Owning a listed building is literally owning a piece of British history. The National Heritage list details over 376,000 sites in the UK, each with a unique character and special value to the local, regional or national community.
The drawback of living in a heritage home is that traditional building techniques do not always hold up in the modern world, and often simply by their nature of being hundreds of years old, become vulnerable to a number of issues over the years. Maintenance and repairs are often a constant requirement, and while you’re not obliged to improve the condition of a listed building during your tenancy, it is necessary to preserve it at the level at which you took ownership.
Here are some of the most common problems found in historic buildings, and what measures you should take to look after an ailing property.
Fortunately, damp issues are often the simplest to resolve in a period property. Once an experienced surveyor has confirmed the source of the damp, you will likely be left with one of three scenarios.
In many situations, damp can be remedied by repairing roof timbers or tiles, emptying and adjusting gutters or removing non-porous materials, such as concrete, that are preventing older elements from breathing. Other cases may need the external landscape to be adjusted, as it may have bridged your home’s damp proof course (DPC), allowing moisture from the ground into the walls.
Timber frames are a stunning feature in any home, but they do require significant attention to keep them healthy and functional over the generations. Poorly-planned structural changes often cause timbers – particularly those hidden between floors or behind render – to succumb to damp, rot and distortion due to heavy loads.
When cleaning your beams, use a damp cloth or soft brush; don’t be tempted to reach for a harsher cleaning agent, which can strip away generations of delicate patina. A light coat of beeswax polish will keep beams glowing, and won’t stay sticky like linseed oil. If you notice softness in the wood, or clean, light-coloured bore holes from insects, call a professional timber surveyors for a proper diagnosis and sensitive treatment plan.
Although their character is woven into the fabric of our community, the construction of listed buildings does not always mesh so well with modern energy bills. Where most homeowners add an extra layer of wool into the loft, or another pane of glazing into the windows, with a listed building it is not always to simple.
Adding wall insulation can prevent the house from “breathing”, causing moisture to get trapped and create damp. Suspended timber floors have space for padding between the joists, but the installation process can easily damage old floorboards. For double glazing, windows should be considered on a pane by pane basis. Do they contain the original glass, or otherwise contribute to the historic interest of your home? If not, you can probably obtain permission for new windows with relative ease, providing your new frames are sensitive to the style of the property.
Consulting with a specialist surveyor, or your Conservation Officer, should shed some light on the possible changes for your home. Further details about your options for insulating a period home can be found on the Historic England website.
Any work on a listed building, including repairs and maintenance, must be sanctioned by the local Conservation Officer. They may advise particular materials or techniques to preserve the integrity of the original building, and not soliciting their approval can have severe penalties. Currently, anyone convicted by the Crown Court for completing work without Listed Building Consent can face unlimited fines and up to 2 years imprisonment.
If previous owners have taken their chances and made changes to a building without Listed Building Consent, the liability for taking corrective action becomes yours upon taking ownership. There is no time limit on these corrections being enforced, so it’s vital that a Listed Building Survey is conducted before you move in.
Wear and Tear
The simple passing of time may be all that creates a need for repairs to be made to the property, whether it be a fresh coat of render or the replacement of damaged roof tiles. Regular inspections are recommended to minimise the need for extensive work on a historic building, and put the focus on routine maintenance instead.
Conservation is advocated by Historic England, and homeowners are encouraged to restore their homes using historic fabrics and techniques wherever possible. If authentic materials are no longer available, the most comparable modern alternative is required, to maintain the function and aesthetic of the original building.
While they certainly take a bit of care, few homeowners are willing to give up the character and uniqueness of their heritage building, and with a little bit of effort they can provide truly wonderful homes for your family.