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How to improve the energy efficiency of older buildings on rural estates

Posted on 08/02/23

While new buildings can be designed to be energy efficient, when it comes to older buildings, there are myriad challenges to improving their energy efficiency. This is especially true if they are listed buildings or have historical significance, such as is often the case when forming part of a rural estate. Retrofitting energy efficient measures may provide the means of retaining the building and its historical aesthetic, while still improving its energy performance.

Retrofitting on rural estates

When it comes to retrofitting energy efficiency on rural estates, we take a ‘fabric first’ approach. It’s also important to be holistic about it; you can’t look at one element in isolation as then you certainly won’t get the best performance. It’s a question of weighing up costs and green credentials and looking at what you need to do in order to achieve the required Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) value, while being constantly mindful on the impact it will have on the aesthetic and health of the building structure. There are many different solutions, all of which can make small, incremental improvements. We go through each element in turn to see how we can improve the overall performance of these older buildings.


Insulation should be the first priority. Different estates (and their differing situations) have different priorities about aesthetics, so there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer when it comes to insulation. Clearly, it’s vital to avoid causing any damage to the existing building fabric, so it may not be possible to fit internal insulation, as condensation and the location of the dew point within the structure may become a real problem. However, it may be the case that external insulation cannot be fitted either, as it would impact on the appearance of the building, and therefore internal insulation may be the only viable consideration. In this instance, it will be necessary to model the dew point and design with breathable materials, such as wood fibre insulation and lime or clay plasters.

Heating for older properties

Getting the heating system right is absolutely critical, not only for environmental credentials but for the budget too. These rural properties have often relied on oil or bottled gas or possibly mains electricity supply – none of which is particularly environmentally friendly or cost-effective, especially these days. However, it’s important not to get carried away and assume that a new technology, such as biomass, is the answer. Remember that many tenants on rural estates may be retirees or estate workers so controlling running costs is important. Replacing a gas boiler with a modern, more energy efficient one may actually be the best solution in some cases. Again, looking at the usage rates of a year and the final implications of the various options enables us to determine the most appropriate solution going forward.

Insulating the floor of an old building

With some older houses, the ground floor may literally be just tiles on a dirt floor. If the building is listed or it’s a beautiful floor, you may not want to disturb it. Equally, in other cases you may find that floor insulation is a practical option, which will make a noticeable difference to heat retention; in an older property this is likely to be in the region of 10–15 % of the building’s total heat loss.

Roofs can be a hot topic when it comes to insulation

The roof space or loft in a historical building may provide an opportunity for very discreet insulation. This is a simple way to improve performance and is generally inexpensive; it can make a significant difference (around 30%), so this is an easy gain.

Windows and doors

These may be very difficult to improve in cases where they can’t just be replaced. Leaded lights, for example, may be a critical part of the rural aesthetic and there may be very little room for adjustment. However, secondary glazing may be a possible option or even just putting up thick curtains over the doors and windows can help retain the heat and keep draughts out. The cumulative effect of small incremental elements like these can make a huge difference to the overall energy performance of a building.


It’s not always possible to bring a building up to modern energy efficiency standards but it may be possible to offset its energy demand. Today, there are increasing opportunities to offset rather than make direct improvements. Solar panels on a house roof or on outbuildings can provide thermal energy for hot water for example. With the price of batteries coming down, it is proving more practical to store some energy too so you may be able to avoid drawing down from the grid at peak times, for example, or by coupling them with PV panels.

The different merits of all renewable options should be weighed up carefully. For example, biomass may sound like a good option but then an air source heat pump might be cheaper, with less ongoing maintenance too.

Small changes make a big difference

It is not necessary to make significant changes to the building fabric initially. A simple place to start is to look at your fixtures and fittings. Make sure all your light bulbs are energy efficient and all the white goods are AAA rated. Use PIR sensors on external lights rather than having them on for long periods of time each day. Don’t neglect looking at living habits too and other measures to save energy wherever possible. Turning lights on only when needed will have an impact on the energy bills and just reminding every member of the household to keep the doors closed will help retain valuable heat too!

If you are interested in finding out more about retrofitting an older property, please contact our experts for more information on how we can make your renovation plans a reality.


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