Skip to main content

Is Greening Historic Homes Possible?


According to a recent press release from the Government, the United Kingdom has set the world's most ambitious climate change goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 78% by 2035. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised that the UK will be pioneering businesses, new technologies and green innovation. The goal of the Carbon Budget is clear– to ensure all British citizens do their part in helping end climate change.

While for some areas of the UK the transition could be as easy as switching power providers, there are many locales where that simply isn't the case. For owners of historic homes in particular, going green, while necessary, can be a bit of a headache. Are greener historic homes possible? We'll find out below. 

Challenges to greening historic homes 

Greening historical buildings is an extraordinarily complex endeavour. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings states that when it comes to energy efficiency, Britain's 5 million historic houses – meaning anything built prior to 1919 – should not be considered the same as new ones, and green deal-style modern technologies are often unnecessary.

In the UK, there are around 10,000 conservation areas located in both rural and urban areas. In Portsmouth alone, there are over 30. Each conservation area imposes restrictions on what owners and occupiers can do their properties. In addition, there are over 400,000 individual buildings in the UK (600 of which are in Portsmouth) which have much more stringent regulations. These listed buildings are subject to their own regulations, and they cannot be demolished, expanded, or altered without permission granted by the Local Planning Authority. Such alterations, unfortunately, include the installation of solar panels, uPVC double glazing and most forms of external insulation.

The use of insulation inside or outside stonewalls or solid brick, as well as installing double-glazing, may not be efficient for historic houses. In addition, not only is it costly, but it could also hamper preservation efforts on old buildings. The recommended option would be to use natural building materials, heat only what needs to be warmed, and use heavy curtains and traditional shutters.

What homeowners can do?

Shift to renewables

The shift to renewables is necessary, but difficult given the costs and considerations for maintaining historic buildings. Options like solar energy are often dismissed because they're perceived as expensive and potential eyesores in a conservation area.

Opinions may be changing, however. Hoymiles notes that modern microinverters are smaller and more efficient. This new technology can make solar energy storage possible even in historic districts. Coupled with solar energy's classification as a 'Permitted Development', going solar may be more possible than ever before.

With this classification, in most cases a request for planning permission from an LPA will no longer be necessary if you're going to be installing solar panels in your home. More lenient regulations on this front may be attributed to the need for local policies to align with the Parliament's goal of lower emissions by 2035.

Have local councils provide actionable options

As we've written previously, Historic England has already produced a paper on heat pumps in conservation areas and buildings. What is needed now is an up-to-date, actionable guide on making energy efficiency a reality.

For example, councils should release further guidance on the combined use of different green alternatives for better energy efficiency in conservation areas. Combining options like solar energy and heat pumps can serve multiple purposes that will ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, this guidance must strike a careful balance between maximising energy efficiency and preserving the means of local homeowners and charm of historic homes.

A greener future

UK is leading the world in going green with the ambitious target of a 78% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by 2035. Will it be achieved? It's too early to tell, but all the nation's citizens, including those in Portsmouth, must do their part, one home at a time.

Written by Gabriella Nichols for

Property Age Linked To Energy Efficiency
Net Zero Carbon Toolkit

Related Posts