eco house

How to Turn a British Period Home into an Eco House in 2023 – DIY Guide (UK Edition)

New builds are designed with sustainability in mind, but period houses, while beautiful, often lack eco-credentials.

This guide will show you how to turn a period house into an eco house. We will examine when a listed building consent is needed and explore the top building materials and techniques used in sustainable housing.

First, check if your period property is listed, using this list from Historic England. If you’re outside England, you need to check the list of the appropriate heritage organisation for your part of the world. 

If your building is listed, you will require listed building consent for any renovation work to the interior. In addition to listed building consent, planning permission will be needed for external work. Listed building status also applies to the garden, while trees may have a tree protection order (TPO).

Check your home’s listing to find out exactly what features are covered. Do not work without listed building consent because you can be prosecuted.

Make the Most of What You’ve Got

Etons of Bath points out that you effectively recycle a building by renovating a period home. Retaining period features reduces waste. They recommend reinstalling wooden shutters for warmth and draught exclusion. These and other period features can be sourced at reclamation yards.

Always use, where possible, locally sourced building materials as would have been used in the period.

Keep It Natural

vegetable patch

Etons of Bath suggests using natural materials such as haired or hemp plaster for insulation. Stone, lime render and plaster, timber, and wool are all sustainable, natural and in keeping with period properties. Limewash eliminates the need for a damp course by letting walls breathe and is also an excellent source of fireproofing.

Historic England states that ‘timber windows dating from the First World War generally used Baltic pine…use matching timber that is low in sapwood so that it lasts as long as possible.’ In every instance, replace rotting timbers with fresh wood that matches while trying to keep as much of the original, non-rotted timber as possible.

As a final step for natural eco-living, overhaul the garden. Vegetable patches were a key part of many historic garden designs, so see if your property has one or work out where one could be developed. This will be in keeping with the period, often when it was essential to live off the land, and also fit in with today’s standards of eco-living.

When To Modernise

smart control panel

The Listed Property Owners Club, Scotland, says

“If you are looking to make thermal improvements without the need for listed building consent, options include; draught-proofing, improving loft insulation and upgrading to a more efficient boiler (so long as it does not involve altering the building). Double-glazing windows and adding insulation to walls and floors can be a little more challenging and will almost certainly require listed building consent.”

Historic England prefers homeowners to install secondary glazing rather than double glazing. There should not be a problem with changing the boiler, providing any unsightly pipework is hidden, and there is minimal work needed to the fabric of the building.

LED light bulbs should be fitted unless the light fitting is part of the original features and/or is listed.

Converting a Period Home into an Eco House – Final Thoughts

Wherever possible, retain original features and enhance, rather than replace.

Remember that by refurbishing a period property, you are adhering to sustainability principles of reuse and recycling.

For more property-related eco-friendly tips, check out our guide to the Lammas Eco-Village in Wales.