With the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26 currently underway in Glasgow, it seems the ideal time to talk about how heritage buildings can play an important role in reducing carbon emissions.

Maintenance, re-use, and sympathetic improvements can all reduce carbon emissions and will help meet the Government’s target of being carbon neutral by 2050.

According to Historic England, there are around 400,000 listed buildings in the UK, and the number of pre 1919 undesignated heritage assets runs easily into several million throughout the UK.

Most of these listed buildings are poorly insulated and would benefit from improvements to make them more efficient, this is a multi-faceted exercise when dealing with a Listed Building. Historic England term this as the ‘Whole Building Approach’, which is a good description, to successfully reduce the carbon output of a historic building does not rely on one thing, it requires a toolbox of various approaches. Working in the context of the building’s significance and the interactions between building fabric, building services and the people who use it.

Building fabric in some buildings can be easily insulated with sensitive thermal products which breath, preventing a moisture barrier, this combined with careful detailing can be very successful. Sensitive alterations can also be used to aid the retention of heat and help improve the efficiency of a building and how people use it.

These combined with carefully looking at how a building is heated, cooled and lit are also important. Modern efficient heating plant and controls, combined with an efficient way of delivering the heating into the building via sensitive service routes, can be very successful and can be improved further by knowing the environmental credentials of the energy being purchased.

As can be seen in the recently published Historic Environment Forum Heritage Responds report, this is not an approach limited to a single type of building, private and public buildings of all sizes need to start thinking about how they can start to reduce their carbon footprint and make their buildings more efficient.  Not only will this help reduce omissions, but it will also create more economic, efficient, and comfortable buildings for people to use and interact with, giving building owners and their consultants the chance and the challenge to create a special building unique to a site and area.