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Government urged to consider traditional buildings in Green Deal

Responsible Retrofit Report calls for ‘step change’ in the approach to retrofitting traditional buildings

Research carried out by the Sustainable Traditional Buildings Alliance (STBA) was commissioned following concern for generic measures of retrofit being targeted by the Green Deal, and related risks to traditional buildings.

It is estimated that solid wall traditional buildings number over 6 million and make up 23% of the UK’s housing stock. But the question is - how to retrofit them without incurring additional costs, damage to the structure, or adverse health effects. Traditional buildings require a different approach to insulation and airtightness.

The research found that there is a lack of knowledge in the industry about how traditional buildings perform, and this is reflected by current policy.

Sophie Pelsmakers, who contributed to the report, said: ‘for upgrades to be successful, the interventions undertaken need to be appropriate for the building’s heritage, construction, location and use rather than the ‘one solution fits all’ approach.  This is where the problem lies and is what has been identified as a major issue in the report. There is a significant lack of research into unintended consequences of retrofit.

At present, the Green Deal policy is rather generic and is likely to lack the detailed assessment and knowledge required to decide the most appropriate interventions for each building and to put an expert team together to deliver it’.

According to the STBA report, ‘There are good opportunities for the development of safe, robust, energy-efficient and cost-effective retrofit measures for many areas of traditional buildings’. The report calls for these to be developed on a different basis and structure from those currently being proposed by the Green Deal.  It suggests that maintenance, improvement or repair work that is of benefit to the energy performance of the building should be brought into the Green Deal.

It also calls for a public engagement programme to raise awareness of both the risks and the benefits involved in retrofitting traditional buildings. The STBA believe that the retrofitting of traditional buildings could become a ‘driver for significant positive change in the construction industry for employment, skills, user behaviour and for public engagement and understanding of traditional buildings’.

When asked how the findings of the report would affect architects, Sophie replied: ‘Clearly there will be demand for architects to be involved in the design and detailing of the upgrades; however to respect heritage and improve building fabric,will require indepth research to get it ‘right’ on each project, and should involve a close dialogue with a multi-disciplinary team of experts and experienced professionals.Retrofit of buildings may have a significant liability if not undertaken carefully and appropriately. Architects will benefit from sharing knowledge with a wider team and carefully monitoring pre and post retrofit measures.’

Neil May, co-author of the report, responded by saying: ‘The STBA report makes it clear that there are many unknowns in regard to traditional buildings and many of the current understandings and measures of assessment are either incomplete or wrong. I hope that architects will read this report and then start to change their assessment methods and approach accordingly.

In particular a systemic approach to retrofit which takes into account interactions of building elements and users is vital to successful projects. The problem is that this requires an informed approach with engagement of all parts of the supply chain and users, and as such is more difficult.

However in our opinion it is the only good way to undertake retrofit of any existing building and by taking such an approach the chance of success is far greater and the long term effect of education, skills improvement and engagement could be transformative for the UK.’

Following on from the report, the STBA are developing an interactive guidance tool. This tool is aimed at moving away from the ‘notion that there is one solution for every building’ and tries to connect those involved in the retrofit process with research on the subject. The tool will be trialled by CADW in the upcoming months.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Good: the Green Deal has steadfastly set its face against treating retrofit as any more than an add-on of bits of insulation and perhaps a boiler. It has also failed to address the need to design and project manage a complete and integrated solution for each building's and owner's energy saving strategy. We participated in the 'consultation' on GD, pointing out that retrofit is a complex operation, even to a single domestic dwelling, which needs a wide range of skills to pull off successfully. There was no feedback.
    I think every practicing architect is only too well aware of how a good retrofit has to go down into the fundamentals of a building. Most architects are also very eco-aware, not least because even the building regulations are running well ahead of public perception. I suspect there are few architects who believe a 'green deal assessor' will know enough about buildings etc to administer ECO. So it is a bit harsh to be directing the comment at architects to 'change their assessment methods and approach'. Here we are, trying to carry out good retrofits and completely undermined by the Green Deal assumption that it can be a single bit of add-on stuff which will pay for itself within a few years.

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  • Too much talk.

    The issue is a very simple one - we need to stop wasting energy. ALL buildings should be treated equally.

    Robert Bridges

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