Cornwall Council Historic Environment Service have produced a guide to maintaining, repairing and restoring historic buildings, while implementing appropriate energy saving measures sympathetic to the character of the building concerned. The guide focuses on sustainable, low carbon energy efficiency methods that use both traditional and modern materials (such as Hard Coat Low E Glass) and building techniques that will withstand the local Cornish weather conditions.

The Challenge

The Building Regulations 2010 set standards for design and construction that apply to most new buildings and alterations to many existing buildings, including Listed buildings. However, there is no general requirement to upgrade all existing buildings to comply with Building Regulations. Without a regulatory driver, the overarching challenge is to encourage those organisations and owners who are undertaking repairs and refurbishment of existing buildings to consider adopting measures to reduce energy use and carbon emissions by considering a systematic ‘whole building’ approach to energy efficiency. This approach needs to consider the way the building is used, the performance of its fabric, available resources, and the renovation/ maintenance timeline.

The Solution

The guidance takes into consideration the following factors:

impact of climate change on historic buildings: this considers embodied energy used when erecting the building versus operational energy; thermal mass of the building’s structure and its insulation properties; heat loss through thermal conductivity and air leakage; and increasing overall energy efficiency, using less energy, and switching to low carbon energy supplies.

keeping buildings healthy and comfortable: reviews how traditional buildings keep ventilation, heat and moisture in balance; how moisture vapour, condensation and dew points can be kept in check by retrofitting suitable membranes and barriers; the ways of controlling moisture to mitigate the potential of ‘sick building syndrome’; methods for ventilation, including trickle ventilation on windows or doors, and security measures.

reducing energy consumption: identifies ‘trigger points’ when energy efficiency measures can be retrofitted to older buildings, as well as reasons to retrofit; shows simple steps to reduce energy consumption, with reference to heating systems and draught reduction.

improvements to building fabric: explores improvements to thermal performance of traditional windows using a range of methods in keeping with a building’s heritage or character, such as draught proofing, thermal blinds, secondary or double glazing, shutters, and types of glass; discusses roof and floor insulation types and their advantages and disadvantages, as well as approximate costs; outlines external and internal wall insulation methods, materials, costs and examples of local suppliers, with specific mention of sustainable traditional methods.

sustainable materials: examines building materials, such as sustainable timber and wood derivatives, alternative construction materials such as Hempcrete, straw bales, cob, and the Thermoplan clay block system; sustainable finishes for walls (limewash, mineral silicate paint, naturepaint etc) and joinery (oils, stains, water/ oill lead paints), along with costing guidelines.

reclaimed and recyclable materials: looks at the benefits (similar properties to the original) and cautions (shorter lifespan) when using architectural salvage for repairs / rebuilds, as well as commenting on minimising waste, and using recycled content in metal rainwater goods.

funding options: lists some of the government support schemes available for heating for individuals (cold weather payment, warm home discount etc), and for replacing heating systems with low carbon systems such as biomass, solar and heat pumps.

The guide also contains a list of organisations relevant to the maintenance of historic buildings, sources of conservation accredited professionals and their associated professional bodies, and local Cornish contractors known to have experience in historic and sustainable construction.


Key Learnings

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