Green watch: December 2008

Maurice Davies, Issue 108/12, p11, December 2008
The reuse and preservation of historic buildings is in itself sustainable, yet "a number of older buildings are not very energy efficient", according to a new report by English Heritage.

Heritage Counts 2008 points to "a lack of reliable data" and English Heritage wants more research. But its preliminary findings suggest that older houses may use far less energy than predicted by their energy performance certificates.

English Heritage reckons it is possible to "improve the energy efficiency of older buildings without destroying their distinctive character and value". This is good news for museums.

At the Museums Association's sustainability workshops this summer, a third of responses feared that old buildings would make it hard for them to use less energy, with some even saying they would like to move out of unsuitable historic buildings.

English Heritage's report insists that not all historic buildings are inefficient: the massive construction of some helps by "keeping
the cold out in winter and staying cool in summer". But it concedes that others need their insulation improved, which is a challenge within listed building regulations.

The report says insulation isn't the only answer, as modern boilers and energy-efficient lighting make a difference, as does changing the way people use buildings - "the amount of energy a house consumes is as much a result of the behaviour of those living there as the fabric of the building itself".

True, but unless historic buildings improve their insulation, they will always use more energy than needed - and that can't be sustainable.

Maurice Davies is the deputy director of the Museums Association