Heritage retrofit and cultural empathy; a discussion of challenges regarding the energy performance of historic UK timber-framed dwellings

Christopher J. Whitman, Oriel Prizeman, Pete Walker, Julie Amanda Gwilliam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (SciVal)


Purpose: The energy retrofit of the existing building stock, and specifically the thermal upgrading of the buildings’ envelopes, has been identified as a key action for both the decarbonisation of the built environment and the reduction in fuel poverty. When considering the energy retrofit of heritage buildings it is, however, important to recognise both the technical issues that this entails and the potential impact on their cultural value and the emotional responses to it. The purpose of this paper is to focus on the thermal upgrading of historic timber-framed buildings in the UK. Design/methodology/approach: The paper begins by exploring the cultural significance of this form of building construction, before examining three case studies using both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Findings: The results show that whilst the application of energy retrofit actions to this emblematic typology may have limited success, the emotional connection of the buildings’ occupants often results in the work resulting in higher user satisfaction than would otherwise be expected. Research limitations/implications: Although limited in number, the three case studies provide an insight into the complex issues surrounding the low energy retrofit of historic timber-framed buildings. Further research into this area is encouraged. Practical implications: The paper contains the monitoring of specific retrofit details, the results of which should inform future projects. Social implications: The review of the cultural significance of historic timber-frame buildings in the UK underlines the importance of the conservation and continuing survival of these buildings. Originality/value: Previous heritage retrofit research in the UK has focussed on solid wall construction with little investigation into the issues surrounding the retrofit of historic timber-frame buildings. This paper explores this previously under-researched area. Additionally, this paper begins to explore the possible links between occupants’ emotional connection to historic buildings and their perceived levels of comfort.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)386-404
JournalInternational Journal of Building Pathology and Adaptation
Issue number2
Early online date7 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2020


  • Cultural significance
  • Energy retrofit
  • Historic timber frame
  • Thermal comfort

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Building and Construction


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