What does a NET-Zero retrofit look like.?
Net Zero and Retrofit are the new buzz-words that are dominating all branches of government and industry. Net Zero is all about trying to eliminate the Carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. Currently, the energy that heats our homes and the electricity that we use to run our appliances comes mostly from burning fossil fuels. To tackle climate change, we need to reduce the amount of energy we need and then make sure that what we do need comes from a source that doesn't involve fossil fuels.
Ambitious plans are being announced to deliver a transformation in our built environment within a short space of time. Many commercial companies have identified an opportunity that they can exploit and are flooding social media and traditional advertising with messages and claims that often don’t bear up to scrutiny and in some instances may even be dangerous.
Traditional stone built properties are particularly vulnerable to badly conceived strategies for improving energy performance and homeowners will need to approach the issue with care. To help you, I have highlighted some key issues and some potential solutions below;
You need to start with reliable information;
- Get an inspection of your property carried out by a professional with expertise in traditional stone properties. This will establish the particular characteristics of your property and the opportunities that are available for retrofit.
- Examine your current energy usage – a couple of years utility bills will reveal a lot of important information.
Develop a Strategy
- Tackle any maintenance issues identified in the property inspection from Step 1. If you have water saturating the stonework because of defective pointing or flashings – it is going to impact on the energy efficiency of the property and could give rise to significant decay and repairs later on.
- Consider where can you put insulation so that it will be effective and provide complete coverage. Gaps in insulation around the edges or in areas that are difficult to reach will create problems. It will significantly impact on the performance of the work and could give rise to dampness, mould growth and health problems.
- Make it reversible – what ever work you do, it should be designed and installed in a way that allows you to take out again. If there is a problem with either the new material, or the existing building fabric, you will be able to remove the installation easily and sort out the issue. Solutions that rely on injecting foam, adhesives or anything that chemically bonds to the structure will make it impossible to remove without causing a great deal of damage and should be avoided.
- Make it breathable. Traditional buildings need to breathe just like people. Breathable materials tend to be those that are natural, such as wood fibre or sheeps wool. Synthetic materials like plastic and foam seal in the moisture.
- Ventilate properly. You will be surprised at the amount of water that can build up in the atmosphere of well insulated home. Make sure you have the ability to constantly remove that damp, stale air and replace it with fresh clean air to keep you and the building healthy.
Address your energy supply
- Once you have addressed any repairs and reduced the energy needed to heat the house, we can then look at where that energy to heat your property comes from. There are a range of options available. Some are natural and low carbon, some are high tech and can generate surplus energy that you can export. There is no one size fits all approach. In relation to your property, some solutions will be more appropriate than others and will depend on where the property is located, how big it is, what type of structure you have and you will need to discuss this with a conservation professional.
Whatever the final strategy and solution adopted, when the work is complete – you should have eliminated carbon emissions from your property, you should enjoy greater levels of comfort and health. You will have done your bit to save the planet and you will have lower fuel bills to boot.
Over the coming weeks and years there is going to be more and more noise around the issue of retrofit - with offers of grants and financial support or penalties. If you remember these three steps you wont go far wrong and if you are approached by someone who thinks these steps are unnecessary, walk away.
MAAC studio are accredited conservation architects and principal designers working with traditional buildings throughout Scotland.