5 ways to improve thermal performance in a historic home

Historic homes can be a joy to live in - each property tells a story and they also tend to have a character and charm that's missing from many new-build homes. However, older properties also have their downsides and one big issue is that they're normally not energy efficient.

However, just because a home isn't inherently efficient doesn't mean you can't do things to make it more eco-friendly and cheaper to keep warm in the winter. Here are some suggestions for how to improve the thermal performance of a historic home.

1. Solid wall insulation

Nearly every home built since the 1920s has been constructed with cavity walls. This means there's a gap between the internal and external walls that can be easily filled with insulation. Homes built before the 1920s, however, don't have this gap and are said to have solid walls. Since there's no space to fill with insulation, a building with solid walls will need to have insulation installed on either the internal or external walls.

Internal solid wall insulation is the better option for homes where the external appearance needs to be protected. Insulating panels can be attached to the interior walls, or frames can be constructed to accommodate rolled insulation.

External solid wall insulation tends to be easier to install and it causes less disruption to occupants - but it does change the overall appearance of the property.

2. Loft insulation

Loft insulation should be a minimum of 270mm thick, although 300mm is generally recommended. Even if your home already has loft insulation, it's a good idea to check its thickness and top it up as necessary. Over time, rolled insulation can become compacted and lose effectiveness. Old recommendations also left many homes with inadequate insulation compared to today's standards.

3. Floor insulation

Homeowners often don't realise that heat can be lost through the floor too. If your home has a basement, then try lining the walls and floor with insulation panels. Alternatively, you could place insulation in the floor joists overhead. If there's not a basement, insulation could still be placed under floorboards. Solid floors can either be excavated and replaced with an insulating material, or you can place insulating panels on top of the existing surface.

4. Draught-proofing

Even the smallest draught can lead to big heat loss, and many historic homes are full of them. Start by checking over the exterior of the property, looking for cracks and holes that need to be sealed up. Next, check the seals on windows and doors to make sure they're not letting any cold air in. Finally, look for other places where draughts could occur - like around floorboards, electrical outlets and chimneys - and deal with these as appropriate.

When draught proofing, remember that it's important to get rid of unwanted draughts, but that ventilation is important to prevent condensation and maintain good air quality.

5. Upgrade glazing

Double- or triple- glazing can reduce heat loss by up to 70 per cent. However, these aren't always options for historic homes. If that's the case, you may want to consider secondary glazing. It will maintain the external appearance of the building, while providing the benefits of modern windows.

Posted by Helen Hughes