A woman operating controls of a domestic boiler.
Using heating controls effectively, can save you money on heating bills and lower your carbon emissions. © Angela Hampton Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo
Using heating controls effectively, can save you money on heating bills and lower your carbon emissions. © Angela Hampton Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

How to Save Energy in an Older Home

If you live in an older building and want to save on energy bills or cut carbon emissions, this page summarises what to do. We have listed options in order of priority, considering their benefits, costs and technical risks.

Priority 1: for everyone in every home

These are easy-to-install measures with a quick pay-back.

Tenants can take most of these actions too, but check your lease and talk to your landlord first.

Everyone can take steps to change how they use energy:

Find out more from the Centre for Sustainable Energy

  • Make sure your home, including your roof, walls, windows and doors, is in a good state of repair. It will not only make it more energy efficient, but also stop damp, mould, condensation and rot. A damp building is a cold building
  • Clear gutters, downpipes and underground drains so that water flows away from the building
  • Replace slipped or broken roof tiles or slates
  • Repair any cracks in render and missing mortar in brickwork or stone pointing (repairs should be made using lime mortar for older buildings)

Use a maintenance checklist

Draught proofing is unobtrusive and cost-effective.

Heat can escape through gaps in windows and doors, floors, holes for services into your home and chimneys. The cost of draughtproofing will be quickly recovered by energy savings as long as any necessary repairs are done first.

If you block a chimney, make sure you keep enough ventilation to prevent dampness in the flue. Avoid permanently blocking chimneys as they can help cool your home in the summertime.

Follow these draught-proofing tips

Shutters, curtains and blinds not only provide privacy, security and weather protection, they also protect against heat loss and overheating:

  • Internal shutters, thick blinds and curtains prevent heat loss in winter
  • External shutters, awnings and blinds prevent overheating in the summer

Reduce heat loss and draughts through floorboards with rugs or carpet. Rugs may be preferable. They can easily be removed to allow airflow through timber floors or to expose cool solid floors in the summer to prevent overheating. 

Where you install coverings and underlays, avoid trapping moisture and preventing airflow by using permeable materials and taking care not to block ventilation outlets.

If you can easily and safely access your loft space, it is straightforward to install insulation at ceiling level. 

Even if your roof is insulated, check it’s at least 270 millimetres deep and and that you don’t leave any gaps around the edges of the insulation. Remember to insulate and draught seal the loft access hatch.

Make sure roof ventilation is still adequate. A musty smell, condensation or white mould spores on timbers or roof felt is a sign it is not.

For more about the best practice and appropriate materials for loft insulation:

See our guidance on insulating roofs

  • When replacing appliances or fittings, try to buy ones with the best energy rating
  • Review how you use your heating controls
  • Replace traditional or halogen light bulbs with LEDs
  • Insulate your hot water storage tank and pipes
  • Make sure extractor fans are controlled by time or humidity so that they only run when needed
  • Turn equipment off when it is not being used. Do not leave it on standby
  • Make sure outdoor lights are controlled by light or motion sensors so they turn off when not needed

Tip: Whatever you do, ventilate your home with fresh air from outdoors to maintain good indoor air quality, reduce condensation and prevent mould. Either open windows, use extractor fans, or if necessary install a ventilation system. You may want to get specialist advice.

Priority 2: suitable for some homes

These changes can work well to save energy but they are a little more complicated and cost more. In some circumstances, you will want to hire a specialist to manage the introduction of these measures. 

Heating controls help to keep a home comfortable and warm without wasting energy. They may include:

  • Programmer (controlling when heating turns on and off)
  • Room thermostat
  • Thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs), if you have radiators
  • Cylinder thermostat, if you have a hot water cylinder

By installing and using your heating controls effectively, you could save money on your heating bills and lower your carbon emissions.

How to use heating controls to save energy

You may decide to replace your heating system because it is at the end of its life. It's important to check that your new system is more efficient than your last one and to find an accredited contractor to install it.

What to consider when replacing your heating system

Want to switch to renewable low-carbon heating, like a heat pump? Find out more below in the advice on 'Renewable or low-carbon energy sources'.

With carefully designed and installed secondary glazing you can:

  • Keep your original historic windows
  • Reduce heat loss and draughts
  • Benefit from improved sound insulation

Installing double glazing is a popular way to make a room more comfortable and energy efficient. The glazing is partly responsible for heat loss, but so are the window frames. Properly fitted window frames stopping cold draughts getting in make a big contribution to comfort and energy efficiency.

We recommend a combination of repairs and draught proofing or secondary glazing. In some situations, secondary glazing can bring even greater energy efficiency improvements than double glazing.

It’s important that where you install secondary glazing, you prevent condensation and mould developing by not draught-proofing the original window.

More about adding secondary glazing to windows

Damp and mould problems reduce a building's energy efficiency. They also result in the deterioration of the building and even the health of occupants.

Buildings of traditional construction are made of brick, stone, earth, and older timber framed structures. Their materials are natural and can manage moisture without mechanical ventilation. External render, internal plaster or the mortar between the bricks would have been lime based, which easily allow excess moisture to evaporate.

You may find that changes or repairs made to your building have used modern materials such as gypsum plaster, cement, emulsion paints or waterproof paints. These may trap water from sources of damp, such as leaks, faulty pipes or gutters, cracks in the plaster or render, or from a flood, and prevent the building from drying out.

Even if they aren't causing an issue with damp now, they may do in the future if they are not properly maintained and if moisture is trapped behind them.

This is why we recommend that you consider replacing any inappropriate renders, plasters and mortars with traditional materials such as lime render, plaster and mortar.

Find out more about:

Repairing walls

Using the right materials

Tip: Every building is unique. There is no one size fits all solution. Use a holistic approach to understand what will work for your home.

Priority 3: need expert advice

These actions involve higher risks and/or higher costs for the energy they can save or generate for you. They need expert planning, design and integration with your home if they are not to cause unintended damage to it or cost more than they will save you in some cases.

In some buildings, installing internal or external wall insulation can help improve energy efficiency.

However, in some situations, it brings relatively little additional benefit in reducing heat loss compared to the 'quick wins' and 'more-involved changes' described above.

If not properly considered and/or installed, or if inappropriate materials are used, it can even make a building less energy efficient, risk the health of occupants, and may cause deterioration of the building.

Because it is a high risk measure, we recommend getting specialist advisers and contractors to do the work.

More about insulating walls

We strongly encourage you to conserve your building's historic windows where possible. Older windows are usually durable, functional and repairable if looked after. And they make an important contribution to the character of historic buildings.

More about repairing and making changes to windows

Where the glass, window or door has come to the end of its life, replacement might be the only option. Search for a replacement that is both:

  • A more energy efficient product, and
  • Appropriate to the building's character and appearance

Suspended timber floors sometimes have gaps between floorboards that allow draughts through. Draughts between boards can be removed relatively easily – see ‘Add rugs and carpets’ in the section above titled 'Priority 1: for everyone in every home'.

Adding insulation can be more difficult as invariably this involves taking up most of the boards to access the void below. Even using appropriate material, this also brings increased risk of moisture building up and damage to timbers if not properly considered and/or installed.

Existing solid floors already offer a degree of insulation. Adding insulation provides only minimal improvements. But if you are replacing a solid floor then take the opportunity to improve its thermal performance.

Because these are high risk measures, we recommend getting specialist advisers and contractors to do the work.

More about insulating floors

Generating energy from renewable or low carbon heating systems will reduce your carbon emissions and still heat your home.

A key step is making sure the system has been sized correctly.

More about installing renewable or low-carbon energy sources

In some buildings, installing roof insulation can help improve energy efficiency. This measure is more cost-effective when replacing a roof covering.

Even using appropriate material, this measure also increases the risk of moisture building up and damage to timbers if not properly considered and/or installed.

Because it is a high risk measure, we recommend getting specialist advisers and contractors to do the work.

More about roof insulation

Historic England's guidance on these measures and more will support you and your expert in your decision-making process. 

Tip: It may be more cost-effective to wait to fit these energy efficiency improvements in with other building or refurbishment work that you are planning.

Use a holistic approach

A holistic approach develops an understanding of your building in its context and seeks to:

  • Save energy
  • Sustain your home's heritage significance, and
  • Maintain a healthy indoor environment

The approach is known as the 'whole building approach' and anyone can use it, even if you live in a flat in part of a building.

Most of all, it deals with your home specifically and does not make general recommendations. What might work for your neighbour, might not work for your home, even if the two buildings appear similar.

The energy efficiency measures that will work for your home vary, depending on how you use your home, how your building is constructed and the heating systems you use.

Tip: If you own your home and have an energy performance certificate, you can use the GOV.UK website to get energy efficiency recommendations for your home.

Get energy saving recommendations for your home from GOV.UK

Get the help and permissions you need

When the work is finished

When the contractor or installer finishes the work, check that you understand what has been done. Find out how it is supposed to work, how to use any controls and how it should be maintained.

You can use your energy bills to compare levels of energy use before and after improvements to get an idea of the impact and savings achieved.