It is important that we all strive to cut our carbon dioxide emissions but I am taking the recommendations in the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) that I received when purchasing my house (below) with a pinch of salt. Unfortunately, they are less than helpful and bear out concerns expressed by the SPAB (Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings) when EPCs were introduced as part of Home Information Packs (HIPs) in 2007.
No previous experience is necessary to train as a domestic energy assessor to produce EPCs and those who qualify frequently display a worrying lack of understanding when dealing with old buildings. This is compounded by the fact that the software used can discriminate against older, more complex properties. Consequently, the recommendations given in EPCs are too often for work that would not only be damaging to historic fabric but result in little, if any, environmental benefit.
Even so, I was aghast at the assessor’s recommendation that the thermal efficiency of one of my two cottages could be improved by applying external wall insulation and the claim that this “might improve the look of the house”. So much for the building’s grade I listing and the national significance of its pargeting! Fortunately, there are many other, more appropriate ways in which I could cut my energy use and I plan to incorporate a range of these into the forthcoming project.
Good advice on reducing energy consumption in old buildings can be found at www.climatechangeandyourhouse.org.uk and www.historic-scotland.gov.uk.
My town has suffered burst pipes and potholed roads after winter tightened its icy grip. Just around the corner from home, firefighters were called after the feed pipe to the water tank in the loft of an empty listed building split and caused extensive flood damage.
I’ve been more fortunate, though it’s been so cold that pieces of vitreous china have broken off the rim to one of my outside WCs! I took the precaution of closely inspecting the supply pipework in the nearby outbuilding and this revealed a fragile joint – a disaster waiting to happen. A quick easing of the stopcock with WD-40, then turning it open and shut a number of times, permitted a solder repair to be made.
The SPAB has some tips for protecting old buildings from cold weather at http://www.spab.org.uk.
I was leaving the house the other morning when I became aware of a passer-by waiting in the snow for me. It turned out to be an elderly lady, Mrs Selby, who had lived in part of my property from the 1920s right up until just before I took possession. I knew she was now in sheltered accommodation in the town but this was the first time we had met.
Our chance encounter was timely. As well as handing her a Christmas card that had arrived at her old address, I was also able to raise the possibility of us getting together over the next few months to talk about her memories of living in the house. In line with good building conservation practice, I’m hoping to investigate the building and its history thoroughly before commencing any significant work.
Mrs Selby evidently has much to tell me. She has already mentioned an occasion in the 1940s when a lorry collided with the oversailing first floor wall, narrowly missing her but breaking a cast iron window frame. Fortunately, the pavement has since been widened to keep traffic further away.
After some years of advising others on how to handle work on old buildings through my role at the SPAB, I’m thrilled to be taking on a major project of my own – updating, altering and repairing a 15th-century, grade-I-listed house, later part of an inn, at Saffron Walden in Essex.
The property is remarkable for the decorative render, or ‘pargeting’, that adorns its front walls, especially two large, folkish figures over the carriageway. There are also reputed links with Oliver Cromwell to investigate.
I spotted an advert by chance in a local newspaper. The agent, Cheffins (www.cheffins.co.uk), received great interest so the sale went to ‘best and final offer’, with the suspense of seeing how my sealed bid fared against others. Apparently, a friend’s tip to include a one-sided resume justifying my interest in the building helped greatly.
Now my challenge is to sympathetically return what are presently two cottages back into a single dwelling to provide myself with a home fit for the 21st century. To give you an idea of the scale of my task, there are only outside toilets and one cottage even lacks electricity. It’s a project that will keep me busy for the foreseeable future.