How to make older properties more energy efficient

UK tenants and home owners have always had a thing for old homes. British cities, towns and villages are full of properties that are bursting with character, from Victorian terraces to Edwardian country homes. 

But older properties can be notoriously inefficient. Draughty doors, single-glazed windows and old roofs with little insulation often add to energy bills and have an increased impact on the environment – all of which can lead tenants to choose more modern properties over older ones.

Thankfully, there are plenty of things that landlords who rent out older properties can do to appeal to eco-friendly tenants. As mentioned recently in our article, ‘How to create a dream home for eco-friendly tenants‘, those who pay a higher monthly rent are more likely to consider the property’s energy efficiency when deciding where to live. So if you own an older property and you’re trying to attract more affluent tenants to live in it, bolstering your environmental credentials should make it more appealing.

When we see eco-homes on the TV, they often boast new technology such as heat pumps or solar heating. But when it comes to making older homes more energy-efficient, the main area of focus should be the structure and materials of the home, as opposed to what’s inside or on top of it. By properly insulating your home and opting for modern fixtures, you can dramatically improve the energy efficiency of the entire building.

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Resolve any damp issues

Damp is a common bugbear for landlords that own old properties. It’s bad for our health and can cause damage to our home and belongings. It can also make the home itself colder. Damp walls conduct heat, which can sap the warmth from the room. 

If your property has damp problems, that is a good place to start. Check the guttering of your property, clear it of debris and replace where necessary. Rainwater seeping into the home is one major cause of damp, but is relatively easy to solve. 

Older properties will have originally been built with traditional plasters, such as lime plaster or plaster bound with gypsum. These were breathable, and allowed moisture and damp to escape through the walls. 

Over time, modern, non-breathable materials have been added to many older properties – something which disrupts this process.  If your property has serious damp issues with no other obvious cause, it may be worth getting a specialist in the renovation of older properties to take a look.

 

Make the property airtight

Old buildings are known to be draughty. Unfortunately, air-tightness has a big impact on energy efficiency and how warm the home feels. Air moving around a property can make it feel a lot colder than it is, requiring occupants to heat it for longer. It also increases the amount of warm air that’s able to escape, making it a lose-lose for energy efficiency. 

The most obvious causes of draughts are windows and doors, but air can get into or out of an old property in all sorts of ways. Gaps in the floorboards or in the panelling between timber frames are common culprits, as well as chimneys and old roofs. 

That said, if your home is particularly old, be careful not to go too far. A degree of ventilation is essential to help the property air out and not become damp. If you’re unsure what a safe level of air flow is, you may want to speak to someone who specialises in older home renovation.

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Insulating and draught proofing the loft, walls and floors

Around 20 per cent of a home’s heat is lost through its roof and another 10 per cent through the floor. Draught proofing and insulation are essential to keep heat in. Insulation can be installed under the floor and in the roof depending on the amount of space and access you have.

If your home has been built with cavity walls, it can also be installed in the gap between the two external walls. If your home has a loft hatch you may also wish to draught proof your loft to prevent warm air escaping.

Remember, it is important to make sure that the steps you take to draught proof and insulate your home doesn’t create additional problems.

Breathable insulation materials such as hemp, cork, woodfibre or sheeps’ wool should always be used to allow a certain amount of airflow.

Failing to do this can create damp in your loft which can, eventually, lead to the erosion of roof timbers, which can be a very expensive problem to fix.

Plumbing and bathroom

Tenants may love the character and charm of an older property, but there’s nothing characterful or charming about a dodgy old boiler. Installing a modern boiler is a key part of achieving the mandatory EPC rating of E or higher.

If you haven’t already done so, replacing your old boiler with a more energy efficient model is a must. If the property you’re renting is also large, you may want to invest in pipe insulation (or lagging) to keep water warm as it moves around the house.

Modern toilets and showers are much more energy efficient than they used to be. As we mentioned in our article, ‘How to create a dream home for eco-friendly tenants’, toilets account for one third of a home’s water usage on average.

Modern ‘low flush’ toilets, especially those with dual flush options, can bring this down by as much as 50 per cent. Similarly, installing a water-saving shower head can reduce the amount of water you use in the shower by 20 per cent.

 

How to make older properties more energy efficient