The Sustainable Traditional Buildings Alliance is a collaboration of organisations that acts as a forum for sustaining and improving *traditional buildings.


*Traditional construction differs significantly  from modern construction in that modern buildings are designed to keep moisture out with layers of impervious materials such as cement and plastic membranes. Traditional buildings however work by using solid semi-permeable materials that can absorb moisture without damage and release it slowly back into the environment as conditions become dryer. Adequate ventilation is a key part of this process. This is often referred to as ‘breathable construction’ and encompasses solid masonry buildings as well as timber framed construction, generally constructed before the First World War.


Featured News


STBA Members Meeting - 20th February, London

We welcomed our Members and guests to the 2018 Advisory Group Meeting on 20th February.

In addition to discussions on our work programmes for the coming months - and hot topics of concern to our members - we were very pleased to have speakers from BEIS on the topics of PRS and ECO. These were Senior Policy Advisors, Tamara Dimova & Rita Varsani, respectively.

The STBA and it's Supporting Organisations are continuing to have dialogue with BEIS on the concerns we have regarding the assessment and retrofit of older buildings.

Retrofit is at risk if not “whole house” approach


Problems revealed in the article “Disastrous Preston retrofit” by Kate de Selincourt (in Passive House Plus magazine) flag up the consequences of retrofit without the ‘Whole House’ approach. Unless the functioning of the building as a whole is taken into account, the result of retrofit will at best will be ineffectual and at worst damage the health of the building and occupants.


The STBA was established in response to concern over the  “rush to retrofit”. Our work in this area continues so that the failures, such as in Preston, can be avoided. The STBA has produced guidance and information including “Planning Responsible Retrofit” and “Whole House” . In addition, we were commissioned to produce the Moisture in Buildings paper published by bsi and we have worked with Bristol City Council to deliver their guidance on “Solid Wall Insulation”  and training programme for Bristol’s professionals and installers.


We are optimistic that, as the Whole House approach is starting to be recognised in government policy and guidance, retrofit will improve. However, there is still much work to be done and shall continue to apply pressure for more change – especially in the areas of assessment of buildings, EPCs and the SAP system for measuring energy rating.

Download What is Whole House Retrofit here

STBA comments on surveys as part of the buying and selling process - December 2017

The government consultation from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government - Improving the home buying and selling process in England - sought views on how to make the English process of home buying and selling cheaper, faster and less stressful.

As part of our response, the STBA questions whether building surveys should be part of the conveyancing period. The time restraints when securing the sale or purchase of a property often cause a rush into the almost tick-box exercise of procuring surveys and guarantees. These are usually for the comfort of mortgage providers. Even when a purchaser is keen for a full survey, they often end up with a less than satisfactory report.

“The issue arises in part because surveyors are often not specifically qualified to assess traditional buildings. The RICS Guidance for Surveys of Residential Property (2014) specifies that the surveyor needs to be familiar with the nature and complexity of the property type and the region in which it is situated, including: “Common and uncommon vernacular housing styles, materials and construction techniques; particularly important for older and historic buildings where the surveyor must understand the interaction of different building materials and techniques.” Many surveyors do not meet such a competence requirement. The need for a buyer to use an appropriately qualified surveyor (minimally BS7913) therefore needs to be made clear both to buyers and to mortgage providers when looking at traditional buildings.”


Our full response can be downloaded here.


The STBA's programme for 2018 includes a focus on the appropriate assessment of buildings. This would not be at the point of purchase but would form an ongoing homeowner's record to assist with understanding of the building type, significance, geographical context, condition and maintenance schedule. This would be important information essential when considering the essential 'whole house' approach for energy efficiency upgrades.

Heritage, Environment & Industry: Common Ground and Conflicts‬ - December 2017


Our workshop in November got the ball rolling for this important programme by engaging with people from heritage, the environment and industry – but this is just the start of an ongoing discussion.


With the government encouraging industry to take the lead - in particular for retrofit - is it essential that we can find a common voice and alternatives to purely industry-led solutions. Only in this way can we create a truly sustainable traditional built environment.


Further Heritage and Sustainability events are planned for the future - and we hope this will give many more the opportunity to join us for these discussions. 


A summary of the workshop outcomes is available here.

PRS Domestic Property Minimum Standard Guidance and SAP Updates  - November 2017

The Domestic Private Rented Property Minimum Standard - Guidance for landlords and Local Authorities has now also been published. 


From April 2018 it will become illegal to let out a property with an EPC rating worse than “E”.

EPCs are based on RdSAP, itself derived from SAP - the Standard Assessment Procedure.


Following pressure from the STBA and other organisations, the recent updates to SAP included a much needed change in the default u-value for solid walls from 2.10W/m2K to 1.70W/m2K. Although this remains higher than the evidence suggests, this change is significant because EPC rating of some traditional buildings may improve as a result.


This change is also important because savings from solid wall insulation have been overestimated in the past due to the incorrect default value. Assessment of retrofit measures and packages of measures can  now be carried out on a more realistic basis.

Tamara Dimova, Energy Efficiency Policy Adviser at BEIS will be our guest speaker at the Advisory Group Meeting in February.

STBA & Heritage groups warn government over flawed approach to retrofitting older homes - November 2018


The STBA joined together with multiple heritage organisations -including STBA members, the National Trust, IHBC and SPAB - to write to the Government to emphasise that the one-size-fits-all approach to energy efficiency fails to recognise the unique nature of heritage properties.

The letter explains that policy to address the energy efficiency of the nation’s building stock is overly simplistic and designed from the perspective of modern construction and materials, ignoring fundamental building physics, resulting in inappropriate and potentially damaging measures.



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Forthcoming Events

Date for your diaries - 7 June 2018 for the STBA-SPAB Conference


We shall again be joining forces with SPAB to bring you our annual conference, a day full of excellent speakers, discussions, exhibitors and networking. Last year's event was a sell out so book your place as soon as the bookings open.


More information coming soon . . . .



Upcoming Events by Others: 


Retrofitting Traditional Buildings: Principles and Practice - The Green Register

These one-day technical training events are run by STBA Supporting Organisation, The Green Register, and led by STBA Technical Director, Nicholas Heath. Nick covers current issues, solutions and emerging best practice in how to achieve ‘responsible retrofit’ – sustainable, low-energy traditional buildings with retained character, minimal risk to buildings and occupants and real benefits for all.

- 14 March, Newcastle

- 25 April, Brighton

- 16 May, Sheffield

- 27 June, Bristol

- 19 September, London 

- 10 October, Manchester 

- 5 December, Exeter


More . . . 


 SPAB New Design for Old Buildings

- 20 March, London 

Understanding Building Conservation - CIOB Academy 


These 2-day courses, led by John Edwards, looks at conservation for both residential and commercial property as well as historic monuments.

- 19-20 March 2018 - London

- 17-18 April 2018 - Dublin

- 16-17 May 2018 - Stirling

- 21-22 May 2018 - London


More . . . 

ECO Innovation Stakeholder Workshop

- 4 April, London

In co-ordination with the BEIS ECO team, the Sustainable Energy Association and the Energy Saving Trust are hosting a free workshop focused on how the Energy Company Obligation could be designed to encourage and support innovation. We hope that several of our members and Supporting Organisations will be able to attend. It is important that, in the enthusiasm to 'rush to retrofit' to impossibly high notional levels, we bring some reality to the debate. 


More . . . .



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Whole House Retrofit: a short paper that sets out the background to the development of the whole house approach, then examines the various levels of retrofit which are often described as whole house but in reality most fall far short. 


The STBA’s optimal approach (Responsible Retrofit) is explained, together with a final section which looks forward to a vision of transformative retrofit and the role that it could play in delivering a truly sustainable society for the 21st century. 

Whole House Retrofit

Planning Responsible Retrofit: designed for use by owners, designers, project managers and contractors when planning a retrofit project. 

the STBA Guide to Planning Responsible Retrofit.pdf
Planning Responsible Retrofit
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Bristolians' Solid Wall Insulation Guidance: a user-friendly online tool and complimentary guide is available for those living in Bristol to help them make more informed decisions about how to insulate their homes. And you can see the online tool (and video) 

by clicking here (and then follow 'begin survey'.)
Bristolian Solid Wall Insulation Guidance

Moisture in Buildings: an integrated approach to risk assessment and guidance by Neil May (UK Centre for Moisture in Buildings) and Chris Sanders 

Available to download via the bsi website.



An immediate objective of the STBA is to focus on the risks and benefits associated with generic approaches to repair, maintenance and retro-fitting of traditional buildings. We have completed a gap analysis of current research on performance of traditional buildings, including an analysis of expertise and skills, in order to inform future research and policies. 


We are establishing advocacy routes to key decision-makers involved in the sustainability of the built environment, including the Green Deal, in order to help inform policy development relating to traditional buildings.


We have completed a gap analysis of current research on performance of traditional buildings, including an analysis of expertise and skills, in order to inform future research and policies.


In addition, the STBA has identified three key areas of immediate concern relating to standards used in the refurbishment of traditional buildings:

  • Government Consultations - We are establishing advocacy routes to key decision-makers involved in the sustainability of the built environment, in order to help inform policy development relating to traditional buildings.
  • Standards and Regulations - The STBA has identified three key areas of immediate concern relating to standards used in the refurbishment of traditional buildings: Moisture Risk, Heat Loss and Internal Wall Insulation (IWI)  
  • Advocacy - The STBA is also seeking to influence the performance/ delivery of retrofit projects on traditional buildings by working with leading owners of building stock to measure and improve the interventions adopted. So far this work has included work for Blackpool Council and Bristol City Council. 


Get Involved  -  STBA Membership

Organisations interested in supporting our work can get involved as a 

Member (not-for-profits) or Affiliate Member (for profit) Click here

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