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Retrofitting Traditional Buildings



By Michael Wright

The property industry, like all other investment markets, is expected to achieve ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ or ‘progress through technology’, to quote a well-known German car manufacturer. There is the weight of private sector expectations through investors seeking greater rental values, more efficient and adaptable floor plates, and lower maintenance and running costs. Then there is the weight of public sector compliance requirements through building regulations, life safety systems, and sustainability targets through increasing energy efficiency. Cumulatively this imposes a heavy burden on what a property is required to achieve in our modern age.

So, what happens when the unstoppable force of private and public sector expectations of ‘vorsprung’ in the context of sustainability measures of property, meets the immovable object of a traditional listed building? The answer, increasingly being advocated within the Heritage sector today, is that of retrofitting of traditional buildings. The Bristolian’s Guide to Solid Wall Insulation, 2015 succinctly defines retrofitting as “…the improvement of a building’s energy use through technical interventions.” 

Various options can now be advocated to tackle the real, and perceived, notions of cold, poorly insulated, and damp traditional buildings. Practitioners are now able to consider external wall insulation systems, internal wall insulation systems, hybrid wall insulation systems, and sensitive repair options to windows, such as draught-proofing strips, secondary glazing systems, and low-E films.

The Market The market and governmental forces compelling existing traditional buildings to better their sustainability credentials are colossal. Between 2003 and 2013, there was a 128% real term increase in gas and electricity bills, it is estimated that 2.3m households in England alone live in fuel poverty, and health issues associated with people living in cold housing is estimated to cost the NHS approximately £1.36bn per annum (The Policy Exchange). Further, the fuel poverty strategy for England currently is that as many fuel poor homes as is ”reasonably practicable” achieve a minimum energy efficiency standard of Band C, by 2030. Existing traditional listed buildings are an obvious target for areas of improvement.

The principle and process of retrofitting as a means to achieve balance between the need of UK property to become more sustainable, and the need to safeguard the cultural value enshrined within our traditional buildings (which can’t be replaced), appears, and is, a good idea in theory. However, the challenges in the practical application are akin to racing a fast German automobile; too much speed and intervention, and the risk of impact damage to your carefully crafted entity (which can’t be replaced) becomes unsustainable; not enough speed, and your entity will fail to keep pace with modern world occupier demands and will swiftly be resigned to the scrap heap.

An understanding of external wall insulation systems and internal wall systems, or a mixture of both - hybrid wall insulation systems – is of particular importance in respect of retrofitting proposals

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If you have any questions regarding the above article, please contact Michael Wright by email

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