Classic charm and modern efficiency: How to update older homes?

By: Alex | Date Posted: November 28, 2023

Older homes often have a timeless charm and character that’s hard to replicate. Period architecture, intricate details, and unique historical significance are what make these properties special.

However, they often come with energy inefficiencies that mean higher utility bills, as well as your home just not being as cozy as it could be.

The good news is that it’s possible to retain the classic charm of older homes while updating their energy efficiency.

Practical ways to strike a balance between classic charm and modern efficiency

Start with an energy audit

If a lot of heat is escaping from your home, while also letting the cold in, you’ll be spending more energy than you have to.

  • Look for draughts or air leaks around doors, windows, and floorboards. Can you see gaps or feel air blowing?
  • Check insulation – find out what insulation you have in the walls and roof.
  • Check your heating – get your boiler serviced as well as your heating system.
  • Get a smart meter fitted – know exactly how much energy you’re using in real-time. This will help you understand where and when you’re spending money.

Or, you can get a professional to do this for you. For example, a heating engineer will be able to check your boiler and system as a whole, including radiators.

Seal the leaks

You might be losing lots of heat through the roof, walls, floor, windows, and doors. Here’s how to stop heat loss in old homes:

  • Roof: make sure it’s insulated and that the loft hatch is sealed.
  • Walls: If you don’t have a double layer of brickwork for insulation, the only option is to install internal solid wall insulation, but this can be expensive.
  • Floor: Fill gaps in the floorboards.
  • Draught-proofing: Replace or seal doors and windows. Fit double or secondary glazing, then add thermal curtains and blinds as an extra touch. Letterboxes are often a prime culprit for letting heat out, too.
  • Chimneys: Block them with a chimney sheep or chimney balloon.

Energy-efficient windows

Modern homes usually have double-glazed windows, but some older homes still have single-pane windows. Here’s some advice on energy-efficient windows…

Double-glazed windows can reduce heat loss by up to 50%. They trap air between the two panes of glass, acting as an insulator – which could mean big savings in the long run.

Even if you have double glazing, newer systems are more efficient, and old windows can degrade over time, so it’s worth considering replacement.

  • Windows and doors can account for up to 25% of heat loss in a home.
  • There are a number of different types of energy-efficient windows and doors available, including double glazing, triple glazing, and secondary glazing.
  • When choosing energy-efficient windows and doors, it’s important to look for the ‘Energy Saving Trust’ recommended label.
  • It’s worth checking if there are any government grants or incentives to help you keep your home up to date.

Modern heating and cooling systems

If your home has an old heating or cooling system, it may be time to upgrade to a more energy-efficient model. New heating and cooling systems are much more efficient than older models, using less power to achieve the same result, helping you to save money on your energy bills.

Programmable thermostats

A programmable thermostat can help you save energy when you program your heating and cooling system to turn on and off at specific times. This can help you avoid wasting energy when you’re not home or when you’re asleep.

Energy-efficient lighting

Switching to energy-saving light bulbs, such as LED bulbs, is a simple and affordable way to improve the efficiency of your home. LED bulbs use less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs, and they last longer.

  • LED bulbs use up to 90% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs.
  • LED bulbs also last up to 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs.
  • Switching to energy-efficient light bulbs can save you money on your energy bills and help to reduce your carbon footprint.
  • There are a wide variety of energy-efficient light bulbs available, so you can find the perfect one for you.

And here’s some extra tips to help you save money:

  • Turn off the lights when you leave a room.
  • Install dimmers so you can adjust the brightness of lights.
  • Use natural light whenever possible.

Appliance upgrades

When it’s time to replace old appliances, choose energy-efficient models. Newer versions of things like dishwashers, washing machines, fridges, and tumble dryers are far more efficient, using less energy – and are usually a bit quieter too!

Some people have also made the switch to slow cookers and air fryers – using less energy than heating up the oven.

Water efficiency

Making simple changes to your water usage can also help to improve the energy efficiency of your home. For example, you can take shorter showers, fix any leaky taps, and install water-efficient toilets and shower heads.

Renewable energy options

Renewable energy options are always worth thinking about if you can afford them – like solar panels, wind, hydropower, and heat pumps.

If you pair solar panels with a large battery, you could potentially power your home for free, or even sell some energy back to the grid, leaving you with a profit. You just have to work out the upfront cost and how long it would take you to earn back your initial investment.

It’s also better for the environment, reducing your carbon footprint and the need for fossil fuels.

The UK government has grants and incentives to help encourage green energy systems – look out for them if it’s an option you’re thinking about.

Preserve historical features

Character Preservation Amid Modernization

If your home has any historical features, like original windows or doors, you may be able to make energy-efficient upgrades without sacrificing the character of your home. For example, you can install secondary glazing over your original windows, or you can weatherstrip your original doors.

Regular maintenance

Regular maintenance is essential for keeping your home’s energy systems running efficiently. Book a boiler service every year to make sure it’s operating safely and efficiently. You could also ask your plumber or gas engineer to check your radiators and heating system as a whole.

Maintenance extends to your energy supplier too – keep an eye on your tariff and what you’re paying. Can you save more with someone else? Save on energy bills by bundling services with someone like Utility Warehouse (UW). They do energy, broadband, mobile, and insurance – the more you take, the more you save.


By following these tips, you can update your old home to strike a perfect balance between timeless charm and modern efficiency. This will help you save on energy bills, reduce your carbon footprint, and make your home more comfortable.


Thank you for reading!


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