Renovating an old building can be a rewarding experience for those who relish bringing back to life a part of the nation’s historical fabric. But the costs of refurbishment can slip away without the help of an expert. Here Shaun Soanes explains why it pays to employ a professional.
Buildings in the UK which are of architectural merit are protected from damage through neglect or inappropriate repairs.
This means that the owner is bound by a set of rules which prevent them from making a wide variety of changes to the property or using improper materials.
Of course, this should not put off a person from carrying out work on an old building.
But anyone embarking on a project like this should tread carefully.
What to be aware of
Under the system run by Historic England (formerly English Heritage), there are three categories for the estimated 514,000 listed homes in the country:
- Grade I for buildings of “exceptional interest”
- Grade II* for important buildings of “more than special interest”
- Grade II for those of “special interest” – a category which makes up 92% of listed buildings.
In the case of a listed building, any works to alter, extend or demolish the building in a way that affects its character require listed building consent from the local planning authority.
Listing status covers the entire building, internal and external but listing does not mean a property’s features have to be fixed for all eternity. It does, however, mean inappropriate work should not be carried out.
You cannot, for example, use breeze blocks and cement mortar to fill holes in Tudor lath and timber.
You also need to work with planning officers if you want to add an extension to your home and with conservation officers if you need to carry out repairs.
Repair to damage
Many refurbishment projects on old homes happen after the property has sustained damage – and often as the result of fire or flood.
Here at NJ Architects we have been working on restoring the charred, scarred shell of Oulton Hall, near Aylsham.
The 18th century building was gutted by an inferno fanned by high winds and the project to repair includes adding a series of “mod cons” to make it fit for the future.
As well as replacing the black glazed roof tiles and stone floors, modern additions such as efficient insulation, double glazing and batteries to store solar power will be added.
We have been involved in the project at Oulton Hall not only because restoring old buildings is part of our area of expertise, but also because we work in close association with conservation officers and we are skilled at using salvaged materials as well as ensuring anything new is designed in keeping with the existing site.
Getting expert help
There are a number of professions – from architects and building surveyors to structural engineers and quantity surveyors – that can help you plan and carry out work to an old or listed building.
Whoever you decide to employ, it is important to choose someone who has the knowledge and experience necessary to work on older buildings.
After all, while there are more than 30,000 architects registered in the UK, only a small proportion specialise in the repair of old buildings.
They are aware of the problems and pitfalls associated with such work and are well qualified to specify appropriate and cost effective repairs to older buildings.
Going it alone might seem like a lower cost option, but without the help of a professional, it’s likely to prove to be a false economy.
Check out our tips for keeping on top of historic house maintenance here and for more information on how we can help you, give us a call today.