With nearly 200 properties in central Edinburgh, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lister Housing Co-operative knows more than most about the challenges of managing older, listed housing stock.

The Georgian tenements of Edinburgh are one of the UK’s most closely protected urban areas but characteristics like single glazing have meant poor energy efficiency. Many tenants are on lower incomes and fuel poverty is common, with more than 10% of household income spent on energy.

With Lister, we spearheaded a long-term initiative to tackle the problem of delivering warmer homes and renewable energy to 49 listed flats.

Funding and technical know-how

Our knowledge of funding sources proved critical in attracting the necessary financial support for what became known as the Energy Heritage project.

An investigation into improving energy efficiency of historic homes was followed by a detailed exploration of micro-renewable technologies which work on-site to generate energy for the building from sustainable sources.

We led the team which examined the fabric of the 1820s properties in detail and took the lead on extensive negotiation with stakeholders, from planning officials and conservation experts, to World Heritage staff, Lister employees and not least, tenants themselves.

The project also trialed specific thermal improvements designed to satisfy conservation as well as energy concerns, from sympathetic, slimline secondary glazing to the restoration of wooden shutters.

Renewable Heritage through solar thermal

Alistair Cant, Director of Lister Housing Co-operative, says: “The second phase was a project that became known as Renewable Heritage. Changeworks looked at all possible technologies that could deliver microgeneration – biomass, wind, even hydro.

“They concluded that solar thermal was best for these 49 flats, and they wrote an extensive report.”

Extensive consultation

A key objective was to reduce reliance on expensive fossil fuels by enabling tenants to get most of their hot water from solar energy – even those in basement flats. This unusual approach required sensitive negotiation with residents, all of whom would stay in their homes while work was taking place.

Technical knowledge and a considerate approach to tenants was vital in securing the goodwill necessary to deliver a successful project outcome.

Alistair says, “We know our tenants well but it’s a landlord type relationship, mostly covering rent and repairs. We were trying to encourage people to take on something that would be beneficial but would also require quite a commitment: having work done in their homes and adjusting how they use their heating.

“Changeworks was the expert who could answer questions in detail. Because they have authority from a renewable energy point of view, that was reassuring to people.”

Sensitive installation

Lister installed the solar thermal panels on parts of the roofs not visible to the street. Securing permission for roof panels on World Heritage site buildings was a major achievement.

Alistair comments: “The great thing about Changeworks is that they know the Edinburgh situation very well, they have expertise on a range of green issues and they’re very good at working with people at a high level, who have the power to change things.”

Positive results

The initiative has made a big difference to many tenants, lowering their energy costs.

Alistair reports: “The vast majority are very pleased, and some are quite amazed that from late spring to mid-autumn, they don’t have their boiler on.”

Influential outcomes

At national and international level, the guides we produced on energy efficiency and microgeneration for historic buildings, as a result of this project, were ground-breaking − the first of their kind in Europe.

They are widely used by planning authorities and conservationists as a blueprint for tackling energy efficiency in traditional and historic buildings.

“The reports are extremely thorough,” Alistair says. “Often, reports like these are very specific and don’t have much to teach readers. But the great strength of Changeworks is the context they provide, and their openness about the difficulties encountered as well as the things that went well.

“It’s refreshing to work with consultants, especially in the renewable energy sector, who will be open about technical constraints with certain technologies. With Changeworks, I know I’m not dealing with somebody who has a vested interest – they know the industry, but they’re not part of the industry, and that is an approach that works very well.”

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