Purchasing a listed building is both an honour and a responsibility. They’re historic, significant remnants of our architectural history and whether you use a building as a home or something else, it’ll be a treasured thing to own.
Listed buildings are, however, a commitment. You’ll need to deal with mould, damp, decay and repairs in most of them – and seek permission to do so each time. Even knowing what the rules are can be tough. Fortunately we’ve created a guide to listed buildings which should stand you in good stead if you buy one of your own.
What is a listed building?
While there are a few categories to listed buildings, the basic definition is unchanged. Essentially, a listed building is one listed on the National Heritage List and is deemed as being of ‘special architectural or historic interest’. The three tiers are:
- Grade I: Buildings of exceptional interest
- Grade II*: Buildings of more than special interest
- Grade II: Buildings of special interest
When a building is inducted into the list, it is then ‘listed’ and is subject to special protections in order to keep its character intact. As an owner, you’ll have a responsibility to keep the building in good condition and will be subject to the rules guarding listed buildings.
Why does a building get listed?
Any building that was constructed before 1700 and survives yet keeps its original state is automatically listed. Most buildings that were created between 1700 and 1840 are listed. Buildings that were constructed after this date tend to be more carefully selected, and the scrutiny becomes even tighter if the building is more recent than 1945. In all, a building must be over 30 years old to be listed.
How is a listed building protected?
Listed buildings are automatically under the protection of the government against demolition and harmful development. You can use your building freely, but you’ll need planning permission for any works that alter its appearance or character. Advice is available from Historic England.
Your first port of call will be the conservation officer, who can advise on any listed building work. They are usually employees of a local council and act to keep listed buildings well maintained to preserve their character. They can give you assistance and answer questions, including issues like which material you should use in a repair. Any work you decide to carry out requires consulting with the conservation officer.
Caring for listed buildings
Due to the old nature of the buildings, there are a few common issues you may have to deal with.
Damp: The most common problem to affect the owners of listed properties – as it’s something that afflicts older buildings, damp demands attention so it doesn’t turn into a greater problem. When you first check a listed property, look for initial signs of damp such as blocked or broken gutters, darkened walls or overflows. Check the ground level to make sure the building isn’t too high or low which can cause problems too.
Serious damp issues generally require a surveyor’s assistance, who can find, assess and fix problems like rising damp. That in itself is a common issue in listed buildings, as non-waterproofed structures built in older periods were made with solid walls and lime mortar. Be careful with any repair work that uses modern materials, such as cement injection into walls, which can prevent the building from breathing and make things worse.
Decay or damage: Dealing with damage or decay in your listed building means repairs and renovations – but they both need to conform to the listed building rules laid down by your conservation officer. There’s no legal obligation to repair a building – but if you fail to your local authority can issue an urgent works notice and carry out the work themselves, then bill you for it later.
Flooding: A fairly common issue based on the countryside location of many listed properties, flooding should be prevented with measures such as removing run-off surfaces to the exterior, adding air brick covers and placing door guards. If a flood does affect your property, you’ll need to seek advice to actually carry out repairs.
Energy in listed buildings
Listed buildings are old – and as such they generally have poor insulation and energy efficiency capacity. Improving this, however, can be tricky thanks to the regulations surrounding the building. Simple fixes should be undertaken first, such as repairing guttering to avoid damp, repairing rotting windows and lagging pipes to keep heat in.
You can generally upgrade heating by fitting a modern boiler and can fit loft insulation, but that’ll also require planning advice.
The most efficient way to save energy is with double glazing – but fitting that style of insulation can see you denied outright by the conservation officer as its modern look will affect the look of the building too much. Instead, consider secondary glazing that retains the original appearance of the window.
Insure your investment
Standard home insurance policies don’t pertain to listed buildings. Instead, you should look for specific listed building insurance which protect your investment. When you’ve got a grander property, you’ll need a grander protection plan.