Skip to main content

Enjoyable sustainable renovations

How to Improve Energy Efficiency in Period Homes: Sustainable Retrofitting Techniques

12 March 2024
multicolored concrete houses

What is retrofitting?

It a nutshell, it refers to the addition of new technology, components or features to older systems. Retrofitting period homes involves upgrading existing properties to improve energy efficiency, comfort, and sustainability. It also often involves retaining / refitting original finishing features.

Some popular techniques for retrofitting period homes include: draught-proofing, insulation, double or triple glazing, heating upgrades, ventilation, energy efficiency lighting, and solar panels.

Improving the energy efficiency of a period home while maintaining sustainability involves a combination of thoughtful design, high-quality materials, and environmentally friendly practices.

Here are five important changes that you can consider making on your period home:

1. Insulation upgrades - lots to choose from

Enhancing insulation throughout the home is crucial for reducing heat loss and improving energy efficiency. In a period home, this can be achieved by adding insulation to the roof space, walls, and floors without compromising the historical integrity of the


Using sustainable insulation materials such as sheep's wool, cellulose, or recycled fibres can minimise environmental impact. Insulation is a wide topic as it refers to the contents of external and internal walls and floors as well as their finishing layers. That topic is a whole other blog post that I am committed to write on soon.

With a bit of research you'll find that a number of companies nowadays produce insulation materials that are sustainable and easy to fit/apply. It can be easy to go to the most popular product or to reply on your building contractor to choose.

However, renovating sustainably requires us to be proactive. Educate yourself on the composition of the materials that are being fitted in your home. Support your builder in choosing sustainable and ethical materials that will last, won't cost the earth (meaning both the planet and your pockets), and won't be harmful to the health of the household. If you care but are not sure where to start or how to achieve that, ask for advice from the experts.

You can even do some of the work yourself if not all of it. Ot is simpler that it looks, but I won't lie, it is messy and disruptive to open walls. Decide if you want to live in during the works. Whatever you choose, it will be well worth the inconvenience, when you see your energy bills reduced by half or more.

2. Window restoration or replacement - you have options

Replacing widows when they can be refurbished can also cause unnecessary waste. Instead of replacing them outright, you can consider restoring and upgrading existing windows with techniques such as draught-proofing, adding secondary glazing, or installing custom-made storm windows.

If replacement is necessary, opt for energy-efficient windows with low-emissivity coatings and thermal breaks, preferably made from sustainably sourced materials like timber. Replacing windows can be a significant expense and typically, window fitting in the UK involves a long lead time.

My advice before making the decision to replace or refurbish windows is to get three quotes from contractors who can do both. Start your search for contractors early in your renovation process. Once you've signed a contract with deposit, the lead time is on average 8-16 weeks before fitting.

When buying a property, check the condition of the windows and make sure your renovation budget includes their replacement or restoration if this is going to be necessary in less than five years from moving in.

Replacing windows is minimally disruptive and (although it is possible that the wall around the window will need repainting) you can easily get this done while living in the property.

3. Heating system modernisation -

Updating the heating system is essential for improving energy efficiency in a period home. This can be done in a number of ways : boiler replacement, zoned heating, and increased radiator size are here discussed.

Consider replacing outdated boilers with high-efficiency condensing boilers or exploring renewable heating options such as heat pumps or biomass boilers. The key word there is : outdated. Boilers have a long lifespan and can be repaired multiple times. To learn more about changing your heating system, you can read The Place Between's other post Hiring a Heating Engineer for Gas Boiler Replacement: Tips and Considerations.

Implementing zoned heating controls and smart thermostats can also help optimise energy usage and reduce heating costs while maintaining comfort levels. This sort of improvement can be disruptive and is best done when renovating, i.e. when you are opening the floors and walls anyway. Smart radiator valves are an alternative for those who aren't renovating their homes but would like to control radiators remotely.

When renovating, increasing radiator size/heat output can allow your system to reach a balance a warmth and efficiency at a lower temperature. With the cost of living crisis, the advice to lower the temperature of boilers to reduce energy bills has become very popular.

However, this may not work for your home if your radiators are not energy efficient. High-efficiency radiators, such as those with double panels or fins, will generally provide better heat output while using less energy compared to traditional single-panel radiators. So here comes a dilemma when you would like to retain or refit beautiful old cast iron radiators. I promise to look into this in more details too. Stay tuned, sign up to our newsletter and get a copy of our Green Home Renovation e-booklet to get more insight.

close-up photo of two window glass panels

4. Air tightness improvements

Addressing air leakage and draughts is key to enhancing energy efficiency and comfort in a period home. You can seal gaps and cracks around windows, doors, floorboards, and other areas of air penetrations using eco-friendly caulks, weatherstripping, or expanding foam insulation. Dense and natural fabric such as velvet, wool and felt can also be added to draughty spots, such as the front door or french garden doors.

When renovating, consider installing airtight membranes or breathable insulation barriers in the walls and floors to minimise heat loss while allowing moisture to escape, thus preventing condensation and mould issues.

5. Renewable energy integration

Incorporating renewable energy technologies can further reduce reliance on fossil fuels and lower carbon emissions in a period home. Options include installing solar

photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roof to generate electricity, solar thermal systems for hot water heating, or even small-scale wind turbines or micro-hydro systems where feasible.

If you are new to this, you can get advice and enquire about systems that are appropriately sized for the home's energy needs. The environmental impact of the materials used in manufacturing and installation is also relevant.

By implementing these changes thoughtfully and sustainably, homeowners can significantly improve the energy efficiency of their period homes while preserving their historical character and minimising environmental impact. Working closely with experienced professionals who specialise in period home refurbishment and environmental sustainability is wise.

person walking towards house