Listed buildings & green issues: what are your thoughts?

(This isn’t strictly a recycling issue but I was thinking about it the other day and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter!)

A few miles down the road from me is a village called Saltaire.

It is a Victorian model village founded by a local mill owner (Sir Titus Salt) so his employees had somewhere nice to live compared to the slums around mills in the rest of Bradford. It’s still a nice place to live – rows upon rows of well built Yorkshire-stone houses, with a lovely park, a very pretty church, lots of independent shops and the old mill, which is now home to an art gallery, restaurants & cafés, and more specialist shops. The whole area has survived the last 160 years in a remarkable complete state and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, which means that the government has a duty to protect the site from future development.

Without the World Heritage Site protection (and the listed status all the individual buildings around the village as well), various parts of the village would probably have been redeveloped or demolished in the name of progress – for example, there is a traffic crunch point just near the village and various people are crying out for a bypass or a tunnel underneath the whole area. With regards to that sort of thing – and to preserve our cultural history, I’m all in support of having listed buildings and the Heritage Site protection but…

I was passing through the village the other day and I noticed that most of the houses & shops still have old, single glazed windows. A lot of the windows have pretty curved tops – like in the picture – so I imagine they’d be expensive to replace anyway, before getting into issues of whether or not it’s allowed. (There are some houses in a less picturesque part of the city which have clearly just had rectangular windows placed en masse behind the arched stone window – but that does look bodgy and would definitely not be allowed in Saltaire.) A few houses seemed to have secondary glazing inside which helps a bit but I imagine the rest are losing a fair bit of heat through the single glazed windows and are probably draughty too. Similarly, a lot of the smaller terrace houses don’t have a hallway – their front doors open straight into their living rooms – and from living in a house like that for ten years, I can tell you for sure that it can be a draughty heat-sink even when you don’t actually open and close the door.

Many of the houses in Saltaire face east-west so they wouldn’t be optimal for solar panels anyway but even if they had south-facing roofs, I’m guessing that wouldn’t be allowed — any listed building is likely to require “listed building consent” before solar panels can be installed and it’s often refused if it’s felt the panels would “detract from the appearance and character” of the building or area or “disturb or destroy the historical fabric”. The situation would be similar for micro wind turbines or biomass flues etc.

Of course, these issues aren’t specific to this village – there are over 370,000 listed buildings in England alone – but passing through Saltaire got me thinking and I wondered what you thought about it. While most of us want to do so to stop wasting energy & money, a lot of people with listed houses can’t do the same.

Do you think the properties that represent our past should be protected above all else? Or should there be a focus on energy-awareness for the present & the future instead?

Do you live in a listed building? Have you had any problems making it more energy efficient? Or conversely, is it easier than it seems like it’ll be?

(Photo from Wikipedia)

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4 Responses to “Listed buildings & green issues: what are your thoughts?”

  1. snigface says:

    our house isn’t listed but it is 200 years old and is on an old fashioned estate where all the houses have to look the same – and that means wooden framed single glazed windows, slate tiled no felt roofs and no cavity wall. There are lots of things you can do to be more energy efficient though – you can buy secondary glazing sheets that fit inside the window. Good loft insulation (sheeps wool if you can afford it). Good quality carpets and thick lined curtains are a godsend. You can also have your rooms ‘dry lined’ which creates an air pocket – you can buy foil backed boards to do this with which traps the warmth inside the room. You lose an inch off each side of the wall though so might be tricky for smaller rooms – but it does have the added advantage of giving you a straight wall, which every person who lives in an old house dreams off! Straight wallpaper! And little things that everyone can do can really make a big difference – for example we’re lucky to have a coal fire so reclaimed and windfall wood is a good way of reducing our oil consumption. It also means we get plenty of washing dry, and we have a big garden, so plenty of space to hang washing outside, so we don’t need a tumble dryer (but a dehumidifier is advisable because obv all that moisture is then inside the house, not good for wood frame windows).

  2. Dee says:

    I think we need to be rational about our old buildings etc., but not be too sentimental at the same time …… the past is the past, simple as that, and as much as we like to celebrate our history, it aint gonna make a difference to our future unless we CHOOSE to live by todays standards with a view to making a BETTER future for ALL!! We need to be taking care of the planet as a whole, and conserving fuel etc, and therefore we must give EVERY homeowner the chance to be part of ANY environmental development project, whether their house is 20 yrs old or 200 yrs old!

  3. Maggie says:

    English Heritage has published a useful and simple guide to improving energy efficiency in old homes without damaging their fabric. Old homes are different is the main message – they were designed before the days of cheap energy and they also interact more with their environment – so don’t assume that modern solutions are suitable! See the report here:

  4. GreenSteve says:

    It might sound a bit harsh but, thinking about it in a utilitarian way, they should at very least have double glazed windows. Waste effects everybody, the attractiveness of Saltaire (which is great, I went to visit the brewery a couple of years back) is only going to benefit a fortunate few.

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