Alterations to Listed Buildings

Page updated on: 31/08/2023

Listed buildings are constantly evolving, each decade and century adding another chapter to the heritage asset’s history. The Listed Building Consent process is not intended to halt progress but instead ensure that it is undertaken in a sensitive and appropriate manner which preserves and enhances what makes that heritage asset historically important. Listed building consent is required for all works of demolition, alteration or extension to a listed building that affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest. 

Historic windows and doors are usually very important to the character of a listed building and contribute to significance through design, materials and workmanship. The retention of historic carpentry that contributes to this significance is therefore encouraged.

Doors and windows on the front elevation in particular tend to be of most significance and replacement should be a last resort. To the untrained eye, seemingly rotten woodwork may actually be salvageable. Doors, in particular, are often rarely beyond repair, and usually windows retain large portions of sound timber which a skilled craftsman or woman can repair, reusing historic glass.

Carrying out regular maintenance and repairs to historic windows and doors can mean that major repairs or replacement can be avoided. This is particularly important when considering the availability of good quality materials used for the repair of windows and doors. Historically timber was slow grown and tends to therefore be more durable than modern timber – so retaining as much historic fabric as possible and protecting that from the weather can be your cheapest option in the long run.

Consent will not generally be required for basic maintenance, such as redecorating and repair, but works other than general maintenance are likely to require Listed Building Consent.

Changes to door furniture will also require consent if historic fabric is being removed, for example, if a new opening is being created to insert a letterbox. The replacement of existing door furniture on a like-for-like basis will not generally require consent unless that being removed is a significant historic feature.

The redecoration of internal walls would not usually require permission; however, any redecoration that will involve altering the visual appearance of historic fabric or features, such as timber beams, plaster cornicing or historic flooring, would generally require consent. It would be worth ensuring that any lime plastered walls were painted with limewash or a breathable paint to ensure that the walls remained ‘breathable’ and condensation and mould growth didn’t occur.

Redecorating a house externally will usually require Listed Building Consent where it affects the character of a listed building. For example, changing the colour of the exterior of a house will alter the building’s character. If, however, any external redecoration is done on a like-for-like basis, then this will generally not require permission. As with internal decoration it is important that the paint or external finish used is appropriate to historic buildings. Plastic based paints will impede the breathability of a historic building and could cause damp problems.

Pointing contributes to the visual appearance of a building in both colour and profile. Localised repointing that is like-for-like in material and profile does not require Listed Building Consent, however, repointing large areas of a building will require consent.

Pointing is intended as a sacrificial element of a building, which allows moisture and salts to come out of a wall, rather than forcing moisture out through the brick or stone. It is therefore important that the mortar mix is weaker than the construction material. In a historic building cement based mortars are rarely appropriate and when repointing is undertaken these should be replaced with a lime mortar.

If you are undertaking any repointing a mortar analysis of remaining historic mortars will need to be undertaken to guide you in the composition of the new mortar. This will ensure you will have a good colour match for your new mortar.

Rewiring within a Listed Building can be undertaken without permission, provided that no new runs or openings are required to accommodate the wiring. If rewiring will involve the removal or alteration of any historic fabric and/or the installation of new runs, then Listed Building Consent will be needed, as it has the potential to cause harm to the fabric and character of the listed building.

Re-roofing will almost certainly require Listed Building Consent, even when re-using existing slates or tiles. This is because new tiles are likely to be required to replace those broken during removal – typically 25%.

If you wish to update an existing kitchen through the replacement of modern units, or replace existing fittings within a bathroom, this will not usually require Listed Building Consent. If a new kitchen or bathroom will involve the removal of any historic features/fabric, addition of new pipework, any structural work, or if a kitchen or bathroom is being relocated within a house, then this is likely to need Listed Building Consent.

Any important historic features that remain, such as bread ovens, cast iron ranges, stone flags or historic timber beams, should be retained where possible and any new pipework or equipment should be carefully sited to minimise damage to important historic fabric.

Adding an extension to a listed building needs to be carefully considered. In the first instance, it is important that there is an understanding of the particular character of the building, how it has evolved over time and how its sits within its surroundings.

Any new extension should not dominate the listed building and therefore should be smaller in scale and height. A rear extension will generally have less impact on a historic building as it cannot be seen from the front of the building, although a side extension may also work well. Extensions that project to the front of a Listed Building are rarely given permission, as the front elevation is generally the most important and most visible part of the building.

The design, style and materiality of a new extension also need to be carefully considered so that they are sympathetic and complementary to the character of the listed building.

There is a growing recognition of the need to improve the thermal efficiency of buildings, but whilst the energy efficiency of older buildings can be improved it is unlikely they will ever match the performance of modern buildings.

Where energy efficiency measures are undertaken correctly, there is a real opportunity to have a positive effect on the building, provided that two key principles are observed:

  • that the materials used are appropriate to the building, and in most cases water-vapour permeable:
  • that adequate ventilation is maintained.

It is critical, however, to ensure that the historic character of the listed building is not compromised and any energy efficiency measures proposed which detract from significance of the building are unlikely to receive Listed Building Consent.

Measures such as installing loft insulation, upgrading the heating system and draft proofing measures are likely to be acceptable, whereas removal of historic windows and replacement with double glazed units would not get consent.

Improving energy efficiency in a historic building is a complex area of study and practice. You would be advised to contact the Built Heritage Team with your proposals and questions and they will be able to direct you towards more specific information and support.