Retrofit Essentials

Roger Hunt

Roger Hunt, co-author (with Marianne Suhr) of the Old House Eco Handbook, recommends a cautionary approach to retrofitting old buildings. The most appropriate measures should be planned to meet an identified end result.


Unintended consequences is a phrase that increasingly crops up when considering energy efficient retrofits to old buildings. This is partly because there is much that is still not understood about what happens when retrofit measures are introduced into older structures. More worryingly, unintended consequences often result from the fact that retrofits are not always well thought through in terms of selecting appropriate solutions and considering how they might interact with one another. 

Retrofitting should be an holistic process and, for this to happen, it’s essential to know the eventual goal and have a plan or ‘roadmap’. This will enable the most appropriate measures to be selected and their interrelationship with one another to be better understood, even if they’re introduced over an extended period of time as funds and opportunities present themselves. If planning is inadequate, conflicts may occur and work might have to be undone to accommodate future phases of work or to rectify problems.

It’s essential that the roadmap is all embracing. It must consider everything from walls, windows and doors to roofs, floors and chimneys together with strategies for ventilation, water savings, heating efficiency and energy generation. When deciding on a retrofit strategy the interrelationship between these elements has to be understood. For example, draughtproofing without controlled ventilation may lead to poor air quality, condensation and mould growth.

One useful tool, which helps understand these relationships better, is the responsible retrofit guidance wheel developed by the Sustainable Traditional Buildings Alliance (STBA). This depicts a range of measures and encourages exploration of the advantages, concerns and interactions that result.

Retrofit projects can be broken down into three phases: quick wins, opportunities and deep retrofits. Quick wins achieve maximum gains for minimum effort and expenditure and may include fitting energy efficient light bulbs, filling gaps between floorboards, overhauling heating systems and installing loft insulation. Opportunities may embrace such things as draughtproofing windows when repairs are being undertaken; selecting thermal blinds or curtains when new furnishings are required; and installing water saving showers, taps and toilets when bathrooms are being renewed. Deep retrofits can involve installing solar panels and adding thermal insulation beneath floors or to walls during major renovation projects. 

What must not be forgotten is that few old buildings are the same, even in a terraced street where each house may initially appear to be identical. This brings challenges as there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and each scheme must be considered on its own merits to ensure the correct specification and detailing. Another key issue is occupant behaviour. A building that is occupied all day potentially needs different solutions to one only occupied at night.

With any retrofit, building regulations must be considered. In the case of listed buildings, listed building consent might be necessary. Building are generally listed in their entirety which means that interventions internally as well as externally may need approval. Indeed, with all old buildings, careful thought should be given to any retrofit solution that has an impact on character or fabric.     

Unintended consequences is a phrase that increasingly crops up when considering energy efficient retrofits to old buildings. This is partly because there is much that is still not understood about what happens when retrofit measures are introduced into older structures. More worryingly, unintended consequences often result from the fact that retrofits are not always well thought through in terms of selecting appropriate solutions and considering how they might interact with one another. 

Retrofitting should be an holistic process and, for this to happen, it’s essential to know the eventual goal and have a plan or ‘roadmap’. This will enable the most appropriate measures to be selected and their interrelationship with one another to be better understood, even if they’re introduced over an extended period of time as funds and opportunities present themselves. If planning is inadequate, conflicts may occur and work might have to be undone to accommodate future phases of work or to rectify problems.

It’s essential that the roadmap is all embracing. It must consider everything from walls, windows and doors to roofs, floors and chimneys together with strategies for ventilation, water savings, heating efficiency and energy generation. When deciding on a retrofit strategy the interrelationship between these elements has to be understood. For example, draughtproofing without controlled ventilation may lead to poor air quality, condensation and mould growth.

One useful tool, which helps understand these relationships better, is the responsible retrofit guidance wheel developed by the Sustainable Traditional Buildings Alliance (STBA). This depicts a range of measures and encourages exploration of the advantages, concerns and interactions that result.

Retrofit projects can be broken down into three phases: quick wins, opportunities and deep retrofits. Quick wins achieve maximum gains for minimum effort and expenditure and may include fitting energy efficient light bulbs, filling gaps between floorboards, overhauling heating systems and installing loft insulation. Opportunities may embrace such things as draughtproofing windows when repairs are being undertaken; selecting thermal blinds or curtains when new furnishings are required; and installing water saving showers, taps and toilets when bathrooms are being renewed. Deep retrofits can involve installing solar panels and adding thermal insulation beneath floors or to walls during major renovation projects. 

What must not be forgotten is that few old buildings are the same, even in a terraced street where each house may initially appear to be identical. This brings challenges as there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and each scheme must be considered on its own merits to ensure the correct specification and detailing. Another key issue is occupant behaviour. A building that is occupied all day potentially needs different solutions to one only occupied at night.

With any retrofit, building regulations must be considered. In the case of listed buildings, listed building consent might be necessary. Building are generally listed in their entirety which means that interventions internally as well as externally may need approval. Indeed, with all old buildings, careful thought should be given to any retrofit solution that has an impact on character or fabric.     


All elements of a building must be considered before retrofitting. Image: Roger Hunt​
 

Unintended consequences: fuel storage needs thought. Image: Roger Hunt 
 


The STBA retrofit guidance wheel is a useful tool.​
 

Every building is different, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Image: Roger Hunt

 

 

 

Roger Hunt

Roger Hunt is an award winning writer and blogger specialising in sustainability, old houses, housebuilding and traditional and modern building materials. He is the co-author of Old House Handbook and the companion volume Old House Eco Handbook.

Read Roger Hunt’s blog huntwriter and follow him on Twitter @huntwriter

 

 

 

Share with: