By the year 2030, period properties might be the preserve of the rich. Rising fuel prices will mean that a household in an older property will need a minimum annual income of £100,000 ($166,000 USD)* to stay out of fuel poverty (which is defined by a household needing to spend more than 10 per cent of its income to maintain a temperature of 21C). Far from being a slightly crumbling “doer-upper”, a period property will become a viable proposition for a select few only.
Conservation groups like English Heritage quail at the thought of double glazing replacing sash windows. Low energy experts are saying that older houses may simply end up deserted if no-one can afford to heat them, which is the quickest route to a rotting pile.
Study of Energy Usage of 3 Victorian Terraces
A year-long study undertaken in London looked at the energy usage of three identical Victorian terrace houses. One was given a new boiler and heating system, as well as some more insulation. Another was retrofitted to meet Passivhaus standards, which meant it needed almost no heating and used thermal solar panels for hot water. The doors were heavily insulated and windows were triple glazed. The third house was left as it was, with no improvements at all.
From the outside, passers-by can barely tell which house is which, a fact that will encourage conservation groups, although some retrofitting projects will involve more obvious innovations. The energy use of the three houses was measured for a year after the improvements, with an ideal internal temperature of 21C aimed for. The untouched house saved no money at all on its heating bills, the insulated house spent £560 ($930 USD) less than the unimproved house, and the Passivhaus spent £1,255 ($2086 USD) less.
With ever-climbing heating costs, these improvements will save more and more as the years go by, as the gap between retrofitted and unimproved properties is widened. By 2030, even the people in the insulated house will need a minimum of £60,000 ($99,753 USD) each year to avoid fuel poverty.
While newly built houses come with all the energy-efficient whistles and bells already, older properties will need extensive retrofitting. The level of retrofitting will be high, thorough and expensive.
If a builder or homeowner thinks they can cut corners, they’ll be wrong. The average retrofitting project for an older property should cost between £90,000 ($150,000 USD) and £110,000 ($182,880 USD). Everything in the project has to work together. If you pack your walls and roof with insulation, but don’t think about heating and ventilation, you could end up with condensation, for example. The entire layout of the house needs to be taken into account – are there areas which could conduct heat out (so-called thermal bridges) to the outside? Thermal bridges can also conduct heat from the outside in, making the inside uncomfortably warm.
Passivhaus retrofitting doesn’t necessarily add a great deal to the value of a property, so it’s likely to be the more valuable period houses and the wealthier occupants that are the best candidates for leading the way in the fight against fuel poverty.
* All currency conversions are approximate