Victorian and Edwardian Houses,

are they thermally efficient?


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Heat loss in a house


Thermal problems in Victorian and Edwardian properties

The following article considers thermal problems that you could have with Victorian houses. We have also written articles on other eras of housing such as Tudor, Georgian and Regency, War years and Post War Years and Modern and New properties. So if Victorian or Edwardian is not the era of the house that you live in then please have a look at our other articles as we are sure to have written one that applies to you.


Thermal image of a bay window in a Victorian property. It is single glazed with all the heat coming out of it


Thermal efficiency in Victorian and Edwardian Era housing

This series of articles considers the thermal efficiency of houses based upon the era they were built. This article looks at properties from the Victorian and Edwardian eras which are effectively from the 1830's to 1910. Although the majority of Victorian houses were built during the 1880's to 1890's the Victorian style continued into 1910 even after Queen Victoria had passed away.


Victorian/ Edwardian property street view


What were the Victorians and Edwardians thinking about when they built their houses?

When houses were built in the Victorian and Edwardian eras little thought was given to thermal efficiency. The rooms were heated with both coal fires and wood fires and there would literally have been a fire in almost every room. A very common feature of Victorian properties is access to a coal storage area either via gates to the back of the property that give access to a coal shed or via coal chutes to the front of some properties.


Victorian terraced houses circa 1890


Thinking about insulation started in the 1970's

It was many years before energy efficiency was really considered and we would say it wasn't fully considered until the oil and fuel crisis in the early 1970's. This resulted in thought being given to how we used our fuel and also on how to insulate our houses and commercial properties. The Building Regulations that came into existence nationally in 1948 were the method by which thermal efficiency factors were brought in.

Victorian property with bay windows built circa 1890


General information on thermal efficiency

If you are looking for a more general article on thermal efficiency may be you would like to read one of the following articles:

Heat loss in a poorly insulated home

Energy efficiency, have we got it all wrong?


What makes Victorian and Edwardian houses different to a modern house?

When Victorian and Edwardian houses were built they concentrated on the basics of housing such as keeping everyone dry and warm. The latest mod-cons of the day were running water and good drainage. In fact with the coming of the industrial age everyone had a better standard of house to live in. However as we understand it thermal efficiency certainly wasn't high on their list of things to consider.


Victorian properties


What characteristics do Victorian and Edwardian properties have from a Thermal Efficiency point of view?

Victorian and Edwardian properties lose heat in a number of ways. The red circles on the adjoining photo of a Victorian property indicate where heat would be lost in a un-insulated Victorian house such as through the roof, the timber single glazed, sliding sash windows, the walls, the lintels and through a draughty suspended timber floor.


Heat loss in a Victorian property

Thermal image of a sliding sash window

Sliding sash window


Let's look at sliding sash windows

Whilst we still marvel at the construction of sliding sash windows, as they were a major step forward at the time, anyone who has lived in a property with sliding sash windows will understand that they can be drafty and they can rattle and are not easily adjusted.

Victorian sash window


Let's take a second look at the thermal properties of a Victorian or Edwardian house

Today we find that most Victorian and Edwardian properties have had some form of thermal insulation which has helped improve the living environment. They are often a mixture of the original construction with newer elements such as insulation in the roof and where the building is not listed or in a conservation area it may well have double glazing as well. Also the original fireplaces may have been replaced with central heating. We can use the adjacent photo to show you the good thermal efficiency of the property.


Terraced late Victorian property with modern insulation


The green ovals represent in order:

1. The top oval is an insulated roof.

Insulation in this roof is about 250mm deep and covers the joists

Insulation in this roof is about 150mm deep and does not cover the joists


2.  The middle oval is for double glazed windows, albeit plastic or within a timber frame.

Double glazed window

Thermal image of a double glazed window


3.  The lower green oval is where a radiator would be under the window in the property. Hopefully there would also be an energy efficiency boiler. You also need to check what radiators there are in a property as single panel radiators have poor thermal efficiency.

Single panel radiator

Single panel radiator


This is a double panel convection radiator

Note the clothes drying on the radiator. Please see our later comments

Thermal image of a radiator


All properties have their own characteristics such as this early large Victorian property

Here we have an early large Victorian property (the emphasis is on large) that is situated in a conservation area. This can mean several things:

1.  They cannot change the windows on the front of the property so they are still timber sliding sash windows. Some of the windows are very large which means that they are heat sapping.

2.  To the top of the property is a Mansard Roof (yellow oval). Unless this was built recently, and from when we carried out the survey we don't think it was, there is unlikely to be insulation in the roof or the walls of the Mansard. This means that heat loss can be great to that area.


Early large Victorian property in a conservation area with a Mansard roof

3.  Whilst the property does have radiators it also had two boiler systems (from memory). The sheer size of the old Victorian rooms and ceiling height means it requires a lot of heat to warm it.

Mansard roof


Areas that people forget to insulate

Things that you need to check if you are buying a Victorian or Edwardian property (or make sure your Surveyor checks) is that with Victorian and Edwardian properties sometimes we find that the bay window area within the roof has not been insulated. We can only imagine this is because it is difficult and fiddly to do and also it's unlikely the owner who has had the insulation carried out will check there. Unfortunately the bay window rooms are often used as the master bedrooms which mean they have a fair amount of heat in them and so heat loss is important.


Victorian property with a box bay window


Thermal and cold bridging in a Victorian or Edwardian property

An interesting problem that we are coming across more frequently is Thermal and Cold Bridging in Victorian properties. We can only see this becoming a bigger problem as there seems to be a lack of understanding of how old buildings work. This is unfortunately made worse when insulation is added without any thought being given to it.


Thermal and cold bridging andproblems with lintels

Properties that have thermal and cold bridging tend to be properties where there is a fair amount of humidity in the property. This is drawn through the colder elements of the property such as lintels which in a Victorian or Edwardian property could be brick or timber and could have been replaced with concrete and metal over the years.



Remember you should have working extract fans in humidity creating areas such as:

1.  The bathroom

2.  The Kitchen

Humid air cannot escape quickly enough and mould is formed in the bathroom

Mould in an internal bathroom

Poor ventilation causes cold bridging

Cold bridging has caused mould to appear on the ceiling

Also if you are washing and drying clothes in a property, particularly in the winter months if you are drying the washing inside on the radiators, then you need to make sure the areas are well ventilated as humidity travels around the buildings looking for the cold bridging areas to cause damp and mould.


No apologies for using this photo again. Drying washing on radiators inside is not recommended


Chartered Surveyors with thermal imaging cameras?

Now let's have a look at a Victorian house through a thermal imager. Yes we do have thermal imagers and yes it can be dangerous Chartered Surveyors using thermal imagers if they do not have enough experience working with them. We have developed knowledge of thermal image cameras over the many years we have now worked with them. We have even given lectures about them at some universities.

Please see our articles on our website about thermal imaging.

Thermal image of a replacement timber window that was slightly open shows heat coming out of the window

Timber window that is slightly open

Thermal image of a vent above the door

Vent above the door on the right


Thermal image of a door shows coldness from the letter box

Door with a letter box

Thermal image of the letter box shows some heat coming out of it


You may also be interested in these other articles on our website:

Energy Surveys or Energy Condition Reports -v- Thermal Imaging

Dampness in buildings, the basics

Victorian and Edwardian properties and their common problems


Boilers and Light Bulbs

Most properties today, we find, have a boiler and a water heated radiator system. These can be of various ages and the efficiency of the boiler being the key factor. We are not sure whether the modern boilers are more cost effective as having spoken to maintenance people over the years we are generally finding that modern boilers do not last as long and require more maintenance. This is not a scientific study! It is just comments that we have heard.


Thermal image of a radiator

We have also included light bulbs in this section as old incandescent light bulbs are not as efficient, we are advised, as LED light bulbs. LED light bulbs are said to have a life of 20,000 hours which is approximately 20 years. This is a lot longer than a standard light bulb but, we don't know about you, we can never remember when we last changed a light bulb.


Victorian and Edwardian houses that have been extended and altered

Many people, rather than move, have decided to extend their Victorian or Edwardian property. A common extension is a rear extension but we are finding that roof extensions and alterations are also being considered. This section of the article looks at how extending a property can affect the thermal performance.


Rear Extensions

The two typical rear extensions that we see on Victorian and Edwardian properties are:


1.  Rear extension with a pitched roof

These are older style, single storey extensions which have a pitched roof. We usually find these are used for kitchen extensions, breakfast rooms, utility rooms and cloakrooms. We also generally find there is no access into the roof space. We would take an educated guess that when they were built there was no insulation put in them. Dependent upon how you use the area you may wish to add insulation.


Typical Victorian roof plan

Victorian property with rear extension with pitched roof could have insulation added

Shallow pitched roof with a corrugated plastic section that will leak heat


2.  Rear extension with a flat roof

We also see a fairly large number of single storey flat roof extensions which tend to be from the 1960's onwards. When they are from the 1960's, 1970's and 1980's we would expect a cold roof. If it has been built in more recent times then it may well have a warm roof.

Victorian property with a flat roof extension and balcony will not have insulation

General view of a flat roof extension

Cold flat roof
Warm flat roof

Victorian Just Build it Extensions

Here in the photo you can see a combination of different roofs. These are what we call a ‘just build it' extension where people become frustrated with the lack of space and just want to add something on the rear with the roof being added anyway it can. Here you can see a polycarbonate roof that will let heat out.


Mansard roof with dormer windows added to it


Roof extensions and alterations


Roof windows  

There are many types of roof extensions and alterations. These conversions range from the adding of a roof window, often known by its trade name of a Velux window or a roof light, which tend to follow the line of the roof and which are often not official Building Regulation conversions. You need to check with the Chartered Surveyor who is carrying out your structural survey that everything is in order with the roof and it may also be necessary to check with the Local Authority about Planning Permission and Building Regulation approvals.

Victorian property with loft conversion that has been converted leaving the existing pitch

Roof lights in the converted roof of a Victorian property

Dormer roof extension, small or large

Sometimes the roof extensions are much larger and incorporate a dormer roof. This can be in the form of a small dormer with a pitched roof as can be seen in the sketch or a large dormer with a flat roof. The smaller pitched roofed ones tend to be the older style roof extensions with the larger dormer style tending to be the newer ones. As such the newer ones can have insulation particularly if they have been built in the last ten years. However this does need to be checked as without insulation in a roof extension you can get thermal gain during the summer months and heat loss during the winter.


Dormer windows and thermal and cold bridging

Dormer roof extension

Dormer extension on Victorian property

Mansard roof with dormer windows added to it

Dormer windows on a Victorian property

Insulation being added to a Dormer extension on a Victorian property

Thermal gain in the summer and heat loss in the winter

Un-insulated roof extensions result in poor quality rooms due to the temperatures where you get heat gain in the summer and heat loss during the winter that make them almost unusable.


A few questions and answers on the thermal properties of Victorian and Edwardian properties

1.  Where do we most find thermal efficiency problems?

With particular reference to thermal and cold bridging our thoughts on this have very much changed as we used to say that thermal and cold bridging was typically found in properties from the 1960's/1970's. However we are increasingly finding it in a broader range of properties, particularly Victorian and Edwardian properties but also in earlier Georgian properties and in War Years and Post War properties.


Street view of Victorian properties

We feel the common factors are where people are trying to live to modern standards of heating and insulation without understanding that the older properties need to breathe and be treated differently to newer properties. This is understandable after all they look pretty much the same. By the same we mean the basics, they have a roof, walls and windows.

We are also finding a lot of problems with thermal and cold bridging where extensions have been added in the form of rear, side or even roof extensions. These are often built to a different standard and so problems can occur.


View of larger Victorian/Edwardian properties

2.  Is it down to the design of the building?

Sometimes, yes, we would agree it is down to the design of the building and there is very little that can be done about that. Where there are cold elements in the Victorian or Edwardian building such as concrete lintels that come into contact with moist air then condensation and cold bridging will occur. Sometimes this can be reduced but sometimes it is impossible to stop it completely. You have to consider and look at things such as air circulation in a property and how the building is being used.

Air movement


3.  Why do we have condensation problems in the winter but in the summer we don't?

The different seasons mean that the building reacts differently. Anyone who has lived in an old property will know that windows and doors particularly sash windows will swell during the winter months.

There can be similar issues with a property where, regardless of your lifestyle, during some of the different seasons, for example the winter or a wet spring, taking a shower can relate in condensation even with extract fans running (although this is far less likely).

It also depends on what the humidity level is outside as this can be greater than inside. The moisture / humidity will then seek out colder rooms such as spare bedrooms and the corners of cupboards. When you open these at a later date you will be surprised to find black mould.


Thermal image of a sash window

4.  What is this black mould that we see in the house?

The dust and dirt in the environment including skin particles gets drawn towards thermal and cold bridging areas typically in lintel areas or areas that are not used as much such as cupboards. These can look unsightly and no matter how many times you clean the area the mould keeps coming back. This is because you are dealing with the effect of the problem by cleaning the mould rather than the cause.


Black mould in a cupboard

Lintels can cause thermal and cold bridging

Black mould around the lintel area


5.  Is the lifestyle of the person in the building a factor in thermal and cold bridging?

Description: MC900078783[1]This is often a contentious issue and a difficult question to ask, as no one likes to be told they are not living correctly. There can often be disagreements between landlords and tenants as to whether the tenants are using the building appropriately. In our experience the major factors that need to be looked into are the size of the family living in the property, especially large families with lots of young children which in turn mean lots of washing and cleaning to be done. It can also be attributed to how the property is being used i.e. are showers being taken morning and evening every day?


6.  Expert witness case, what is an expert witness?

Some people are finding the problems caused by thermal and cold bridging to be so life changing that they will go to court over it. We have carried out expert witness reports in quite a few cases and it is where a Chartered Surveyor (it can be other professionals) is employed as a specialist within a field to comment independently on problems with condensation within a property. We have been involved in several court cases as expert witnesses where either the landlord or tenant have decided that the problems with the property have become so bad that they feel court action is the only redress.

Typical Victorian properties

Expert witnesses look at how problems such as condensation can occur and how it relates, for example, is it relevant to an occupier's life style.

To any Solicitors or Legal Advisors reading this we are also happy to carry out Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).


7.  What can we do to reduce thermal and cold bridging?

The difficulty is in resolving thermal problems as generally they are unique to each building. We are more than happy to talk to you about this on the phone and we are happy to come and carry out a survey of the property.


Independent Chartered Surveyors

If you truly do want an independent expert opinion from a chartered building surveyor, and many of us are also chartered builders, we are happy to carry out valuations, building surveys, structural surveys, structural reports, engineer's reports, specific defects reports, home buyers reports or any other property matters. Please contact 800 298 5424 to have a free of charge friendly chat with one of our chartered surveyors.

We feel our surveys are quite unique, as they are written by our chartered surveyors to your level of knowledge. The surveys include photos and sketches and definitions. The survey will also include an action required section and an estimate of costs in the executive summary. Our chartered surveyors are more than happy to meet you at the property whilst carrying out the survey to discuss any specific issues you may have or have a general chat about what we have found at the end of the survey.


Commercial Property

We do come across from time to time commercial properties that have been built with a timber frame, particularly on older shops. If you are looking for commercial property, whether it is freehold or leasehold, we would recommend a survey as this will prevent dilapidations claims in the long run. You may wish to look at our Dilapidations Website at and for Disputes go to our Disputes Help site , both of which we have been advised are very helpful!


We hope you found the article of use and if you have any experiences that you feel should be added to this article that would benefit others, or you feel that some of the information that we have put is wrong then we would be pleased to hear from you.

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