Is it possible to make a listed home energy-efficient?

The UK government has set some ambitious targets to combat climate change, most notably to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

However, this pledge may contain a gaping oversight: the issue of energy-efficient housing. According to the National Housing Federation, the 25 million homes in England produce 58.5 million tonnes of CO2 each year.

Taking an average from these figures, that means the 2.6 million Scottish homes produce more than 6 million tonnes of CO2 between them each year.

As a result, you may be thinking about trying to make changes to your home to make it more energy-efficient, helping to reduce your home’s carbon footprint.

The trouble is that this becomes a serious problem if your home is a listed building. It can be tricky to adapt a Grade A-, B-, and C-listed building, meaning you’re unable to make choices that improve your home’s ability to retain heat or use less fuel.

The issue of listed buildings in the UK is potentially larger than you think. In fact, according to a report by building and environment charity BRE Trust, “the UK has the oldest housing stock in Europe, and most likely in the world”.

In Scotland alone, there are estimated to be around 47,000 listed buildings – more than one per square mile. That’s a considerable number of buildings that may have energy-efficiency issues.

So, if you live in one of these buildings, you may be wondering whether it’s even possible to make your listed home energy-efficient.

Protections make it practically impossible to make changes

Listed buildings famously enjoy a great deal of legal protections to preserve them as objects of historic significance.

Of course, while this is an important matter for maintaining heritage buildings and sites, it also brings a great set of headaches for homeowners.

Large-scale changes, such as adding a different type of heating system, can be entirely out of the question. Similarly, even simple changes such as adding double-glazed windows can be against the rules.

This makes it difficult for homeowners to find ways to make their homes retain more heat and use less energy.

Costs are an important factor

There are issues beyond just the protections that listed buildings receive, too. Potentially an even larger barrier is the issue of cost.

For example, putting in underfloor heating or adding a heat pump can be expensive, with costs running into the thousands of pounds. If the building is large or has particularly complex needs, this could be even more costly.

Even so, heating inefficient homes is also expensive, and potentially bad for your health if the fuel you’re using is a known pollutant or carcinogen. As a result, it may be cost-effective to pay these heavy costs now to save on them moving forwards.

Making changes to your home

Despite these challenges, it’s still possible to make a listed home efficient through a process known as “retrofitting”. This essentially means introducing new technologies to old buildings.

This involves using methods such as carefully placed solar panels or a heat pump to your home to provide heating without breaking the listed rules.

Whatever you decide to do, it’s important to make changes that are sensitive to the needs of the building. While it may be costly, it’s better to be careful and patient than to rush in and realise that what you want to do simply isn’t possible.

If you’re trying to retrofit a listed home, it may be worth finding a professional surveyor or engineer to make suggestions about what’s viable.

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