Plans showing proposed building in Chester

Save your energy – how to improve older buildings energy efficiency

Posted on 09/03/22

Nowadays, a multitude of energy efficiency measures may be incorporated into building design from the outset. From the materials chosen, to the size and shape of the structure, and layout of rooms, all aspects of the building can be tailored to maximise energy efficiency and minimise heat loss and environmental impact.

There are two key areas in contemporary design with regards to energy efficiency – the building itself and the technology, in particular the form of heating system that’s deployed. But when you look at older buildings, with their designs from an era when energy efficiency wasn’t the ‘hot’ topic it is now, they often fall far short of modern standards, legislation and regulation. This has been especially highlighted by the need for an EPC, or Energy Performance Certificate, when a property is sold, which defines how energy efficient and/or costly a building is to run and its ongoing operating costs.

Cavity filling

One of the crucial ways a building can be updated is the insulation that is integrated into the design. Insulation is the media that prevents heat being lost through an element, such as a wall or ceiling, and also in the warmer months will assist the building to keep cool, with adequate ventilation.

One method is by adding wall insulation, which is considerably simpler if it is a cavity wall, as the insulation can be injected or blown in, while for other solid walls, an inner lining might be the only solution. The Majority of properties these days have some form of loft insulation installed, as it’s a really simple way to reduce heat loss. Homeowners can sometimes unroll quilted cavity insulation in loft spaces themselves, or for more complex projects, specialist help can be engaged. Pipe lagging too, the addition of layers of insulation to service pipework, can also be carried out. In a typical building, about 25% of the total heat loss is through the roof. By installing or increasing the amount of loft insulation and upgrading a loft hatch to a “Part L” compliant airtight hatch, significant savings can be made in terms of energy and cost.

Strengthening weak points

Windows are another ‘weak’ area in a structure, where heat can be gained – via sunlight – but also easily lost. Old-fashioned secondary glazing could be very thin indeed and draughts and heat loss were a problem. The introduction of innovations such as double and triple glazing, coatings to reflect or retain heat and light, and the use of inert gases in the unit cavities can led to a noticeable reduction in both heat loss and noise pollution in properties.

The installation of double glazing is a comparatively simple process, as the window frames and any opening lights can be made to measure, in either uPVC or timber, to fit any opening. This purpose-built approach ensures that their replacement is a viable option, in terms of cost, time and minimal disruption. Secondary glazing can be added if the windows are protected – when the building is Grade listed for example – or if the design of the windows wouldn’t benefit from being replaced with uPVC or timber. Wooden frames of course degrade over time, so replacements are needed anyway in some cases, as part of a general upgrade. The upgrading of windows and doors can also provide other benefits which include reducing draughts and reducing the levels and therefore impacts of external sources of noise.

A solution for the future

The other way to make sure energy efficiency is being addressed is through the form of heating system employed. Sustainability is a key issue when it comes to environmental impact and the way the system’s power is generated is as important as its efficiency itself.

There is an array of energy efficient boilers available, with the most efficient gas-powered equipment available without a massive outlay. Gone are the days of oil and solid fuel boilers for the majority of properties now, but in older properties these may have been the only option, if the property’s area wasn’t on the gas grid. There are now far more efficient options available for all properties, whether they are connected to the mains gas grid or “off-grid”.

Both new and existing systems can have their efficiency improved still further by the installation of 24hr, seven-day programmers and the use of room by room controls.

The soon to be launched “Boiler Upgrade Scheme” will reduce the capital cost of installing modern heating systems such as Air and Ground source heat pumps, which could in turn be powered by off-grid sources such as solar or wind. Options are now available which will allow homeowners, either in whole or in part, to generate power and become self-sufficient – which is perhaps the ultimate goal for sustainability and home efficiency in the future.

If you are considering a construction project involving an older building, we are happy to arrange a free of charge design consultation. Please contact us for more information.

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