Heritage should help, not hinder our fight against Climate Change.
Climate change is considered to be one of the most important issues facing us today and everyone is looking for ways to decrease the impact that our lives have on the planet around us. All sectors of society are working on initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the sustainability of our world. Heritage is no different.
How heritage can help
Regeneration and Reuse of buildings
Demolishing buildings uses a considerable amount of energy. Add to this the energy costs of producing new materials, transporting them to site and constructing a replacement building and it is clear that a sustainable future needs to find ways to reuse and regenerate our existing building stock. Statistics from the Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU2000) state that over 90% of non-energy minerals extracted in Great Britain are used to supply the construction industry with materials. Alongside this, approximately 70 million tonnes of construction and demolition materials and soil end up as waste, which accounts for 24% of the total waste generated in the UK. The reuse and regeneration of existing buildings will help to decrease energy use, minimise waste and therefore have a positive impact on the reduction of greenhouse gases.
Materials used in the construction of traditional buildings make them inherently sustainable. Timber, clay bricks and tiles, local stone, lead and copper are locally sourced, long lasting and renewable. The use of lime based mortars and plasters used prior to the 20th century were durable but soft and elastic which kept building materials in good condition and increased their longevity. Lime in building construction is carbon neutral, cement on the other hand is responsible for 3% of the greenhouse gases produced worldwide.
Traditional buildings are more energy efficient than you might think. Thick solid construction acts as a thermal buffer, preventing the loss (or gain) of heat, they also use permeable materials that can absorb water, and release it gradually in contrast to modern construction which aims to keep moisture out.
In order to build the best quality sustainable homes for the future we need to understand how houses use energy and which adaptations are most effective. English Heritage is undertaking a long term research programme called 'Hearth and Home' which includes a broad programme of research, practical advice and development.
Issues to be considered
Climate change friendly developments can have a wide variety of impacts, both positive and negative. Issues to be considered include:
Projects that disturb the ground
Infrastructure projects such as hydro-electric or tidal plants, as well as wind farms may have direct impacts on archaeological remains. It is important that their positioning is appropriately considered and the area is adequately recorded.
Views and landscapes
These are important heritage assets in their own rights and need to be considered when implementing renewable energy projects, from something small like a solar panel to something large like a Wind farm. The impact of such installations must take into account the significant and setting within which they will stand and the physical impact on any historic building fabric.
When young, trees may not make a visual impact, but thought must be given to the most appropriate choice of species and quantity to ensure that they do not impact detrimentally on important views or significant settings. This will ensure that they are positive to both the natural and built environment.
Poorly designed or inappropriate energy saving measures can have a negative impact on community identity and sense of pride impacting directly in a social context. Well-designed measures can make considerable savings with little or no damage. The use of inappropriate modern materials and modern technologies can actually decrease the energy efficiency of historic buildings - pursuing the newest craze for reducing energy use or generating energy may not always be the best option.
There is a great deal of research and helpful resources available to investigate how climate and the historic environment can work in harmony. Below are a few sources of useful information: