20 May 2024

10 Key Factors to Keep in Mind Before Renovating a Period Home

In many ways, a period home is of a particular architectural or historic significance, and your renovation works are about to disturb it. Whether it’s early Georgian (1714-1765), late Georgian (1765-1811), Regency (1811-1837), Victorian (1837-1901) or Edwardian (1901-1914), here are 10 key considerations from Architect George Omalianakis of GOAStudio London to help you understand your home better and to inform your future design decisions for your renovation project.


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1. Get the experts in: Don’t 'Call Saul'

At the start of your project, you will need to be able to spot a problem before it becomes your problem, so you will need to appoint professionals with the right type of experience, expertise, knowledge and qualifications to help you achieve this. Period properties are full of potential problems that will escalate if you do not catch them early.

If you can discover a problem early, you give yourself an excellent chance to circumnavigate it during the design development stage and not spend money to deal with it during the construction stage.

Depending on your project requirements, you are likely to need the expertise of one or more of the following professionals: a building surveyor, architect, structural engineer, building services engineer, fire consultant, heritage consultant, damp/timber consultant and a party wall surveyor.

2. Think long term

How long do you plan to live in the house? How will your needs change during this period? What parts of the house need repair? What is your budget? Take a step back and allow the answers to these questions to inform your decisions about renovating your property and to test whether your home is suited to certain types of extensions and alterations.

Whether you do your renovation in a single phase or whether you choose to phase it over several years, you still need to play the right notes in the right order, for example:

•  Insulate before you install solar panels or before you upgrade your heating system

•  Draughtproof before considering changing the single/double glazing to triple glazing

•  Consider the risks and understand the complications of fitting internal wall insulation.

3. Why is your period home significant?

Period homes are likely to have some level of significance, even if only around 2% of them are listed. In practical and construction terms, there is no difference between a listed and a non-listed property. However, you need to take a different approach with a listed building during the design and construction stage, and you need to obtain additional approvals. Your architect and heritage consultant will assess the aesthetic, communal, evidential or historical values of the building and suggest alternatives if your proposed renovation works are harmful to the significance of your property.

4. Your period home is vapour permeable and hygroscopic. What does this mean?

This means that, unlike new homes and modern construction, your period home was originally built to breathe. It absorbs moisture and releases it constantly and effectively.

The walls and the building fabric of your home will naturally absorb moisture and release that moisture to remove water vapour and allow your home to dry. This is the invisible, centuries-old, dynamic equilibrium performed by the fabric of your home, and it is important that your renovation works retain this balance to avoid risks of condensation, mould and poor internal air quality that results in health issues.

5. Which part of my period home is vapour permeable?

This is probably the most common problem when renovating and extending period properties. Get advice on the specific treatments, solutions and suitable building products for your period home.

Permeability is a variable quality that tends to apply to traditional bricks, building stonework, mortars, renders and plasters, unglazed tiles, cob/earth building elements, lime washes and other traditional finishes. Timber, reed and thatch tend to be permeable at the end grain and less to the sides.

When renovating, you need to use materials and techniques that are compatible with the fabric of your home; otherwise, you may encounter moisture issues later.

6. Repair before you renovate

Make sure the building fabric of the house is in good condition before you start making decisions on internal paints, fixtures and fittings.

Repairs to gutters to stop water infiltration and damp issues, replacement of faulty flashings, window frame repairs, draughtproofing measures, energy-efficient lighting, basic heating controls, better control settings and rainwater harvesting tanks are all examples of measures that can be implemented on a budget and will contribute to the thermal performance and comfort of your home.

For guidance, look at the Energy Performance Certificate and any Home Survey Report, and pass this information to your specialist architect, who can advise on how to implement these measures and in what order.

7. Energy efficiency matters

Before you alter or introduce a new building element to your home, it is paramount that you assess the risk and impact of any alteration or renovation. There is high technical complexity and risks, and you need to be able to foresee the knock-on effect of any alteration you make. This will allow you to counter it before it becomes a costly problem you will face in the future.

Examples include:

•  Adding insulation: Make sure you do not create cold bridging at junctions that will surely create condensation

•  Improving the airtightness to assist with retaining heat in the house: You need to add more ventilation to avoid the risk of mould creation on wall surfaces

•  Changes to the fabric or appearance of the property that might harm the significance of the protected or listed property: You might not be allowed to retrofit external insulation or replace your windows with double-/triple-glazed units.

There is a very fine balance that needs to be struck between maximising the environmental performance of a historic property and the protection of its significance.

8. Design matters

A good architect should be able to consider the needs of your period home alongside your lifestyle requirements and develop a design solution that is in keeping with the character of your home whilst providing the functionality you and your family require.

Here is a rule I have found useful over the years: To create the right balance, tension and rhythm between new and old, you could choose to clad a contemporary extension with traditional materials. Alternatively, you can design an extension in a traditional form, which allows you to be more modern and experimental with your choice of external materials, openings and cladding. Never go with old and old or new and new for your period home.

9. Window matters

Here is what Historic England notes in its guidance on the care, repair and upgrading of traditional windows: “The loss of traditional windows from our older buildings poses one of the major threats to our heritage. Traditional windows and their glazing make an important contribution to the significance of historic areas. They are an integral part of the design of older buildings and can be important artefacts in their own right, often made with great skill and ingenuity with materials of a higher quality than are generally available today. The distinctive appearance of historic handmade glass is not easily imitated in modern glazing.”

Windows have a distinct identity, detailing and character, and they can make your home look just right. Even subtle changes to the thickness and type of frames, how they open and operate or modifications to their proportions and size can make windows appear out of step with the visual language of the rest of the property.

10. Rules and regulations matters:

Ask your architect if your property is nationally listed, you will face criminal charges if you carry out alterations without obtaining Listed Building Consent. For properties in conservation areas, you still need to obtain planning permission for many external renovations. Read the Conservation Area Appraisal document prepared by your local planning authority to get an idea about what alterations are likely to obtain planning permission.

For non-listed period homes and properties not in conservation areas, you should be able to take advantage of Permitted Development Rights in some circumstances. However, certain types of extensions and alterations will still require obtaining planning permissions.

Further information....

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