Now more than ever it’s time to tackle the carbon footprint of our built heritage. Carla Passino suggests ways to lighten your eco-conscience as well as your utilities bill
The future of housing is unquestionably Green, but although new builds can and should achieve a low carbon footprint, what about existing houses? Period homes, and listed buildings in particular, have long had a reputation for being eco-hostile, fuel-guzzling edifices that cost both their owners and the Earth. For Nick Woolley, a property-fund manager who lives in a 16th-century listed rectory, going Green is the only possible way to future-proof these houses. ‘My home was very Green when built, but in those days, there were up to 10 open fires in the house, plus a huge kitchen range. If we want these precious buildings to live on for another 500 years, we must be prepared to improve them in ways that will ensure they’re more energy efficient and Greener.’
‘The right improvements can reduce carbon emissions well in excess of Government targets’
Owners of period homes can do much to reduce their environmental impact. Make the right improvements and ‘you can see a reduction in carbon emissions from your property well in excess of the Government’s target,’ says architect Dr Jeremy Harrall, who lives in, works in and designs sustainable buildings, and has recently launched the Greening the Box initiative to make council houses more eco-friendly.
Changes, says Mr Woolley, can be as simple as draught-proofing the house, partially blocking off f1ues of unused fireplaces, or putting removable boards across the chimney opening of other fireplaces when the fire isn’t lit. Some work, such as insulating the roof and loft space, requires a larger effort, but it’s well worth it.
Changes such as this will minimise a period property’s heating requirements. However, it’s also crucial to reduce overall reliance on oil by maximising energy efficiency or switching to Greener energy sources. By replacing an old non-condensing boiler with a modern super-condensing one and fitting his house with individual radiator thermostats, for example, Mr Woolley has dramatically reduced his oil consumption. ‘My new 200 BTU super double-condensing oil boiler should use oil at 93% efficiency, whereas my old one (more than 30 years old) was probably 55% efficient at best.’
Installing solar panels to heat water is also an effective measure. Mr Woolley did so, then swapped his old water tank for a new twin coil one-and has been enjoying ‘totally free hot water’ ever since.
‘solar panels may cost £4,000 to fit, but they could save £1,000 in oil per year‘
The cost for some improvements isn’t trivial, however. Mr Woolley’s solar panels and twin coil cost £4,000, after researching products and getting quotes from three different suppliers. But this one-off cost will actually save owners money over time. ‘With solar panels, it’s not a question of “Can I afford them?” but more “Can I afford not to have them?”. I reckon they’ll save me £1,000 in oil this year.’
Plus, adds Mr Woolley, energy-supply companies now have to provide a range of grants to homeowners to make their homes more energy efficient. And, in the case of listed buildings, ‘all improvements for which planning consent is required and obtained will be free of VAT. This is a substantial incentive.’
If cost is often a false issue, getting planning consent for structural work is not. Local authorities across the country have varying views on what’s suitable for a period home, as do neighbours, who can voice their opinion. Owners of listed buildings have to jump through the extra hoop of acquiring listed building consent. English Heritage’s position on the matter is:
‘There are many ways in which people can make their homes more energy efficient without harming their character and architectural integrity. We urge owners to consider domestic “microgeneration” technologies such as solar panels and wind turbines, as well as the impact they have on the historic environment.’
Mr Woolley firmly believes that the planning agenda has changed, but, to persuade preservation authorities, he says ‘owners can stress the need to conserve buildings for the future by making them sustainable to live in -in terms of pure comfort as well as being financially viable’.
After all, ‘we need to make sure we keep this heritage alive for the future. These houses have got to be homes, not museums’.
Nick Woolley, Woolley (01638 721540; www.woolley.co.uk)
Jerry Harrall, SEArch Architects (www.searcharchitects.co.uk; 01406 364646)
English Heritage (www.englishheritage.org.uk/climatechange)
Country Life | 2 July 2008July 2nd, 2008