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Retrofitting older buildings in Scotland: A Plan for energy efficiency

Scotland's older housing stock presents significant opportunities for increasing energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions.



Image: Flickr



Scotland has about 34,000 older buildings, with 20% of these located in Fife. These buildings that have been described as having meaningful connections to the past also have significant potential for contributing to Scotland's plan for energy efficiency.

Bob Kerslake, chair of Peabody, said, “Making these buildings energy efficient will stimulate spending in the construction industry and boost heritage-related tourism and hospitality." He further indicated that this will also help conserve energy: “Making older homes more energy efficient will transform the lives of the people who live and work in them, reducing household energy bills and improving health and wellbeing."

Older buildings are adaptable and can play a crucial role in the fight against climate change. However, they face threats, such as a 20% increase in rainfall levels over the last 50 years, according to heritage experts.

One of the threats posed by these older buildings so far as energy efficiency is concerned revolves around air circulation. When these are properly maintained, older buildings are permeable and effectively control air movement and moisture transfer. Fitting impermeable insulation to traditional masonry buildings can trap moisture and inhibit air exchange.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES), with the aim to promote Scotland’s historic environment, has taken the lead in trailing and demonstrating improvements to historic and traditional buildings through over 30 refurbishment case studies.

It has thus been reported that energy efficiency delivers a number of environmental benefits. It significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions, both directly from the combustion or consumption of fossil fuels and indirectly from the production of energy.

This article will highlight how some older buildings have successfully improved their energy efficiency while preserving their special architectural interest or historic character.

Holyrood Park Lodge, a mid-19th-century building, was insulated with breathable and natural insulation materials. Wood-fibre insulation was installed under the existing timber-suspended floors, while blown cellulose insulation was placed behind the existing lath and plasterboard finishes. Additionally, timber window casements were retrofitted with double-glazed units, and the windows were draught-proofed.

Link to full works on retrofitting the Holyrood Park Lodge

Downie’s Cottage, Braemar It is very unusual to find a Highland house from the middle of the 19th century. In reality, it is one of the very few open-hearth vernacular buildings still standing in Scotland's northeast. In order to be energy efficient, its walls were insulated using insulated lime plaster. Repairs to windows and timber floor linings were all in support of the structure being energy efficient. The cottage now has a bright future as a result of its renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements.
Downie’s Cottage, Braemar



Link to full works on retrofitting the Downie’s Cottage


Anatt Road, Perthshire
A post-1919 structure, built using traditional methods, underwent thermal upgrades, double-glazing of existing timber windows and lath and plaster wall linings. to meet the existing standards of energy conservation. HES Senior Technical Officer, Lila Angelaka, confirmed “the building is now more comfortable for the tenant to live in and is significantly more energy efficient.”


Anatt Road, Perthshire

Link to full works on retrofitted structure

In a quest for older buildings to be retrofitted to meet energy standards, Lila added that it can be done sensitively and proportionately without impacting the cultural significance. “The cultural significance and fabric of the building don’t need to be negatively impacted”.

Additional examples of older buildings that have been retrofitted to improve energy efficiency in Scotland include:

Souden Kirk, Southdean Parish Repairs mainly in its roofing.

Kinneil House, Bo'ness Approximately 40 metres of its retaining wall was dismantled and re-built with hot-mixed mortar.

Earlston The chimney, roof, floors, and windows were some of the works on this structure.

Cruck Cottage, Torthorwald Repairs mainly in its roofing.

Cove Harbour, Berwickshire Pilot repairs and consolidation work are part of the historic harbor of Cove on the Berwickshire coast in southeast Scotland.

Holme Farm Cottage Following the previous renovation, the cottage's poor ventilation played a major role in the development of mold; as a result, improving the ventilation was essential to this structure.

Older buildings possess qualities that make them inherently energy-efficient while simultaneously being resistant to retrofits that would enhance energy savings.
Therefore, owners of such buildings should exercise caution when making changes to their older homes while also appreciating the built-in efficiency they have received from earlier generations.

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