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Historic Scotland helps traditional buildings become more energy efficient

24 March 2010

Historic Scotland is challenging the view that traditionally built homes, which comprise almost a fifth of Scotland’s houses, are energy inefficient and a barrier to meeting Scotland’s carbon reduction targets in the housing sector.

This is one of the issues which will be discussed at a conference, “Energy Efficiency and Sustainability in Traditional Buildings” hosted by Historic Scotland on Wednesday 24 March at The Hub in Edinburgh.

Historic Scotland will be presenting their results of research and activity to assist anyone who has any involvement with a traditional building, whether it is a home, school, hospital, shop or a factory to make it more energy efficient.

A range of specialist speakers will outline government policy drivers, embodied energy considerations, materials supply options and current and ongoing energy efficiency projects being carried out by Historic Scotland and others.

They will also discuss the training needed to sustain and develop the refurbishment sector in order to show how traditionally built homes can be sustainably upgraded.

In addition, teams from Scottish Government Housing and others in the sector and others from the sector will look at the scale of what needs to be done and how refurbishment of social housing can be tackled sustainably.

Key research being presented will include:

  • A report that quantifies the embodied energy in various stone procurement routes by the Scottish Institute of Sustainable Technology  which demonstrates the considerable additional carbon associated with imported building stone, as opposed to stone sourced more locally.

  • A report by the Carbon Centre, a work in progress, describing the various costs involved in the refurbishment of a 19th century cottage, and how that can be cheaper in financial and carbon terms than demolition and rebuild.

Fiona Hyslop, The Minister for Culture and External Affairs said: “With the pressure of climate change and the need to understand what can be done and where, this conference is a key part of the ongoing learning process about the value in carbon terms of the existing housing stock.

“In 2004 housing accounted for around a third of all UK carbon dioxide emissions.  As part of the international effort required on climate change, the Scottish Government proposes an 80% reduction in Scotland’s carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.  Measures discussed during the day will support that there are significant cost advantages to refurbishment over demolition and rebuild as well as social and environmental benefits through reduced supply chains and sustainable re use of existing housing”.

Roger Curtis, Historic Scotland said: “Upgraded traditional buildings can outperform modern structures when the lifelines of the buildings are taken into account.  Historic and traditional buildings can also contribute to emission reductions if they are managed in a sustainable way.  Although a lifeline for a traditional building is taken as one hundred years, there are many more in Scotland which are much older. “

Notes for editors

Speakers at the conference include:

Ruth Parsons, Chief Executive, Historic Scotland
David Mitchell, Director, Technical Conservation Group, Historic Scotland
David Fotheringham, Scottish Government
Raymond Young, Director, SUST
Craig Kennedy, Historic Scotland
Mike Berners-Lee and Gary White, Crichton Carbon Centre
Suzy Goodsir – SIS Tech
Colin Tennant – Scottish Stone Liaison Group
Jim Macdonald – Deputy Chief Inspector, Historic Scotland
Stuart Watson – Building Standards Division, Scottish Government
Moses Jenkins – Historic Scotland
Nicholas Heath – Changeworks
Jessica Snow – Historic Scotland
Phil Ford – Future Skills Project, Construction Skills

The event will be chaired by Roger Curtis, Historic Scotland.

Traditional structures usually used local products and materials that required modest processing and transport, and relied on a local skills base in their construction and ongoing maintenance.  As a result, traditional buildings can be considered as being low carbon and low embodied energy. Any consideration of embodied energy in traditional buildings needs to address the full life-cycle of the component or structure.

By extending the life of a building or its individual elements associated with their replacement, carbon emissions are reduced.  A building constructed of new materials will have used a larger quantity of carbon relative to an equivalent building made from traditional materials.

Historic Scotland is engaged in an ongoing process of testing the thermal performance of older buildings and has been gathering data for 3 years on properties around Scotland and what interventions are appropriate and how well they perform.  Work is now going forward with case studies of  the refurbishment of a cottage and roofless estate building in east Ayrshire due to start on site in mid 2010.  These projects will provide templates for the best practice sustainable refurbishment of rural and other traditional buildings in  Scotland.

  • Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government charged with safeguarding the nation’s historic environment. The agency is fully accountable to Scottish Ministers and through them to the Scottish Parliament. For more information visit

For further information

Jennifer Johnston-Watt
Communications and Media Officer
Communications and Media
0131 668 8070 or 07827 956866