Making historic buildings energy efficient: the challenges and the solutions

There are more than two million buildings and structures in the UK which are considered to be of special architectural or historic interest.

From Belfast’s Grand Opera House and the Forth Bridge in Scotland to the Alexandra Road Estate in North London, these structures show the rich architectural and engineering history of the U.,

These buildings are designated as listed or granted conservation status to protect them from changes. But while these legal restrictions help to preserve the country’s architectural identity, they can be problematic from an energy and environmental perspective.

listed building, energy efficiency, salisbury cathedral

A report published by the London School of Economics (LSE) has found that people living and working in in historic buildings across the country are more likely to be paying higher energy bills.

Using data from 2006-2013, the report shows that homes and businesses in historic or listed properties may be paying as much as £240 more for their energy each year, according to the report. Combined, this costs the landlords and homeowners an estimated £500m per year.

These costs arise as a result of historical preservation policies, which either make it more expensive to modify these properties with energy efficient technologies, or completely prohibit it through legal restrictions.  This means that these properties are less energy efficient than other buildings in the same regions, with negative consequences for the UK’s carbon footprint.

The LSE report estimates that energy efficiency across the UK could have been 3% lower over this time period. This may sound insignificant, but a reduction of just 1.3% would save approximately £1.7bn and 8.9m metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

With 2m buildings in the UK recognised as listed or with conservation status, improving efficiency will be an important step in meeting proposed emissions reduction targets over the coming years and decades.

 

What can be done to improve the energy status of a listed building?

It is particularly listed and conservation status buildings which have energy efficiency issues, but not every listed building is totally inefficient. And some buildings, including the All Saints Church in Ascot, Berkshire, are taking a proactive approach to energy in a bid to mitigate negative environmental effects.

The 150-year-old church is a Grade II listed building, and to maintain the integrity of some of its original features the interior of the building requires a constant temperature. The building, being a local landmark, is also floodlit throughout the night.

As a result, the building is energy intensive – but the church is making sustainability a top priority. Firstly, they chose a supplier that has a strong focus on providing a large proportion of renewable energy (last year, Opus Energy supplied 90% renewable energy to customers at no extra cost).

Secondly, they are investigating more efficient energy technologies, such as LED bulbs in their lights and a new boiler that is more efficient thanks to advanced technology.

What’s more, they’re looking into investing in small-scale renewable generators that won’t interfere with the integrity of the building, such as solar panels or a wind turbine on the surrounding land.

 

Why is efficiency important?

As the UK looks to meet emissions reduction targets and to transition to a decarbonised economy, energy efficiency will continue to be an important part of business life. Energy efficiency has become a widely-accepted concept, from draught excluders and double glazing to more energy-efficient kitchen white goods and slim televisions.

According to figures quoted in the Telegraph, the UK could see energy cost savings for £180m if 300,000 of the least energy efficient houses across the UK were made more energy.

As such, energy efficiency can play a critical role moving forward as the UK looks to transition towards a less intense energy system. By improving our energy efficiency and reducing consumption, we can all play our part in a cleaner, more sustainable future.

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