The older I get the more I am drawn to history. Whether it’s filling in the blanks about previous generations of my family or marvelling at a building that has survived for centuries, that connection to the past is increasingly important to me. Perhaps this might be why some of us are drawn to places with history or why we buy old houses.
In the UK, period properties are among the most sought after on the housing market. A number of times I’ve heard the owners of these homes refer to themselves as guardians, looking after the houses until the next generation can take over. I like this notion and wouldn’t want anything to change unless it had to, but how far ahead does a guardian need to look and what is in the long-term best interests of a building?
According to a report from Eight Associates, old homes could become too expensive to run in the next 20 years for all but the wealthy. That’s a relatively short space of time. Would that change what we need to do to period properties today to protect them in the future? These are questions that I’m sure concern the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). Their aim is to prevent old buildings from damage, demolition or decay. At the time they were founded, by William Morris in 1877, outright demolition was a key threat. Today, more often than not, unintentional damage is the biggest concern and it stems from people who use materials that don’t work sympathetically with old buildings. Trapping moisture then leads to more serious issues.
In the past I’ve seen Passivhaus retrofits of Victorian buildings, which I realise is a radical approach. While it delivers on energy efficiency, it’s expensive and always results in loss of historic fabric or change of appearance. You would also be using the building in a completely different way and there would be no rewind button. Then you would need a lot of faith in your developer that they hadn’t delivered you a ticking time-bomb (unwittingly trapping moisture in the fabric of the building themselves). All that said, what if this is the best way to preserve our period housing? A guardian can only do his or her best.
In order to have old buildings that are not liabilities in the future we need to make them comfortable and improve their energy efficiency. What I was really hoping to find out from this current podcast episode is whether traditional conservation methods could do this? Are the techniques advancing?
Douglas Kent, Technical and Research Director for the SPAB, is my latest guest. I was very glad to hear that the SPAB are being proactive in their efforts to enhance their processes as well as remaining faithful to William Morris’ founding principles.
Listen to my interview with Douglas by downloading the podcast from iTunes