The scale and urgency of climate change means we all need to take action to reduce carbon emissions where we can. 

Blenheim Palace

Source: Shutterstock/ Fulcanelli

Our buildings are important sources of embodied carbon, so we know we must reuse them rather than demolish and rebuild. However, as buildings are the third-largest producers of carbon emissions in the UK today, we must tackle their daily emissions.

According to modelled research looking at a range of traditional buildings in this year’s Heritage Counts report, published by Historic England on behalf of the Historic Environment Forum, carefully retrofitting historic homes could save between 54% and 84% in carbon emissions. From small behavioural changes to larger energy-efficiency improvements, the research aims to empower historic building owners to better understand the available options and the substantial carbon savings they could deliver in the long term.

There are no simple ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions to reducing our historic homes’ carbon footprints, but the main message is to consider carbon-reduction options that avoid waste and avoid carbon. This means keeping on top of repair and maintenance to improve the condition of their existing materials.

It means planning well for a retrofit – really understanding the way a building is used, what makes it special and how energy is used within different areas. It also means considering the retrofit option that uses fewer new materials with large carbon footprints – which are often imported from abroad – and instead using natural, durable and recycled materials.

The report outlines a range of acts historic homeowners can consider, from the small, such as adding draught-proofing, to the larger options such as installing or upgrading loft insulation and secondary glazing, which itself is one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing emissions.

We can greatly reduce the carbon footprint of our precious historic homes while looking after what makes them special.

Duncan Wilson is chief executive of Historic England