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The Green Register organises a series of training courses on sustainable building practices throughout the year for those in the construction industry. Click here to learn more about the organisation.

I attended an afternoon session recently given by Nick Heath of NDM Heath Ltd [1]. Although ‘retrofit of traditional buildings’ seems to be a common theme in my diary at the moment much of the information passed on was new – a reflection of the depth of the subject.

Nick has a huge breadth of knowledge and had a similar range of presentation slides to draw upon which enabled him to tailor the information to the audience (mainly architects this time). Nick was clearly experienced at encouraging from-the-floor questions and management of relevant debate, so despite varied experience all attendees walked away having learned something.

The approach at this seminar was a practical one. Using real life case studies we collectively were invited to make first-pass assessments of buildings:
a listed semi-detached building with concrete render, spray foam in the roof line, and a sealed chimney – what approach would you take to thermally upgrading this building?
the planning permission of a listed building with a new extension requires a particular SAP rating to be achieved, and the heritage officer will not support solar panels anywhere on the scheme – what options do you have to achieve a retrofit suitable for the traditional nature of the building?

The message as to a project’s starting point was familiar: carry out repair and maintenance work first, consider a ‘whole building’ approach for retrofit measures, and work at the detail – beware thermal bridges and dew points.

The exemplar ‘Clapham Retrofit’ retrofit project by Arboreal Architecture of a Grade II heritage home was presented as a useful reference project that really sets the bar in current practice.[2]

Image by Arboreal Architects

Image by Arboreal Architects

A second key case study to refer to was that by Prewett Bizley Architects and their ‘80%’ house at the De Beauvoir Estate, Hackney, completed in 2010. Click here for more on this project.

80% House - Image by Prewett Bizley Architects

80% House – Image by Prewett Bizley Architects

The discussions drew out the context in which many schemes are delivered: a subjective environment with many stakeholders to satisfy – operating within parameters of sometimes conflicting legislation. The seminar was supported with a breadth of technical knowledge, experiences and references to further reading.

It was apparent that to deliver suitable measures and avoid damaging the building fabric in the longterm with inappropriate installations, a thorough understanding of the individual building is necessary to aide an intelligent discussion with conservation officers, and others, to negotiate solutions. This area of work demands commitment and genuine interest for successful outcomes.

Useful ‘watch points’ were highlighted likely to be common to many projects. Good practice details currently being developed by Nick Heath, STBA, Prewett Bizley Architects and Fourwalls for Bristol City Council we presented, however remain confidential until their publication later in the Summer.

Overall the seminar was lively, useful, practical and relevant, with inclusion of up-to-date research in this rapidly developing area into the retrofit of traditional buildings.


[1] Nick Heath also spoke at the Retrofitting Conference in Bristol – click here for post, and spoke at the recent RIBA seminar retrofit of traditional buildings seminar – click here for post.

[2] Click here for my post on this case study, and my article in Green Building Winter 2014 edition (back edition can be purchased from here).

Further References

BRE: ‘Solid Wall Heat Losses and the Potential for Energy Saving – Literature Review’
This is a lengthy but comprehensive document

SPAB: Research documents on energy efficiency