If you live in an old house and you’re worrying about your fuel bills you’re not alone. The National Trust has also been thinking about how it can cut its energy costs and is keen to share its ideas and experiences. But what, you may ask, does your home have to do with the Trust’s grand houses that we flock to see? Maybe not much. That’s why the lessons it’s keen to pass on are from its ‘estate’ of some 5,000 much more ordinary properties that it lets out and which it’s upgrading and retrofitting to be more energy efficient.
Crucially, most of these buildings have solid walls so they fall into what’s often referred to as the ‘hard to treat’ category. They also have those ingredients beloved by estate agents: ‘character’ and ‘period features’. In other words they’re often exactly the same sort of property that you and I may live in. This makes what the Trust is doing exciting. If they can retrofit the homes they own to be energy efficient and cheaper to run, so can we.
Retrofitting doesn’t necessarily involve high tech gizmos and bolt-on technology. It’s often about far simpler measures that don’t have to cost a lot and, importantly when dealing with older buildings, are not overly invasive. A good example of retrofitting in practice can be found at the Buscot and Coleshill Estate near Swindon, Wiltshire, where the National Trust has been working with the SuperHomes Network on three cottages.
SuperHomes, many of which are open to the public in March and September, are older homes refurbished to reduce carbon emissions by at least 60%. With the Buscot and Coleshill cottages, the Trust has worked towards its own Bronze level environmental standard. This involves three key stages. Firstly, minimising energy wasted; for example, through insulation and draught-proofing. Secondly, a reduction in the use of resources; for example, through water conservation and opting for low-energy items. Thirdly, the installation of new components, plant and equipment. Importantly this approach combines a light touch with the maximum gains.
All three cottages on the Buscot and Coleshill Estate are Victorian. One of them is Grade II listed, has a complex series of extensions and alterations and incorporates parts of an earlier building. This means it’s vital to respect the aesthetics of the buildings and to understand the way the structures work and ‘breathe’. Using appropriate and sustainable materials and products is key.
The energy saving measures are being retrofitted during a wider refurbishment project. They range from secondary glazing, draught-proofing and new energy efficient boilers to roof insulation, LED lighting and the installation of wood burning stoves. There are also low volume baths, dual flush cisterns and heat recovery systems in the bathrooms. Full details of the Buscot and Coleshill refurbishments and a short video can be found at the SuperHomes website.
Roger Hunt is an award winning writer and blogger and is the co-author of Old House Eco Handbook, a practical guide to retrofitting for energy-efficiency and sustainability. He blogs at www.huntwriter.com.
Be inspired to make your own home energy smart at Bristol Green Doors this weekend (27th and 28th September). 32 homes showing a variety of different energy efficiency measures will be open to the public in various locations across Bristol. Entry to the houses are free, but donations welcome.