Heritage campaigners eye ye olde retrofitte

Buildings over one hundred years old account for about 5% of the UK's total greenhouse gas emissions, but how do you reduce their carbon footprint without undermining their historical value?

This is the question that has been plaguing English Heritage, the National Trust and others involved in the preservation of ageing buildings.

In their annual report, Heritage Counts, the organisations have turned their attention to sustainability, recognising that older building might be less resilient to the ravages of climate change than those built in more recent years when the risks are known from the design stage.

The report calls on the Government and local authorities to recognise that the historic environment is part of the solution to tackling climate change and that its share of carbon emissions can be reduced by sensitive improvements.

Statistics shows that houses in England built before 1919 account for approximately 5% of all the country’s carbon emissions.

Speaking at the launch at the London Transport Museum, Sir Barry Cunliffe, interim chairman of English Heritage, said: “The nation’s built heritage is a finite and precious resource and we must recognise that the re-use and recycling of older buildings is both responsible and sustainable.

“Although some older homes are currently less energy efficient than some newer ones, solutions do exist to make them more energy efficient. Rising to this challenge, however, demands care.

“We need to develop and share approaches that avoid unnecessary damage to the special value and qualities of the historic environment.

“More Government policies that work towards changing human behaviour in energy use are also necessary because that is the area that will make the crucial difference.”

Fiona Reynolds, director-general of The National Trust said: “The historic environment is often amongst the first to experience problems associated with climate change and, just like any other home, work or meeting place, older buildings can be an important part of the solution.

“Every little contribution we can make to cutting carbon use can make a real difference.

“From renewable energy generation through to improving energy efficiency, Heritage Counts gives a compelling picture of how older buildings can be sensitively adapted to make a positive contribution.

“Moreover, they can inspire millions of people who visit historic properties to take action themselves. We call on the government to recognise the valuable role the heritage sector can play, and is playing, in tackling this urgent problem.”

Heritage Counts 2008 emphasises the active role heritage organisations can play to help society pursue a low carbon economy – from mitigating the share of carbon emissions produced by historic buildings through advocating measures to improve energy efficiency of older buildings, championing and experimenting with new technologies on historic properties they manage to inspiring the public to change their behaviour on energy consumption.

Sam Bond

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