving to cleaner energy; adapting to the impacts of climate change and reducing demand for energy and resources. A helpful appendix gives details of funding and finance; environment and climate change statutory requirements; useful links; a glossary and bibliography.

Case studies are an important and illuminating part of the book. These range from government offices, a Hertfordshire cottage and a field barn ‘eco-pod’ to Castle Howard, tenement flats in Edinburgh and the Natural History and Victoria and Albert Museums in London.

Although much of the information provided can inevitably be found elsewhere, what is important about The Green Guide is that it focuses the reader’s mind on easily overlooked issues unique to old buildings. One simple example is to do with the care that needs to be taken when lifting floorboards to install insulation; the Guide warns: “they can act as a structural element in historic buildings”. Mindful of the fact that changes and additions should have minimum impact on the historic fabric and should be reversible in the future, the case study on St James’s Church, in London’s Piccadilly, describes how the photovoltaic panels are supported by specially designed plastic boxes weighted down with ballast so there are no securing bolts to hold them. Before trying this at home I would suggest that thought is given to the loading on the roof!

While The Green Guide is a long way from providing all the answers – a difficult task for any publication given the diverse nature of old buildings – it does a good job in highlighting the challenges and the issues and provides a useful overview of some of the options currently available to anyone involved in or contemplating such work.