Whole House Renovation

A whole house approach should be adopted in planning any energy efficiency improvements, i.e. understanding your home as an integrated environment of building, occupants and setting, with changes you make to one part impacting upon other elements or functions. A whole house approach involves understanding how these elements are connected and how interventions may affect them. The result should achieve energy efficiency improvements whilst also conserving the heritage asset and the health of the occupants. See related resources.

In practice, this means thinking through the full range of possible interventions, considering their combined impacts and working out the most appropriate and cost-effective action plan for the individual building, and then monitoring the effect of measures once they are installed. The sections entitled Deciding what to do  and the The risks of Change provide guidance about the issues to think about when making such an assessment for your home.

Unintended consequences.

Draught-proofing your home (sealing up gaps around windows, doors and floorboards) will improve the energy efficiency of your home and reduce heating costs, but can affect air quality inside your home and the fabric of the property. Reducing draughts through your home can have health effects for some people (for example, it may exacerbate asthma) if appropriate levels of ventilation aren’t maintained. Likewise, draught-proofing your floors can lead to an increased risk of your floor timbers rotting through moisture retention if the movement of air beneath them is blocked. So you may need to ensure that whilst you are blocking uncontrolled draughts, sufficient controlled ventilation is maintained so that toxins and water vapour can escape from your home.

A careful approach to energy efficiency is needed for traditional buildings. This is explored in more detail for the separate areas of work, and in the sections on moisture and the use of traditional materials.

Where should you start?

This depends on many things including your budget, the history and character of the building you live in and the current condition of your home.

In thinking about the kind of opportunities that might be appropriate for your listed building or unlisted traditional home, the first thing to do is understand the building and what makes it historically significant.

The risks of change

In the modern world, we expect a lot from our homes. At the very least, we want shelter, warmth, comfort, light, power, hot and cold water, efficient drainage and decent air quality. The first inhabitants of Cheltenham were just as interested in the quality of their domestic environment but their expectations were undoubtedly different: a home warmed throughout to 20° C would have been unthinkable to families in the 18th century.

Central heating is just one of many changes we have made to the traditional homes of Cheltenham. We also enjoy bathrooms and showers, gas ovens, tumble dryers, electric lights and digital television. On the whole, the buildings themselves have coped rather well with these changes. They have proved to be robust.

We must, however, take care when planning further changes. Major energy efficiency improvements can have unwanted, and potentially serious, consequences if they are not thought through. Modern interventions need to take account of how old buildings work.

The Love Your Old Home workbook by the Centre for Sustainable Energy guides you through a 4-step process to planning energy efficiency improvements in traditional homes. (see Resources) It contains a questionnaire about your home to help you find out what makes it a ‘significant’ building – when you understand this, you’ll be in a good place to choose appropriate improvements which are less harmful to its historic features and, where required, more likely to receive Listed Building Consent.

It’s also good to bear in mind the energy hierarchy. This recommends that you think first about low impact, low cost energy-saving options first and think last about the high impact, high cost energy-generating options. In the middle there are many possibilities but the key question is always the same: is there something simpler, less invasive and more cost-effective that I can do first?