The Oldest Houses In Europe

24th September 2010

The UK has one of the oldest housing stocks in Europe. Much of it has been around for a hundred years – and will have to survive another century to help meet the housing demands of our burgeoning population, writes Andrew Leech, Director of the National Home Improvement Council.

There are nearly eight million ‘non-decent’ homes in England alone and six million of them are in the private sector! Over many decades we’ve failed badly to maintain the fabric of our homes and to improve their energy efficiency, and, consequently, they generate about one third of the nation’s total carbon emissions.

For the sake of the planet, we are faced with the colossal task of making all existing homes zero-carbon by 2050. From now on, we must seriously consider the conservation aspects of our homes and that means that all improvements should be carried out against the background of energy saving and water conservation.

It’s very important to know how your home is built so that you can appreciate what may need to be done. Edwardian and Victorian properties, and other homes built before these periods, need a different approach in comparison with homes built in subsequent years up to the turn of last century.

Whatever the style or age of a home, though, the key to future energy conservation is simple: insulation, insulation, insulation.

With the exception of properties built in the last ten years, less than 20 per cent of our homes are insulated to the recommended standard, which is 270mm in lofts. And where there are cavity walls, these also should be filled. New interior insulation solutions are now emerging for homes without cavity walls, too.

If you live in a house with an integral garage be aware that this, too, can soak up heat like a sponge – so fit a door with all-round weatherproof seals and PU foam double-skinned sections.

If you add together all the gaps around doors and windows in the average semi-detached it can equate to a hole the size of nine bricks. It’s crucial, therefore, to have efficient draught proofing or – better still and more permanent – to install modern, sealed exterior doors and double-glazed windows with heat-retaining glass.

It’s only when you’ve taken care of all the basic energy efficiency ingredients that you can think about reaping the benefits of renewable energy technologies such as solar thermal, photovoltaics, wind turbines and combined heat and power. Photovoltaics and wind turbines can create the additional bonus of being able to generate electricity that’s surplus to your requirements and can be ‘sold’ to the national grid.

Today’s windows and doors play an increasing role in the efficiency of our homes. If they don’t fit properly they create unwanted draughts, making our central heating systems work harder… which means we are pushing up our carbon footprint. So, if your windows and external doors are not as good as they could be, maybe you should be investigating replacements. After you’ve had modern versions fitted you’ll soon notice the difference and, probably, be saying “Why didn’t we do this before?”.

When you are choosing new windows and doors, whether or not they are PVCu, wood, steel or aluminium, it is as well to go for those that suit the style and period of your home. Many homeowners make the big mistake of installing Georgian-style windows, for instance, into Victorian or Edwardian houses, which detracts from their character. Moreover, installing inappropriate glazing often doesn’t go down very well with the planning authorities, especially if you live in a conservation area where everything should conform to the local vernacular.

New glass and window technologies have made possible an energy efficiency rating system similar to the kitchen appliances accreditation scheme that has been improving performance in this particular sector for several years. The rating system covers the entire spectrum of window frame materials and is your assurance that the window meets certain specific performance requirements that are measured in U-values.

The latest UK Building Regulations now require that modern windows, especially for new build housing, provide certain levels of ventilation via what are called trickle vents, usually in the top of the frame, so look out for these too.

External doors are not only critical to a home’s kerbside appeal but also have a very important security role to play. Just as with windows you should try to stick to the style and character of your dwelling.

You can have external doors in a range of materials including timber, steel, grp (glass reinforced plastic) and PVCu. Timber is seen as an environmentally friendly material compared with others, such as PVCu, and its long-term performance has been greatly enhanced by new methods of pressure treatment and painting. Steel is relatively secure with low maintenance, while grp is damage resistant and can look like timber and will go on forever.

Where windows and doors are concerned make your choice wisely, and carefully compare the options. Then you’ll always be able to look at your house and say “I’m so proud to live there”!

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