From energy hogs to eco havens: how retrofitting can transform rental homes


Two popular aspects that many of us find appealing about UK property – age and character – are proving to be the most troublesome when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. But there is a solution…retrofitting!

According to The Health Foundation, our nation has the oldest housing stock in Europe, with a glut of domestic properties built between the Industrial Revolution and in the years following World War II. The issue? Many of them are now rented out by landlords to tenants.

The most recent English Housing Survey (2021-2022) revealed just how old our rental property stock is. The survey found there were 4.3 million privately rented properties in England and 39% of those were built before 1945. Drilling down further into the figures, approximately 23% of private rented properties were built before 1919, with around 16% built between 1919 and 1944.

Workers’ cottages, rows of Victorian terraces, Edwardian townhouses and illustrious mansions built by the newly-rich bourgeoisie have changed our landscape forever, leaving us with a rich legacy of period and listed buildings that people can’t get enough of. But for every original cast iron fireplace, exposed floorboards and stained glass fanlight is an eco issue that needs solving.

Can you make an old house eco friendly by retrofitting?

In 2021, Historic England published a report that highlighted how retrofitting historic homes could drastically cut our carbon emissions. Looking at properties according to the period in which they were built, Historic England found careful retrofitting can see carbon emissions reduced by up to 84% in a detached Victorian home; up to 62% in a Georgian terrace; up to 58% in a 1900s terrace, up to 56% in a Victorian semi-detached and up to 54% in a Victorian terrace.

It’s not just period buy-to-let properties that present an eco problem. The English Housing Survey also found tenants renting privately were the most likely to be using a fixed room or portable heater (7%) to heat their home, compared to just 1% the social sector and 2% of owner occupied homes. Astonishingly, 18% of privately rented homes did not have central heating. 

How much CO2 does a domestic boiler produce?

Even landlords who offer a centrally-heated home can’t relax. The UK’s gas boilers produce twice as much climate-heating carbon emissions as all the nation’s gas-fired power stations combined, while they collectively produce eight times as much nitrogen dioxide as power plants. These findings were part of a 2021 report produced by climate charity Possible, together with the social enterprise Scene – both champions of domestic heat pumps. 

Retrofitting the UK’s privately rented stock with energy efficient features is the best way to transform our homes from gas guzzling, electricity draining property pariahs into low polluting eco havens. Carbon savings can be easily achieved with a few conscious retrofitting switches, including: 

  • Heat pumps: EDF Energy says installing a heat pump could cut a household’s carbon emissions by more than 2.3 tonnes of CO2 every year.
  • Solar PV systems: The Energy Saving Trust says a typical home solar PV system could save around 1.3 to 1.6 tonnes of CO2 per year, depending on where the property is located.
  • Loft insulation: Norton Finance says 270mm loft insulation fitted to a mid-terrace house can reduce a home’s CO2 footprint by 530kg every year. Those that add cavity wall insulation can save an additional 1.5 tonnes of CO2 per annum, says The Energy Saving Trust.
  • LED lights: replacing all the bulbs in a home with LED lights could reduce a household’s CO2 emissions by up to 65kg a year, says The Energy Saving Trust.
  • Double glazing: The Energy Saving Trust’s figures highlight how replacing single glazing with A++ rated double glazed windows could save 405kg of CO2 every year.

All of the above will help improve a buy-to-let property’s EPC rating and future-proof such investments for the future. Landlords can tap in to retrofit finance so they can confidently work towards future energy deadlines, as the Government eventually wants all properties in the private rented sector to have a minimum EPC rating of C.  

Our team would be happy to explain the different types of EPC finance open to landlords, especially the exciting new initiative that allows landlords to sell their future rental income rights to Factored in return for cash to make energy efficiency improvements. Get in touch to learn more