responsible retrofit - Sustainable Development Foundation (SDF)

responsible retrofit - Sustainable Development Foundation (SDF)
responsible retrofit
of traditional buildings
Responsible Retrofit Series
Sustainable Traditional Buildings Alliance (STBA)
The STBA is an alliance of not-for–profit organisations representing the sustainability,
heritage and professional sectors in the UK. The STBA aims to promote and deliver a
more sustainable traditional built environment through high quality research, education,
training and policy.
The Responsible Retrofit Series of booklets provides short and usable guidance about
traditional building retrofit, based upon best current research and practice, and which is
holistic and realistic in its understanding and aims. These booklets will help to reduce risk
and liability, while also improving outcomes in reality, not only in terms of energy, but
also health and heritage. They are not tick box guidance, because there is unavoidable
complexity and uncertainty in the way that old buildings, new technologies, nature and
people perform and interact. Furthermore, retrofit often involves conflicting values and
aims. There is no one-size-fits-all ‘solution’. Responsible Retrofit means taking an informed,
integrated and ethical attitude to these challenges. These guides are here to help people
to do this.
Future planned Responsible Retrofit guides will cover ‘How to Do’ subjects such as
External Wall Insulation, Internal Wall Insulation, Roof and Floor Insulation, Renewable
Energy systems, and Usable Controls and Services.
We welcome feedback from retrofit projects. We encourage people to share their
knowledge and experience with us as part of a collaborative national endeavour to
improve and sustain our traditional built environment.
Visit our website:
This publication has been supported by the following organisations:
Construction Industry Training Board
The CITB works with employers to encourage
training, helping to build a safe, professional and
fully qualified workforce. It also develops specialist
training for conservation and retrofit work.
We are the public body that looks after England’s
historic environment. We champion historic places,
helping people to understand, value and care for
This publication has also been endorsed by Cadw,
the Welsh Government’s historic environment
Historic Scotland is an Agency within the
Scottish Government and is directly responsible
to Scottish Ministers for safeguarding the
nation’s historic environment, and promoting its
understanding and enjoyment.
Authors: Neil May and Nigel Griffiths
Cover image by Nigel Griffiths
Graphics by Isabel Carmona
Design by Jenny Searle Associates
© STBA 2015
1 Introduction .....................................................................4
2 Getting it right.................................................................6
3 The challenges of responsible retrofit .....................8
4 Understanding risks.....................................................12
5 How to achieve responsible retrofit....................... 18
6 Look and learn...............................................................20
7 Resources........................................................................22
Contents 3
1 Introduction
Retrofit principles
1 Think about:
Who is this guidance for?
This guide is for anyone involved in a project aiming to reduce the energy use of a
traditional building through technical interventions. This is what is primarily meant by
‘retrofit’. The guidance will be useful for:
•Building owners, managers and occupiers
•Architects, assessors and designers
•Project managers
•Building contractors
Why retrofit your building?
There are many reasons for retrofitting your building. These include the desire to
reduce carbon emissions, to save money, to improve comfort and health, to reduce
worry about fuel bills and supply, and to improve the value of a property. Some people
are also obliged to retrofit because of legislation or building regulations.
What is this guidance for?
It is to enable people to reduce energy use in buildings in an effective way, which is
also good for health, heritage and the natural environment. This is what we mean by
responsible retrofit.
2 Take a Whole Building Approach:
Why is this guidance necessary?
There is increasing evidence that the retrofit of traditional buildings (and indeed all
buildings) over the past few years has not led to the expected reductions in energy
use, and has harmed the building fabric, heritage or health of building occupants. This
is for three primary reasons:
•Incorrect standards and assessment of traditional buildings.
•Single or narrow focus approach to both risks and retrofit measures.
•Disjointed and poor quality building process.
This guide makes clear where existing standards and information are wrong.
It shows the need to consider three broad areas of risk: Energy and Environment;
Building Health (health of both fabric and people); and Heritage and Community.
Sometimes compromises must be made between these values to get the best overall
outcome, and this guide demonstrates a practical approach to this problem.
3 Use a Joined-up Process:
It identifies and promotes a Whole Building Approach which integrates Fabric,
Services (such as heating and ventilation) and Human Behaviour with the Context
of the building. We show how this balanced approach is essential to long term
Finally, it demonstrates the importance of a Joined-up Process, linking up assessment,
design, construction and use with proper training, quality assurance and feedback.
In summary, this guidance illustrates these principles and demonstrates why they are
essential factors in avoiding risks and pitfalls, and achieving lasting benefits.
4 Planning responsible retrofit of traditional buildings
Iain McCaig, Historic England
What is a traditional building?
Traditional buildings are generally of solid wall (ie not cavity walls) or solid timber
frame construction, which were built before 1919. Traditional construction differs
significantly from modern construction, having different materials, construction
methods and design. Traditional buildings make up about 25% of the UK’s total
building stock.
It is important to note that many traditional buildings have had alterations,
additions or other changes to their fabric, services and use over the past century.
Traditional buildings are neither pure nor unchanging.
Why does the retrofit of traditional buildings need a special approach?
All work on buildings requires an approach which is specific to their context.
However there are some general qualities of traditional buildings which are
worth defining in comparison with modern (post 1919) buildings, and which
consequently require different understanding, skills and material solutions.
Nicholas Heath
What is retrofit?
Retrofit is the process of improving the energy and environmental performance
of buildings through technical interventions, albeit that to achieve benefits, this
process often needs to encompass occupants’ lifestyle changes and involves
an ongoing programme of repairs and maintenance. A prime focus of retrofit
is on reducing heat losses through building fabric (ie, walls, doors, windows,
floors and roof) – thereby cutting heating costs, energy use and CO2 emissions.
However, there are also other important ways of reducing these impacts, including
improvement in services such as heating systems, controls and lighting and by the
use of renewable energy. Different buildings and different occupants benefit from
different approaches. Not all buildings can be retrofitted, and for some buildings
and people there are more appropriate ways of reducing environmental impact
than technical interventions.
ABOVE: Traditional buildings can be very different in
age, construction, condition and use.
BELOW: Traditional buildings not only perform
differently technically, but they represent a different
way of living, and a connection with the past.
Traditional buildings are constructed
from different materials and in different
structural forms compared with
modern buildings and consequently
they perform differently. They usually
heat up and cool down more slowly.
Moreover they deal with moisture
differently, allowing rain, groundwater
and internal moisture (from washing,
cooking and breathing) to move in a
controlled way into and through their
semi-permeable fabric. They also rely on
sunshine, wind, heating and adequate
internal ventilation through windows,
chimneys and draughts in order to keep
dry. In good condition and with regular
maintenance, the system stays in
balance. Changes to fabric performance,
heating and ventilation, if not correctly
undertaken, can change this balance
and lead to problems of overheating,
moulds and ill health.
Robyn Pender, Historic England
Culturally, traditional buildings provide
local character and a very tangible
connection to the past, with aesthetic
and community benefits. All buildings
do this, but traditional buildings reach
further into the past and have greater
links to locality and history, something
which cannot be easily replaced.
Introduction 5
2 Getting it right
Responsible retrofit should deliver sustained net reductions in
energy use, at minimal environmental impact, while maintaining or
improving the traditional built environment and making a positive
contribution to human health.
Energy savings/Environmental improvement
Real reductions in energy use reduce costs as well as CO2
emissions and ultimately contribute to improving everyone’s
fuel security. Long term savings are best achieved through
simple and robust technical measures which are easy to use
and maintain. Reducing CO2 emissions is also essential in
helping to reduce global warming. Responsible retrofit also
minimises the ‘embodied’ impact of materials and construction
in the build process and the mitigates the impact on resources
and habitats.
Heritage protection and enhancement
Most traditional buildings, including those that are listed, can
be upgraded with at least some retrofit measures (to fabric
or services). With appropriate care and user engagement, it is
possible to achieve sustained reductions in energy use without
damage to buildings or to streetscapes. Where buildings have
fallen into disrepair they can be enhanced by sympathetic
renovation and proper maintenance, which not only prolongs
their life but also contributes to reductions in energy use.
Healthy buildings
Retrofit is an opportunity not only to improve energy use, but
also to improve comfort and health for a building’s occupants.
Discomfort and ill health in buildings are often connected with
moisture problems due to poor maintenance, inappropriate
repairs and alterations or inadequate heating. All these
omissions also affect the health of the building fabric. Toxins
(such as radon), overheating and usability (it is important for
occupants to be able to control their environment) are essential
considerations for health and comfort. A health-focused
strategy can prevent long-term side effects, illnesses and costs,
and short-term failures.
Achieving responsible retrofit often requires compromises
between different values. It also requires a Whole Building
Approach whereby there is integration of the fabric measures
(such as insulation, new windows, draught proofing), and
services (particularly ventilation, heating, controls and
renewables) along with proper consideration of how people
live and use the building. All of these
must be adapted to the context of the
building (its exposure, status, condition,
form etc). When these are integrated
well, a building is in balance.
LEFT: In the diagrams we show that an
Unbalanced building can be retrofitted to
a more Balanced building in a responsible
retrofit using a Whole Building Approach. The
bar charts give a snapshot of the risks and
benefits of each. The idealised case study on
the opposite page gives the details of such a
project and may be considered a responsible
and successful retrofit project and approach.
Underpinning the success of any project is a
Joined-up Process. See page 19 for a detailed
breakdown of this process.
Unbalanced: draughty, loads of heat loss,
traditional features maintained
More balanced: warmer and healthier, with
slight loss of traditional character
Key to impacts
6 Planning responsible retrofit of traditional buildings
Case Study – Georgian town house in poor condition
Some options for a Whole Building Approach retrofit undertaken by a young family
Subject to driven rain at front but protected by street.
Form and condition
Bad pointing, leaky gutters, high ground levels. Chimney stack in poor
condition, some dampness in walls and attics.
Conservation area. Fine brickwork to front. Fine window details. Internal
cornice. Original timber floors.
Uninsulated 9” solid brick
Vapour open EWI to back and gable. Moisture open IWI to walls (or blown
IWI behind existing linings). Or insulated lime plaster internally. Repointing
to front elevation, repairs to gutters, lowered ground levels.
Single glazed sash
windows. Old shutters
previously removed
Shutters reinstated and working and/or secondary glazing, or double glazed
units in existing sashes, and/or thermal roller blinds.
Partially insulated roof
Moisture open insulation to rafters (maintaining air flow above). Airtightness
improved. Insulation between ceiling joists. Roof ventilation.
Uninsulated timber floors
to front rooms
Timber floors lifted, draught proofed and insulated, ventilation checked and
1980’s era gas central
New condensing boiler; TRV’s in all rooms; set back heating controls
Radiant heating panels in bathroom and kitchen
No ventilation; windows
and flues blocked shut
Controllable passive stack using existing hearths and stairwell rooflight or
whole house MEV ventilation, with Humidity-sensitive Demand Control.
Decision depends on level of airtightness, layout, disruption, etc.
No renewables or low
carbon technologies
Ground or air source heat pumps possible. Photovoltaic panels, solar water
heating and woodburning stoves all require planning consent.
Young family. Children
have asthma. No
understanding of building
health or energy
Consultant/surveyor/designer/contractor works with owners to increase
understanding of occupant role in building health, energy use and
importance of maintenance. The whole retrofit project is undertaken
responsibly using a Joined-up Process (see page 19).
Above average energy bills
Above average CO2 emissions.
60% or more reduction in energy (gas and electric)
bills and CO2 emissions, which are now considerably
lower than UK average. Ongoing monitoring.
Building health
Peeling wallpaper, and mould in some areas. High RH
in bathrooms leading to mould. High VOCs in kitchen.
Insect attack in roof timbers. Children asthmatic. Low
levels of comfort and health.
Rooms are now drier, no mould on window reveals
RH and VOCs now safe for health/fabric. Timber
decay arrested by drier conditions. Health
improvements for all the family.
Conservation area
Original sash windows
Original cornices in front rooms.
Visual impact on back minimal. Front kept same.
Sashes preserved. Part of cornice covered, removed or
re-moulded if costs allowed. Building has new lease
of life.
Roger Curtis,
Historic Scotland
Roger Curtis,
Historic Scotland
Nigel Griffiths, STBA
Getting it right 7
3 The challenges of
responsible retrofit
The success of a retrofit depends firstly on understanding the building
and its context in sufficient detail and depth. Secondly, we need to
understand that some of the formal standards and methods used
by government and industry are incorrect or incomplete. Finally it is
important to understand the interactions between all these different
elements and how different aims for retrofit may conflict.
Understanding your building
What is your building made of? How do the fabric and services work
Traditional buildings differ widely in terms of their style and form, as well as in
materials (see the Resources on page 22). The types of material (ie, brick, stone,
timber, lime mortar, cob) vary widely in how they deal with moisture, heat and
structural pressures. The type of construction, the thickness of walls, the sizes and
types of window, the types of fire place and chimney, all affect the energy use,
the health of the building and influence what can be done. For example, a thick
limestone wall can be warmer than a thin brick construction, as well as dealing with
rain and moisture better, so will require a different approach in retrofit. A building
with large bay windows will be much more challenging to insulate than one with
simple casement windows. Some buildings (like traditional timber frame) can be very
draughty, but conversely, some can be very airtight.
However, technically, most traditional buildings work from the basic principles of
balance and integration of moisture, heat and ventilation within the building type and
context. On the other hand, very few traditional buildings are unaltered or in perfect
condition, which can create challenges.
Buildings which at first may appear similar have often been adapted and upgraded
over a long period, with, for example, double glazing, loft and other insulation, loft
and cellar conversions, extensions, subdivisions and changes of use. The addition of
modern impermeable cement renders, removal and closing off chimneys and flues,
the introduction of more air-tight membranes and vapour control layers and the
addition of concrete floors are common. All these affect moisture movement, heat and
ventilation (both designed and unplanned air movement) and may mean different
strategies are required in different parts of the building. Today nearly all buildings in
this country have central heating, baths, showers and washing machines. The extra
pressure these modern comforts exert on traditional buildings can be considerable.
Condition is also highly variable. Dampness and draughts from poor maintenance can
be the cause of much higher energy use, longer term structural problems and risks
to health. It should be noted that in some cases due to alterations, modernisation
and poor maintenance the building fabric may be at the limits of its capacity to
handle water vapour or rain ingress, which can lead to failure if retrofit measures
such as insulation or draught proofing are not undertaken as part of a whole building
approach, or are incorrectly applied.
8 Planning responsible retrofit of traditional buildings
Take a careful look at your building and
its construction history. It may be quite
complex, with a mix of old and new work
and alterations, requiring a multi-faceted
Different building users also have different energy use. In most buildings
the greatest energy use is for heating the building. However, office-based
workers often use far more energy on appliances than heating. An elderly
couple in their home might use hardly any appliances at all but have
their heating on continuously. The energy use and cost-effectiveness of
varying retrofit measures will, therefore, be highly influenced by the type of
occupant as well as the use of the building.
Neil May
Occupation and use
Just as the forms of traditional buildings vary widely, so do their
occupation and use. Understanding the history of use and how this has
changed is also important, as it gives clues to what might work and what
might go wrong. For example moisture levels will differ considerably with
different building uses and lifestyles. A consideration, therefore, is to make
sure that planned retrofit measures are appropriate for both current and
future occupiers of a building.
Understanding the context of your building
Energy use varies depending on the occupants’ lifestyle.
Heritage and community context
A building’s shared history, beauty, place in the community and social
life all contribute to its heritage and community value, which must be
considered alongside its condition, occupant use and location in any
retrofit strategy. For some buildings the heritage value is indicated in
planning terms such as a Listed Building, Conservation Area, or an Area of
Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). There will be planning constraints on
how such buildings can be repaired or altered. However in many cases the
heritage or community value is not formally designated, so a sympathetic
understanding and sometimes research is required to identify what is
significant. This is helpful in all cases. The appearance and use of some
traditional buildings can also be significantly improved and enhanced by
retrofit. Sometimes an approach will need to encompass a whole street or
community area. These factors must all be considered to reduce risks to
heritage and community. See Chapter 4, Understanding Risks.
Orientation and geography can affect the risks and
benefits of some retrofit measures.
Robyn Pender, Historic England
Buildings in cities have different options from those in rural areas, due to
what is called the ‘heat island’ effect which makes cities much warmer and
sometimes causes overheating problems. There can also be issues with
security and air pollution, which make changes to windows and ventilation
more critical.
Marianne Suhr
Location and orientation
The location and orientation of a building makes a considerable difference
to how a building performs and what can be done in retrofit. Specifically,
where there is a lot of driven rain or flooding, especially in Wales, Northern
Ireland, Cornwall, Cumbria and the West Coast of Scotland, walls can be
very wet for long periods and this will mean that care has to be taken with
any insulation or fabric measures, and good maintenance of buildings
is absolutely essential. In some cases retrofit may not be appropriate,
particularly where a building has a complex shape or is in poor condition.
Conversely, a lot of sun can also cause problems with some internal wall
insulation systems by ‘pushing’ water into the building during the summer
This is called ‘reverse condensation’.
The historic context will have an impact on what should
be done to a building.
The challenges of responsible retrofit 9
Problems with standards and regulations
Traditional construction standards, data and modelling
As identified in the Responsible Retrofit of Traditional Buildings Report (see Resources
section, page 22) there are still significant errors in the way that traditional buildings
are treated in building standards, regulations and assessment systems (typically
computer models). This means that much of the standard guidance and many of the
current government funding schemes as well as commercial product certifications are
misleading or incorrect. This is partly due to the gap between best current research
knowledge and the adoption of such work by standards and regulatory agencies and
partly due to the uncertainty of data and science of traditional buildings, something
which will take many years to resolve. In particular the following should be noted:
1 We have a limited picture of how traditional buildings perform thermally (ie, in
terms of keeping occupants warm). There is good evidence to suggest that overall
they perform much better than the assumptions made in standard assessments.
This is important, as the assessment models, including the Standard Assessment
Procedures (SAP and RdSAP) which support Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs)
can overestimate the cost savings available through retrofit, and make measures like
insulation seem more beneficial than they really are.
2 Building Regulations apply to any major retrofit in a number of ways, including
provision of ventilation (Part F) and thermal requirements. However in the thermal
requirements (Approved Documents Part L1B) there are important exemptions
and conditions for ‘traditional buildings of permeable fabric’, which are often not
understood or missed by assessors and those enforcing regulations.
3 There is a limited knowledge of how moisture moves in and out of solid wall
construction, and in particular what happens to
moisture movement when insulation
is added and natural ventilation is reduced. The
standards being used (particularly
BS5250) are partial in this regard and can be misleading. Amendment of moisture
standards is currently being addressed by the PRODUCT
government with STBA assistance.
Nonetheless this will remain an area of considerable
uncertainty and complexity for
many years to come.
4 The standards, advice and certification of internal wall insulation (IWI) for solid
walls are currently wrong or misleading both in terms of moisture and heat loss. This
can lead to very inefficient design and considerable mould problems.
The environmental impact of retrofit work
Retrofit is commonlyMAINTENANCE,
measured in terms of its effect on the energy consumption and
CO2 emissions from ENDbuildings
in use. For responsible retrofit the ‘embodied’ impact of
construction and materials
should also be taken into consideration wherever possible.
This can be substantial
and sometimes even outweigh any savings in use. Retrofit
materials require energy for manufacture and transport to site, and in many cases they
WATER & ENERGY scarce resources such as oil, or are taken from vulnerable
are made from increasingly
habitats. Unfortunately good information and standards are also lacking.
10 Planning responsible retrofit of traditional buildings
LEFT: The embodied impact varies with
building type and use. This applies to
traditional and non-traditional buildings in
the same way.
Technical Interactions
There are complex inter-relationships between the different ‘thermal elements’ of
a building (walls, floors, roof, windows, doors), the space heating and ventilation
systems, the use of the building and its context. If alterations are made to one
element then there may be knock-on effects with other elements.
For example, when introducing better-performing windows:
•space heating demand is reduced, so the heating system will need adjustment
•air leakage will be reduced, so additional ventilation may be required
•adjacent walls will become cooler in relation to the windows, so without good
ventilation the risk of condensation on the reveals is increased.
Interactions are often complex.
For this reason it is essential to take a Whole Building Approach in a Joined-up
Conflicting aims
While energy efficiency is often the primary aim of most retrofit strategies, there may
be different reasons for this, such as the desire for cost savings, reductions in CO2
emissions or improved comfort. Those involved in the retrofit at different stages may
have varied and conflicting aims or priorities, for example occupant health issues, or
historic character of the property. The Joined-up Process can resolve these conflicts.
The different effects of Context
Conflicting aims can cause problems.
Context is made up of all these challenges. Context of course also gives us character,
connection, diversity and meaning. Each building’s context is different!
A strong heritage context may mean improvements to performance rely on services
(heating, renewables) and behaviour (including maintenance and repair).
The occupation context of overcrowding can put a lot of pressure on the health of
building and occupants, particularly if the services and fabric are in poor condition.
This can dominate performance more than external contexts.
Heritage context – a
careful approach?
Occupation context – overcrowded?
The challenges of responsible retrofit 11
4 Understanding risks
Understanding your building and the challenges of its retrofit is
largely about understanding risks. These risks can be broken
down into three overarching categories:
1 Risks to building fabric and human health
2 Risks to heritage: damage to, and loss of, historic fabric;
impact on neighbourhood or community
3 Risks to achieving expected energy savings; resulting
environmental impact
This chapter identifies these broader risks and explains exactly why it is
necessary to consider them. It then gives examples of specific risks likely
to be encountered with each retrofit measure, taken from real projects,
with action points for guidance on page 16 and 17.
Trapped moisture and high levels of relative humidity can also lead to
increases in mould spores and dust mites, both of which may affect
human health. Many fabric retrofit measures also reduce natural
ventilation, leading to poor indoor air quality and further moisture build
up. A good ventilation strategy is therefore essential in fabric retrofit. The
UK has one of the highest rates of asthma in the Western world, which
can be attributed in part to high moisture levels in buildings. There are
also considerable risks to health from poor ventilation in radon areas.
Brian Ridout, Historic England
1 Building health: risks to building fabric and human health
Inappropriate retrofit measures can lead to unintended consequences,
such as condensation and mould growth or more serious fabric decay
such as wet and dry rot. These issues arise when moisture (from poor
building condition, internal moisture generation or from rain) is prevented
from drying out or channelled into cold areas through poor design or
installation of measures.
An extreme outbreak of dry rot and mould due to moisture
ingress and lack of drying.
Both fabric and service measures can affect the internal and external
appearance and heritage value of a building, or sometimes a street or
neighbourhood. This can be for good or bad. So understanding and
determining the significance of a building or part of a building is an
important task. Where either external solid wall insulation or window
replacement is being considered there is a risk the building’s external
appearance may be substantially altered. Internal wall insulation can
result in features such as historic cornicing and architraves being lost or
obscured. Retrofit measures to roofs can damage or obscure decorative
12 Planning responsible retrofit of traditional buildings
Anna-Marie Pagano
Risks to heritage: damage to, and loss of, historic fabric;
impact on neighbourhood or community
Heritage is a shared resource – shared between current owners of a
building and future generations, and among communities. Future owners
of buildings will have to live with the alterations made by previous
An insensitive external wall insulation application which
damages the beauty and character of the whole street.
3 Risks to achieving expected energy savings: resulting
environmental impact
As building elements are connected to one another, measures to improve the
performance of any one part need to consider adjacent parts and their effect on
the whole building. For example, the effectiveness of internal wall insulation can
be reduced by an increase in heat loss through window reveals if they are not also
insulated. This is one reason why a Whole Building Approach is important.
Even after buildings are retrofitted correctly, some of the gains in energy efficiency
may not result in actual reductions in energy use. This happens for example when
occupiers run the building at higher internal temperatures, because it is now possible
to do this without prohibitive cost. This direct ‘rebound’ effect (aka the ‘comfort
factor’) can be beneficial to occupant wellbeing but it means that savings will not be
as high as may have been predicted.
istock: ©pablo_rodrigues1
ceilings or internally visible roof structures. Historic floors may be damaged when
insulation is retrofitted. Ventilation systems, heating systems, and renewable energy
systems can also compromise the heritage value of a building, particularly if installed
insensitively. Of course retrofit can also be a chance to correct previous mistakes,
particularly where they are causing ongoing damage to fabric or health (for example
inappropriate renders, blocking up of ventilation etc).
Comfort taking is a common and
understandable consequence of improving
insulation and reducing draughts.
Alternatively the financial savings which are gained by reducing energy use are often
spent in other ways, which themselves use energy. This type of indirect rebound effect
may mean that the overall impact of retrofit on carbon emissions is very low or even
Finally the embodied impact of the retrofit measure and work (including the energy
use and carbon emissions from in contracting) will reduce and may even outweigh the
savings in use. Furthermore the use of scarce resources or materials from threatened
habitats can harm the environment. When all these factors are taken into account
often a more modest approach to retrofit is more beneficial to the environment.
Energy savngs at home may mean
environmental impacts elsewhere!
Taking a balanced approach
There are many challenges for responsible and successful retrofit.
Section 5 explains in more detail how to:
• Take a Whole Building Approach
• Make sure you engage in a Joined-up Process
• Aim for Balance overall, not for perfection in just one area.
Balance also means being cautious (not over-ambitious) and having enough
capacity (in both building and financial terms) if things don’t go quite as planned.
It is important to note that in reality buildings and people can be quite robust.
Compromises can work if we are clear which issues are really critical and if we keep an
eye on things which are uncertain.
“It is important to note that
in reality buildings and
people can be quite robust.
Compromises can work if
we are clear which issues
are really critical and if
we keep an eye on things
which are uncertain.”
The three tables overleaf summarise the broad risks which can arise from poorlyplanned or poorly-executed retrofit.
Understanding risks 13
Brian Ridout
Historic England
Roger Curtis
Historic Scotland
Risks to building fabric and human health
Fabric decay • Trapped moisture from moisture-closed materials
(including rot and • Liquid water from driving rain or leaks
infestation) • Air leakage from inside house onto cold surfaces
• Lack of ventilation
• Lack of building maintenance
Surface condensation
and mould growth
Poor indoor air quality
• Thermal bridging (due to lack of coherent insulation)
• Reduction in ventilation or failed ventilation systems
• High humidity levels (from use)
• Reduction in ventilation (because of improved draught proofing)
• Inadequate, improperly used, or non-existent ventilation systems
• High humidity levels (from use and overcrowding)
• Toxins (VOCs, Radon etc) in under-ventilated spaces
Overheating or uneven • Reduction in thermal mass (where masonry or solid floors are insulated from
the inside)
• Increased thermal resistance (from insulation generally)
•Reduction in ventilation, lack of purge ventilation options such as window
opening for night cooling
• High amounts of south facing glazing
• Heat island effect in cities affecting internal spaces
Risks to heritage/community
Jenny Knowles
Significant change in •External wall insulation covering up significant masonry, historic render or
architectural details including decorative brickwork, etc
external appearance/
loss of historic fabric •Inappropriate window or glazing replacement
•Incongruity of alterations with overall streetscape
•Insensitive renewable technologies on historic roofs or in sensitive
Change in internal •Loss of original features such as timber mouldings and plasterwork
appearance and/or • Loss of original window frames and glazing
loss of historic fabric • Insulation over historic floors
• Ventilation and plumbing/electric intrusions
istock: © JHLloyd
Risks to achieving expected energy savings/environmental impact
Energy improvement • Inaccurate assessment and modelling
not as large as expected • Poor product quality
• Poor design/installation/use
• Failure to take Whole Building Approach
Environmental impact
• High embodied energy of retrofit measures
• Failure to achieve energy reductions
• Use of rare resources or materials from vulnerable habitats
Direct rebound effect • Comfort taking (by increasing internal temperatures)
• Under-heating of building prior to retrofit
• Inadequate heating controls post retrofit
• Lack of user understanding of building/controls
Indirect rebound effect • Narrow focus of savings assessments
• Lack of understanding of environmental impact
14 Planning responsible retrofit of traditional buildings
The challenges of keeping a good balance when retrofitting
• Fabric/Services/People
• A bit draughty and high energy use
• Possible maintenance problems.
• Fabric not coherent
• Services (ventilation) stressed
• Moisture/mould/health issues
• Still lots of energy use
• Building health problems
• Heritage affected
• Sufficient ventilation?
• Services stressed
• Moisture/mould/health issues
• Less energy use, but more ill health
• Heritage affected
• More energy use than needed
• Confusion and some ill health
• Heritage affected
• Energy savings plus some renewables, warmer
and healthier
• Heritage less affected or improved
Understanding risks 15
The Whole Building Approach – Risks from specific retrofit measures
The key risks arising from specific retrofit measures are summarised below in regard to the three
aspects of a Whole Building Approach – Fabric, Services and Human Behaviour. The fourth essential
consideration is the building’s Context, which significantly affects the level of risk.
Risks to building fabric
External wall
• Heritage impact (both to building
and streetscape)
• Moisture risks leading to rot of fabric.
• Poor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) from
poor ventilation and damp
• Heat loss from wet walls or thermal
• Assess building properly for condition,
context and interactions. If uncertain,
take expert advice for heritage,
moisture and thermal strategy
• Take whole building approach
especially junctions and ventilation
• Use trained/qualified contractors.
Internal wall
• Heritage impact (internal)
• Moisture risks leading to rot of fabric.
• Poor IAQ from poor ventilation and
• Heat loss from wet walls or thermal
• Assess building properly for condition,
context, use and interactions. If
uncertain, take expert advice for
heritage, moisture and thermal
• Take whole building approach
especially junctions and ventilation.
• Use trained/qualified contractors.
Very high
Roof loft
• Moisture risk
• Ensure ventilation at eaves and check
roof space occasionally
Roof rafter
• Heritage impact (internal or external)
• Moisture risk
• Ensure historic ceilings or roofs are
not damaged. Ensure over rafter
insulation takes account of heritage
values of roof and streetscape.
• Moisture safe design and detailing
Suspended floor
• Heritage impact (internal)
• Moisture risk
• Check historic value of floor
• Moisture safe design and detailing.
Ventilate below floor. Check effect on
building ventilation.
Solid floor
• Heritage impact (internal)
• Moisture risk
• Check historic value of floor
• Moisture safe design and detailing.
Particular issues at floor wall junction.
• Heritage impact (internal and
external appearance)
• Moisture risk (change in ventilation,
thermal bridging)
• If uncertain, take expert advice
for heritage, moisture and thermal
strategy for windows
• Whole Building Approach is essential.
• Heat loss reduction
• Moisture risk (both to fabric and
human health)
• Understand existing and post
retrofit ventilation effects and put in
additional ventilation if required.
• Heritage impact (from ventilation
grills, ducting)
• Heat loss from incorrect type or use
• Understand existing ventilation
New systems must be designed and
installed sensitively
• Systems must be easy to operate and
effective. Users must be informed
16 Planning responsible retrofit of traditional buildings
Risks from services
• Heritage impact (from inappropriate
installations/pipework/flues, etc)
• Heat loss from incorrect type or use
• Understand existing heating, cooling
and ventilation demand. New systems
must be designed and installed
• Systems must be easy to operate and
effective. Users must be informed
• Heritage impact (for roof
• Energy loss from incorrect type or use
• Rebound effects
• Consult experts, community and
planning for heritage risks.
• Ensure correct specification and
• Inform users
Controls of
heating, lighting
and ventilation
• Moisture risk
• Energy loss from incorrect type or use
• All controls of systems and windows
should be usable, intuitive and
properly designed and specified
Risks from human behaviour
Image: Robyn Pender, Historic England
Use, repair and
• Heritage impact
• Moisture risk (fabric and human
• Energy loss (from services not working
properly and from dampness in fabric)
• Ensure user/owner understanding
of retrofit systems and building
• Schedules of repairs important
• Build into financial planning.
Capacity and
• Heritage impact
• Health impact
• Energy impact
• Ensure there is sufficient
understanding, skills, time and
budget for the project
• Do not undertake over-ambitious or
complicated measures
• Look and learn at all times
FAR LEFT: a not entirely sensitive services
LEFT: maintenance might seem a chore,
but it is the most important way to keep
traditional buildings healthy and efficient.
Understanding risks 17
5 How to achieve
responsible retrofit
The Responsible Retrofit approach is based upon a Whole Building
Approach in a Joined-Up Process. In this way the main benefits to
Energy and the Environment, Heritage and Community, and Building
Health (of people and fabric) can be achieved.
The Whole Building Approach means integration and balance of
• Fabric Measures such as insulation, draught proofing,
glazing, rainwater protection (ie improvement to pointing
and gutters)
• Services such as ventilation, heating, thermostatic controls,
renewable energy and
• People in regard to how occupants understand, use and
maintain their buildings
These all interact with each other. It is important to understand
that if you insulate a wall, then this will to some extent also
affect the windows, the floor and roof as well as the internal
air quality. All measures, but particularly fabric measures, affect
the rest of the building and the people who live or work in the
building. Junctions and connections are particularly affected,
but so are whole systems such as ventilation and heating. This
is why we need a Whole Building Approach.
This approach also depends strongly on the Context of the
building, which means its location, exposure to sun, rain and
wind, the historic and community value, its condition, use and
form, and the regulations and funding. All of these determine
the way in which a Whole Building Approach should be carried
out, and the options and constraints for retrofit.
The Joined-up Process is explained on the next page. Before this
however there are some basic questions which you should ask
yourself when contemplating a retrofit project:
Questions to ask yourself
3 Is this the right time to do the work? What other work is
1 Do you have sufficient understanding? If not, can you find an
required or will be undertaken in the future? Make sure you
expert surveyor, designer or installer who does? You can learn
co-ordinate the work programmes on the house to ensure
more by reading the resources or going on appropriate training
Whole Building integration and best value for money.
courses (see page 22).
4 Do you really need to do the work? How else can you
2 Do you have sufficient capacity, in terms of time, budget and
improve your environmental impact, health and comfort or
patience (to cope with the disruption)? If you don’t, then either
make cost savings? Sometimes it is easier, safer and more
delay or plan the work in stages. Whatever you do, make sure
environmentally friendly to make lifestyle changes and
you keep to a Whole Building Approach and Joined-up Process.
simply to maintain the existing building well.
18 Planning responsible retrofit of traditional buildings
Joining up the process – a checklist for success
1 Assess the building and
a What is the building made
of, how does it work (or
not work), and what is its
condition? Is a special survey
b What is the use of the
building (now and in future),
what is the energy use, what
are the moisture levels and
Indoor Air Quality? Consider
monitoring, look at past bills,
check with Health England
website for Radon risk.
c What is the heritage value,
overall and in specific parts
of the building? What is
the relation to streetscape,
landscape and community?
2 Design and specification
a Having better understood
the building and its context,
devise a strategy which
integrates all issues and has
sufficient capacity and caution
where there is uncertainty or
b Ensure that design follows a
Whole Building Approach.
c Specify low environmental
impact products and process
wherever possible.
d Make an exact specification
of product wherever possible
to ensure that lower quality
products are not substituted.
e Include feedback and QA
process in the specification
and tender documents.
There are lots of things to think
about in retrofit of traditional
buildings, but remember that
these are significant and costly
changes which may only
occur every few decades, or
even centuries, so it is worth
getting it right! It’s important
that everyone involved keeps
communicating and all learn
from the process. This is the
best way to reduce risks and
improve performance.
3 Installation
a Ensure that contractors
have sufficient training,
understanding and interest
in the responsible retrofit
b Ensure that contractors
price the Whole House
Approach and have feedback
and checks agreed with
designers and client.
c Ensure that a clerk of works
or suitably trained person is
on site with responsibility for
the Whole Building Approach
d Ensure regular checks of
detailed design.
e If necessary use air pressure
testing and thermographic
survey for QA check.
4 Use and maintenance
a Leave the occupant with a
comprehensive user manual,
written in Plain English with
clear diagrams.
b Run through services and
fabric measures to show the
occupant the benefits of
correct use and maintenance.
c Prepare a clear maintenance
manual (this can be one sheet)
with dates for work, estimated
costs and contact details for
the relevant tradespeople.
Feedback and learning
at every stage
Wherever there is an
uncertainty, particularly
around fabric and health
risks, it is essential to put in
some kind of monitoring and
feedback mechanism. See
section 6.
BELOW: Feedback and learning are essential.
How to achive a responsible retrofit 19
6 Look and learn
Once retrofit works have been completed, it is important to observe the
effects on the building – both intended and unintended – to monitor
results and to learn from successes and failures. In order to understand
how things change it is helpful to check and record how things are
working before you undertake the retrofit measures. This can also be
part of any assessment process.
Any changes in occupation, use or weather conditions need to
be taken into account.
Technical risks – check annually
Technical risks can be simple to monitor.
Renewable energy systems can be checked by meter readings
and fuel bills, although underperformance due to a technical
fault may require an expert review.
For fabric measures, if loft insulation has been increased,
annual checks for any signs of mould forming on rafters
would be advisable. Inside the property, surface mould and
condensation on any cold spots are easy to see.
The most challenging areas are in wall, floor and rafter
insulation, where failures can build up over years. It is therefore
advisable to leave access in the most vulnerable areas (for
example by a floorboard which can be easily lifted) to check for
mould and damp. You can often smell and feel damp problems
even if you haven’t got a damp probe meter! If in doubt consult
an expert who understands old buildings.
Appropriate maintenance is essential both before and after
retrofit projects.
Faulty rainwater systems are one of the most common causes
of building failures and this becomes even more critical where
solid wall insulation has been introduced. An annual clean of
gutters and drains is highly recommended.
Chimneys and gable ends are especially vulnerable to water
penetration, so render, pointing, flashings, overhangs, and
caps should all be maintained regularly. Appropriate repair of
roofs, masonry walls and render, maintenance of seals around
windows and doors and regular painting of external timber will
reduce the risk of water entering and becoming trapped in the
building fabric.
Gutter maintenance
and repair can be tricky
sometimes. So make sure
you have a maintenance
Nicholas Heath
Energy savings – check energy bills before and after
Savings can only be assessed where there is adequate record of
energy use prior to retrofit. This is a common mistake in retrofit
projects. More than one year’s data either side of retrofit is
needed to take account of variations in energy use from one
year to the next.
Learning is essential at all levels in the retrofit process, among
owners, designers, contractors and subcontractors.
Jack Kelly
Learning also needs to be documented and shared between
current and future occupants of buildings so that the history
of use and alteration is not lost and so that technical risks can
continue to be monitored in the longer term.
Checking under the floorboards by the wall is often a good way of
monitoring the risks of insulation.
20 Planning responsible retrofit of traditional buildings
Learning about buildings in the widest and deepest sense
protects buildings from risks, improves energy use and can
bring real benefits for both occupier and contractor.
Continual improvement is possible by looking at energy
savings and technical risks and learning what has worked,
and what needs adjustment or improvement. Retrofit is not
a ‘fit and forget’ activity either in terms of learning or in
terms of maintenance. There are many types of retrofit, many
uncertainties in the current science and technology, and every
building and human being behaves differently, so there are
always going to be many unknowns. Retrofit needs to be
seen as part of an individual and national journey, which we
should undertake with our eyes wide open, with patience
and with humility. If we retrofit responsibly then we can act
with confidence and be part of this journey to a better built
Look and learn 21
7 Resources
There is a range of help, guidance and training available to help owners and
contractors achieve responsible retrofit. As made clear through this document, the
understanding of traditional building retrofit is still in development and there are
many uncertainties. All guidance is therefore prone to becoming out of date and
misleading. All guidance, including that listed below, should be taken as guidance
not gospel-truth, and should be used in conjunction with other guidance and with
this document where possible. Guidance on individual measures or issues should not
be taken in isolation. Strategies to retrofit buildings should consider how the whole
building functions both before and after retrofit. Finally, new guidance, training and
research is currently being developed, so it is recommended that those involved in
retrofit subscribe to updates and new resources from named organisations regularly.
STBA Responsible Retrofit Report
The Responsible Retrofit of Traditional Buildings Report (2012) was commissioned by
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). This comprehensive report
identified policy issues and errors in the existing conventions for assessing thermal
performance and carrying out moisture risk assessment in traditional buildings. The
report also identified research needs and addressed delivery issues such as a lack of
training at all levels of the retrofit process.The report is available at: http://stbauk.
Guidance Wheel
The STBA Guidance Wheel is a free-to-access online tool which
helps to enable informed decision-making about retrofit
strategies. Having set the context for a specific building, users
can select measures for its retrofit and the Wheel then flags
up related measures which need to be considered, together
with the reason for the connection. For example, wall
insulation is linked to window refurbishment for reasons of
air tightness and indoor air quality. The Wheel also provides
an assessment of the level of technical risk for any particular
measure, highlights its potential impact on heritage and
identifies any reasons why the savings predicted may not be
realised in full. The Guidance Wheel is available at:
Moisture Risk Assessment and Guidance
The purpose of this guidance is to provide the basis of an integrated and holistic
approach to moisture risk throughout the design, construction, alteration, repair,
maintenance and use of buildings. The scope of the guidance is work on all buildings,
both new and existing, and all building elements. However, it is particularly relevant
to retrofit. This technical guidance is developed from an understanding of the
underlying building physics and provides three possible approaches, depending upon
the context:
1Prescriptive Guidance is provided where there is good evidence of success.
2 Modelling of building elements where relevant and possible. This is often not
possible due to lack of good data or skills.
3 P rinciples based guidance: this is the main method of risk assessment and guidance
wherever there is uncertainty or complexity. The five principles of Quality Process,
Context, Coherence, Capacity and Caution are explained in detail.
22 Planning responsible retrofit of traditional buildings
General Guides
Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings: Energy Efficiency in Old Buildings
Historic Scotland: Short Guide to Fabric Improvements for Energy Efficiency in
Traditional Buildings (2012)
Historic England: Energy Efficiency and Historic Buildings – application of part L of
the Building Regulations to historic and traditionally constructed buildings (2012)
Historic England: Energy Efficiency in Historic Buildings (2012) – 12 guides covering
the upgrade of different building elements.
Historic England: Practical Building Conservation: Building Environment (2014)
Republic of Ireland – Environment, Heritage and Local Government: Energy Efficiency
in Traditional Buildings (2010)
Roger Hunt and Marianne Suhr: Old House Eco Handbook (2013)
Changeworks: Energy Heritage – A Guide to Improving Energy Efficiency in Traditional
and Historic Homes (2008)
Research and technical material
Historic Scotland publishes Technical Papers considering specific issues, including:
Technical Paper 1 Thermal Performance of Traditional Windows
Technical Paper 2 In situ U-value Measurements in Traditional Buildings
Technical Paper 6 Indoor Air Quality and Energy Efficiency in Traditional Buildings
Technical Paper 9 Slim-profile double glazing
Technical Paper 10 U-values and Traditional Buildings
Technical Paper 12 Indoor Environmental Quality in Refurbishment
Historic England and Cadw both have ongoing research programmes.
A range of Heritage, Conservation and Retrofit training programmes for supervisors
and operatives is available from the CITB and other providers, which includes Energy
Efficiency and Retrofit of Pre-1919 Traditional Buildings.
National Occupational Standards (NOS) for the retrofit are currently in place and
have recently been updated. These standards have been used by Awarding Bodies
such as Asset Skills, the SQA and Proqual to establish level 2 and 3 knowledge-based
qualifications for the energy efficiency and retrofit market.
In Wales Agored Cymru offer a course entitled Sustainability and Energy Efficiency
in Pre- and Post-1919 Buildings.
CITB are also developing a clear qualifications pathway in Heritage Skills (including
retrofit issues) for people operating in both craft and supervisory areas.
The Centre of Refurbishment Excellence (CoRE) runs in-depth courses for retrofit
General training on the repair and conservation of traditional buildings is available
through SPAB and the National Heritage Training Group.
Contractor selection
Risks in retrofit can be significantly reduced by employing appropriately qualified
builders and craftspeople. Builders who have completed Heritage Skills training
programmes and who hold a CSCS Heritage Skills card will know how traditional
buildings function and be aware of the common pitfalls in retrofit. Requiring the CSCS
Heritage Skills card also embeds quality assurance into the retrofit process.
Resources 23
For more information:
This publication has been supported by:
Construction Industry Training Board
Responsible Retrofit Series
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