Whole House Retrofit


Energy use in homes accounts for 14% of total UK emissions of greenhouse gases and the Government’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has warned that our climate change targets will not be met without their near-complete elimination from UK buildings. So, we can expect significant attention and investment in eco-refurbishment, also known as retrofit, over the coming years, not least because energy use in homes has actually been increasing of late.

The 68% of dwellings in the UK that are privately-owned form a large and fragmented challenge to reducing emissions, and, in the future, these may have to be tackled on a street or neighbourhood scale to achieve the retrofit rates necessary. But in the meantime, many individual homeowners are looking for independent advice on the best approach to eco-refurbishment. You may be interested in undertaking energy efficiency improvement works but are confused by all the options and distrustful of organisations knocking on your door offering cheap boilers and insulation. Perhaps proposals for an extension or loft conversion can become the trigger for a comprehensive transformation of the condition and appearance of your property? Refurbishment is an opportunity to improve buildings architecturally by combining improvements to their internal arrangement, daylighting and other aspects of architectural quality with retrofit work, exploiting the benefits it provides in cost effective ways.

Just as importantly, with 1.2 million homes lying within conservation areas, the need to preserve our built heritage while giving all households a fair opportunity to reduce their energy needs and costs has to be recognised. In this context, our broad skill base as architects enables us to deliver retrofit outcomes in the round, integrating technical building performance with high quality contextual design, unlocking retrofit possibilities wherever they may arise across our built environment, modern or traditional.


How many of us understand what real comfort in our homes means? A comfortable home means a place where internal temperatures stay in the 19-21° warm zone across the whole house, whatever the weather and without the need for expensive energy bills. A comfortable home is one that is free from cold draughts but with good air quality, free from pollutants and dust. The benefits of retrofitting your home go further than not having to worry about your energy bills and can actually make you house a healthier place to live.


Retrofit projects can be intrusive and disruptive to the occupants of buildings, involving multiple visits by assessors, advisors, installers and inspectors. As retrofit co-ordinator, the architect can act as the ‘single point of contact’ providing pro-active communication with homeowners from the inception of a project to its satisfactory completion. Whole building retrofit can be a complex operation requiring multiple processes and trades to come together in a coherent fashion. This complexity means that there are many areas where retrofit might fail to reach the desired outcomes, either as a result of inadequate analysis, inappropriate design decisions, supply-chain obstacles, poor quality installation practices on site or ineffective occupier engagement and handover regimes.

Cowan Architects brings expertise and efficiencies to the planning, delivery and handover of a project, potentially reducing the costs associated with delays or re-working and providing an open and integrated approach to communication across the design team, contractor, site team, occupants, neighbours and the client organisation. The attention to detail that we offer will be of enormous value in ensuring the necessary continuity of insulation, improvement in air tightness, control of moisture or incorporation of renewables in a low carbon retrofit.


The EnerPHit standard is the world’s leading retrofit energy standard and comes from the Passivhaus Institute, with the same attention to detail and design rigour. The need to retrofit our existing buildings to reduce greenhouse emissions is unequivocal but what is not always understood is the full potential of ‘deep’ retrofit, by which we mean measures that generate significant reductions in space-heating demand, in the order of 75-90%. Cowan Architects can help you realise your refurbishment ambitions, increasing property value, enhancing comfort standards and minimising operational costs.

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