Things you should know before renovating a listed building

Owning or living in a listed building is a real privilege but enjoying the history and unique appearance of such a property comes with responsibility.

For those who want to repair or improve a listed building there will often be strict limitations on what can and can’t be done in order to protect its heritage and future integrity.

While there are no set rules, as each building will be judged individually, consent will certainly be required for any work which will alter the external appearance and usually even for that which makes material changes internally.

Before you do anything

Before carrying out any work it is always worth having a conversation with your local authority’s conservation officer for advice on how to progress.

Historic England, the public body tasked with looking after England's historic environment, offers the following advice: “If you want to alter or extend a listed building in a way that affects its character or appearance as a building of special architectural or historic interest, or even demolish it, you must first apply for listed building consent from your local planning authority.”

Similar advice can be found through Historic Environment Scotland, Department for Communities in Northern Ireland, or Cadw in Wales.

In fact, carrying out renovations which are unauthorised is a criminal offence and you might be liable for prosecution. And a local authority might insist that any work which has been carried out is reversed – leading to extra costs to the owner.

The owner may also find it difficult to sell their home if Listed Building Consent has not been granted for any work.

It’s all in the detail

If you own a listed building it is probably because you love the all of the little things which make it so special. An ornate Victorian fireplace, sash windows with stained glass designs, or oak floorboards which have acted as the stage for generations of families can all add to its sense of history.

And in the same way you wouldn’t add go-faster stripes to a classic Rolls Royce, choosing the right materials for repairs or additions is crucial. Any work to the building should be carried out with like-for-like materials and using relevant traditional techniques where required.

A free resource is available from Historic England which offers guidance on issues such as sourcing stone for historic building repair and repairing traditional windows.

And is a helpful resource to find a suitable craftsman or to source materials for historic homes.

Make sure you have the right cover

Keeping a listed house in good condition means you should have specialist insurance to look after it. If a disaster does occur and your historic home requires repairs or even rebuilding, the costs to do so will often be more than for those to renovate a modern building.

You should make sure you choose an insurer which can demonstrate expertise in listed properties. Your policy should make provision for the costs of using specialist materials and expert craftsmen to carry out any work.