Can Victorian Terraced Houses be Brought into the 21st Century?

Many of the UK’s terraced houses have remained unchanged for decades, making them inefficient and wasteful. Fortunately, there are a number of ways owners can bring these properties back up to date, and a wide range of benefits for doing so.

terraced houses

Terraced houses sprung up in towns and cities across the UK at the dawn of the Victorian era- a time when Britain lay at the heart of the world’s industry. Though they stand as a monument to the country’s working class, many terraced houses have remained unchanged for decades. And when it comes to energy efficiency, that makes them a serious environmental burden.

As the Industrial Revolution boomed, terraced houses were built in towns and cities to house the workers from local factories and mines. Because of this, traditional working class areas are still home to the highest concentrations of terraced houses, forming an iconic part of the landscape of towns such as Swansea, Loughborough, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham. But while the world of technology and architecture has evolved greatly over the past 150 years, terraced houses have struggled to keep up with the times. Poor insulation and outdated windows make many of these houses cold and draughty places to live, driving up energy costs and carbon emissions for their occupants.

The problem is particularly large in Wales, in which an estimated 40% of homes are Victorian terraced houses. That equates to around 1.25 million houses, accounting for a staggering 25% of all Welsh CO2 emissions.

 Fixing the problem

 In order for the UK to meet its carbon targets by 2050, the problem of inefficient terraced housing needs to be dealt with quickly. Fortunately, there are plenty of incentives out there for property owners to do this. Many former industrial towns and cities now have thriving student populations, in which terraced housing is ideal for student lettings and HMOs. When catering for the rentals market, cheap, comfortable living is a huge selling point, with many savvy landlords aiming to attract tenants with more spacious, modern interiors, new kitchen fittings and a number of improvements to make the property more energy efficient.

Homeowners who live in Victorian terraced houses can also benefit greatly from making sure their homes are at maximum energy efficiency, most notably through cheaper energy bills.

Basic improvements which can boost the energy efficiency of Victorian terraced houses include:

  • Upgrading to triple glazed windows

  • Installation of cavity wall insulation

  • Replacing older boilers with energy efficient models

Further improvements

While terraced houses might not be known for their space, it is still possible to install renewable heating systems in order to bring them on par with larger energy efficient properties. While there may not be enough space to accommodate heat pumps, it is possible to install and run a biomass boiler in a small terraced house- all you need is space to keep the boiler and store the wood pellets. Nowadays, it isn’t too uncommon to see terraced houses sporting solar PV or solar thermal panels on their roofs, allowing occupants to enjoy the same benefits of solar powered heating and electricity as those in detached or semi-detached properties.

The compact shape and size of terraced housing can also be used to an advantage. A district heating network can be constructed underneath a row of houses allowing them to all benefit from renewable heat or use it in conjunction with individual heating systems.

Terraced houses are an iconic part of British heritage and despite their environmental shortcomings, many of us would be sad to see them go. Fortunately, it only takes a little care and dedication to bring standards back up on par with other UK properties, and terraced houses even have the potential to function as fantastic eco homes that are cheap, efficient and perfect for 21st century living.

Image sourced: Gary Davies

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