4 Common Listed Building Problems (And How To Tackle Them)

Common Listed Building Problems
What does it mean to live in a listed building?

There are currently around half a million buildings on the National Heritage List for England (NHLE). There are a further 50,000 protected by Historic Environment Scotland, nearly 30,000 in Wales and 8,500 in Northern Ireland.

‘Listing’ a building marks the structure’s special architectural and historic interest. It introduces rigorous planning restrictions to safeguard the building’s future.

So, when you own a listed building, you are literally the custodian of a piece of British history.

Of course, these unique and characterful heritage homes come with their own problems. Traditional construction techniques from way back do not always stand up in today’s world. The sheer age of these buildings makes them vulnerable to deterioration and decay.

Ongoing repair and maintenance is a constant requirement, and the responsibility to preserve the listed building in the condition you found it in when you bought it is yours.

Here are 4 common building issues you might encounter, and what you should do about them.

1) Damp and moisture

While damp is a real threat to listed buildings and their inhabitants, it is almost inevitable that your will find evidence of dampness somewhere in an old building.

The cause could be a leak, condensation or rising damp. Fortunately, damp issues in period buildings can often be resolved relatively easily. At least once the exact root cause has been established, through a specialist damp surveyor.

In many cases, remedying the damp problem will involve the repair and replacement of roof timbers or tiles. In other cases, it will involve cleaning out, fixing and adjusting the guttering; or removing non-porous materials such as cement and concrete that prevent old building elements from breathing.

Occasionally, adjustments may need to be made to the outside, since your home’s damp proof course, where it exists, may have failed and allowed moisture to rise up from the ground into the walls.

2) Thermal insulation

Home Insulation

Improving the heat retention in your listed period home in order to lower your energy bills is not as straightforward as it may seem. Modern homeowners would add another layer of loft insulation, double glazing or even triple glazed windows for better insulation.

But adding wall insulation to a listed building may prevent the house from ‘breathing’ and cause trapped moisture and, ultimately, damp.

Most period properties have solid masonry walls or timber framed walls – or sometimes a combination of both. – The methods and materials used to improve thermal performance will differ accordingly.

Historic England has produced some useful technical guides for energy efficiency and historic buildings that are well worth a closer look. You should also speak to your local Conservation Officer or a listed building surveyor to obtain specialist advice for your particular building.

3) Timber frames

If you are lucky enough to live in a timber framed listed building, you will also know that the structure requires a lot of attention to keep the wood healthy and functional for the long term.

Poorly planned or executed structural changes to the building can negatively affect the timbers. This is particularly true of the hidden ones under the floor or behind rendered walls. Damp, decay and rot, as well as distortion due to excessive load bearing, can be the result.

Basic maintenance should start with cleaning your feature beams with a damp cloth or soft brush. Don’t use harsh cleaning agents which will strip away the delicate patina.

Protect with linseed oil or beeswax polish. For signs and symptoms that could indicate problems, such as soft areas of wood or light coloured insect bore holes, speak to a professional timber surveyor who will investigate and come up with a sensitive treatment plan.

4) Unauthorised alterations

The act of ‘listing’ a building places it under special scrutiny and restrictions when it comes to planning consent.

In order to preserve the nation’s architectural heritage, any proposed building works on a listed building, including regular repair and maintenance, must be approved by the local Conservation Officer.

Not bothering to obtain Listed Building Consent and carrying on regardless can have severe penalties, as the owner of a 15th century building in Spaldwick, Cambridgeshire, found out to his detriment.

What’s more, the building owner is also liable for any changes made to the listed property before his ownership. If Listed Building Consent was not obtained at the time, it may be up to you to implement any corrections, especially since there is no time limit on these corrections being enforced.

Share this article: