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​There is a widespread general misunderstanding about the way that buildings (in essence, those built pre-1919) work, which seems to have led to the misapprehension that they perform badly from an environmental perspective.

Old buildings were designed to breathe, using materials and construction techniques to allow permeability, lime mortar and soft clay bricks for example. Modern buildings are designed to be sealed, thereby keeping out moisture and draughts.

The ‘U’ values attributed to many of the materials used to build older properties frequently mean that the rating for the Environmental Performance Certificate (EPC) will be significantly below its true figure, as shown in research undertaken by Historic Scotland, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) and other eminent conservation organisations. This work has been recognised and the figures used to inform these ratings are now being changing to reflect the fact that older buildings in fact perform much better than thought.


A considerable amount of embodied energy is also wrapped up in traditional buildings, which will generally have used vernacular (local) and therefore highly sustainable materials in their construction.


This cannot be said for nearly all the materials used in new buildings, which will include many PVC products, which are a highly carcinogenic pollutant and take thousands of years to break down; timber, which is usually imported; and pretty much all types of metal where both of these apply! This even goes as far as the paint finish, as traditional paints are the only true sustainable type.

Significant research has also been undertaken on so called ‘healthy’ buildings. It is worth noting that increases in asthma and other respiratory health issues is a modern phenomenon which did not exist in their current form before the construction and use of modern techniques and materials.


The key issue here is to educate owners, contractors and professionals into understanding how traditional buildings work.

Nathan Goss Conservation logo
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