Project to tackle tenement heating bills “an excellent example” to the rest of the city

A project which would cut heating bills in Glasgow’s historic tenements could be creating the blueprint for tackling one of the city’s biggest climate challenges
Heating a pre-1919 Glasgow tenement can be expensive (John Devlin) Heating a pre-1919 Glasgow tenement can be expensive (John Devlin)
Heating a pre-1919 Glasgow tenement can be expensive (John Devlin)

There are around 73,000 pre-1919 tenements across Glasgow, and, as they are hard to heat, they are high carbon emitters.

However, an ongoing project on Niddrie Road, in the southside of the city, is hoping to show how energy efficiency can be improved across the city’s housing stock.

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Eight one-bed flats, owned by Southside Housing Association, have been stripped back and are now being transformed.

Chris Morgan, a director at John Gilbert Architects, commissioned by Southside Housing Association to draw up the refurb plans, said, by making the buildings more energy-efficient, people “who might have spent £100 per month on their heating will move into here and broadly speaking be spending £10 or £15 a month”.

“You can’t really be in fuel poverty when your energy bills are that low. It’s an equality thing as well as a carbon thing.”

He added the scheme isn’t just about energy efficiency, but looking after the city’s tenements. “We want to retain our heritage.”

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Explaining the project, he said: “Ideally, what we need to do is put insulation around the outside, like a tea cosy.

“But we don’t want to cover all the beautiful stone buildings in insulation and render. So where it matters that we see the stone walls, we put the insulation on the inside.”

He explained there isn’t enough insulation in most buildings, or it doesn’t meet — so it is like “holes in a bucket”.

“What we’re doing is closing off those holes, so you really do keep all the heat in.

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“We introduce high quality ventilation so you have a nice, fresh atmosphere inside the house without losing all the heat.”

Mr Morgan said windows are “almost always the weak point” so they try to “strengthen” the weak link and put time into installing the best windows.

The project includes extra insulation in the loft and ground floor of the building as well as internal wall insulation to the front and external wall insulation to the rear and gable walls.

There are new triple glazed windows, a heat recovery unit in the bathroom and air source heat pumps in four of the eight flats.

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However, there are many challenges with a wider roll out, including the cost, mixed ownership of properties and decanting residents while the work takes place.

Michelle Mundie, head of housing at Glasgow City Council, said: “Doing nothing is not an option, we have to do something to reduce our carbon emissions but we also have to look at the condition of our tenement stock.”

She said the long-term future of the old tenements depends on action being taken, and admitted “new incentives” will be needed for “expensive” retrofits.

“What we need is a plan that recognises the scale of the challenge,” she said, adding Niddrie Road is an “excellent example” but it is a “demonstration project”.

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Ms Mundie said it was “critical” that the council provided leadership on decarbonisation.

She was speaking at a talk organised by the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence, which is led by the University of Glasgow, where the partners behind the project explained their work.

Ms Mundie said the council had put in a little over half the funding for the retrofitting project on Niddrie Road, and Southside Housing Association had supplied the remainder through private finance.

She added: “The most important thing from this project is what we can learn from it? We want to know what learning we can take from this project and replicate it across the rest of the 70,000 pre-1919 tenements in the city.

“I accept that we might not be able to do it all but there will be bits that we can take from this project that will be really good learning.”

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