Climate change: retrofitting our homes

Posted on 16/5/2023

We are fortunate to live in a beautiful conservation area like Belsize Park.  But there is a downside: our Victorian and Edwardian homes are chilly in winter and expensive to heat. They are not very “climate friendly”, one of our local councillors says that Belsize ward has one of the highest carbon footprints in Camden.   

Provost Road – credit: David Percy

We are planning to run a half-day event later this year to learn more about what is involved in “climate proofing” our homes. We also hope to organise a visit to a local house to see for ourselves the benefits – and pitfalls – of a retrofit.

On average 35% of our homes’ heat is lost through the external walls, 25% through the roof, 15% through the windows, 8% where the roof meets the walls, and 5% through the chimneys and the party walls.

We plan to discuss how to reduce these losses and the amount of heating needed.

External walls can be lined with wood or mineral fibre insulation.  Front walls of buildings in a conservation area cannot be lined on the outside, but they can be lined on the inside. This reduces the room sizes slightly, involves removing and replacing the radiators and electrical points and is disruptive.  So what else can we do?  There are many options.  Side and rear external walls which can’t be seen from the street can be lined on the outside.  This involves removing and replacing the rainwater downpipes and extending the window sills.

Laying mineral wool insulation, the more the better, in the roof space is relatively simple and cost-effective.

Double glazing traditional single glazed sash windows should replicate the original window design, with thin glazing bars and timber framing.

You will need planning permission for these changes, but it shouldn’t be a problem on this basis.

A lot of us live in flats.  It is unlikely that you will be able to insulate your external walls on the outside, and you may not have a roof space.  Double glazing should be possible.

Gas or oil boilers can be replaced by an air source heat pump or by electric heating. An air source heat pump looks a bit like an air conditioning unit, so it has to be positioned carefully.  Larger radiators will be needed because a heat pump produces heat at a lower temperature than gas or oil.  Underfloor heating should be considered when installing a new floor.

Solar panels, positioned on the sunny side of the roof and not visible from the street, help provide electricity and hot water.

Retrofits are complex and demand expert advice and skilled tradesmen.  So we are planning to expand Tradesmen You Can Trust to include them.  We also want to discuss what measures homeowners can take collaboratively to cut costs.

Have you got experience about your own retrofit plans you would like to share with us?  Would you like to hear more about the options and join our new retrofit initiative?  We will share more details of our plans in the next Newsletter, but it would be very helpful to know how many members would be interested.  Please contact us on