Building Regulations, Approved Documents and Historic Buildings
This page provides guidance for owners of historic buildings on complying with building regulations in England. It also highlights where in the approved documents there is specific advice about historic buildings.
Building regulations are a legal requirement which set standards for how most new buildings should be constructed to achieve a minimum level of performance, including most outbuildings and extensions.
They are intended to protect people’s safety, health and welfare. They also set standards for accessibility, water use, energy use and security.
Historic England supports the government’s aim to improve the standards to which buildings are constructed and maintained. There are improvements we can all look to incorporate into our existing buildings to make them more energy efficient and resilient to climate change.
Existing buildings are not generally required to be brought up to newer building regulations standards. However, existing buildings, or parts of existing buildings, may need to comply with certain aspects of building regulations in circumstances such as:
- The building is subject to change of use
- A thermal element (wall, floor or roof) is renovated or replaced
- When an extension is added
- When a ‘controlled service’ or a ‘controlled fitting’ is installed. A replacement window is an example of a controlled fitting. A boiler is an example of a controlled service
- Consequential improvements are required – when an existing building over 1,000 square metres is extended or its capacity for heating or cooling per square metre is increased
For more detail on building regulations and the building control system download the Manual to the Building Regulations.
Material change of use
Material change of use is a key element to complying with building regulations under Regulation 6.
Where a material change of use is being proposed, the work must comply with the requirements indicated in Table A2.
Where only part of a building is affected by a material change of use, then under Regulation 6 in most cases the building regulations apply only to the part that is subject to change. However, it is worth recognising that a change of material may adversely affect other parts of a building, for example in relation to fire safety.
On page 31 of the Manual to the Building Regulations, Table A2 shows all the requirements that apply to material changes of use.
Buildings exempt from building regulations
Under Regulation 9 of the building regulations, some buildings are exempt. This includes some small buildings, extensions and buildings used for specific purposes.
A full list of exempt buildings are defined in Schedule 2 of the Building Regulations 2010. Where buildings are exempt they must continue to meet the definitions in Schedule 2 after the works are complete.
The Manual to the Building Regulations summarises the 7 classes of buildings exempt from regulations (in Table A1 on page 28):
- Buildings controlled under legislation for explosives, nuclear facilities or ancient monuments
- Certain buildings not visited by people, such as plant rooms
- Certain greenhouses, agricultural buildings and buildings for animals
- Temporary buildings not intended to remain in situ for more than 28 days
- Buildings used for site accommodation
- Certain small detached buildings, generally without sleeping accommodation (although there are requirements about water and electricity supplies)
- Includes certain conservatories, porches and open-sided carports (although there are safety requirements about glazing and others about water and electricity supplies)
Crown buildings, statutory undertakers’ property and airports
The procedural aspects of the building regulations do not apply to Crown buildings, such as central government offices and courts of law.
Statutory undertakers are bodies that have been given statutory powers as their function is that of a public character.
Generally, this includes utilities or telecommunications companies and Network Rail. However, gas and electricity suppliers are not regarded as statutory undertakers under Section 4 of the Building Act.
Civil Aviation Authorities and Airport Operators can be exempt from the building regulations.
The Metropolitan Police Authority are exempt from procedural elements of the building regulations but building work is still subject to the same standards (referred to as ‘substantive requirements’ in the Building Act).
Listed buildings or buildings in conservation areas, and other buildings of architectural or historic interest
Listed buildings or buildings in conservation areas are not exempt from complying with building regulations. However, the special needs of historic buildings are recognised in some of the building regulations’ approved documents covered below.
The approved documents provide guidance on how to comply with building regulations. They contain statutory guidance and practical examples and solutions on how to meet the requirements of the building regulations.
Some approved documents are split into two volumes:
- Volume 1: dwellings
- Volume 2: buildings other than dwellings.
There are 18 approved documents free to download from the government's website.
The approved documents may not be relevant for all situations. Though you do not have to follow the guidance in the approved documents, you still need to be sure that your building work meets the legal rules set out in the Building Regulations 2010 as well as other statutory requirements. You need to comply with all relevant parts of the building regulations.
Where you wish to follow an alternative approach to the guidance in the approved documents, you should discuss and agree with a building control body before starting building work.
British Standards and other technical guidance may provide you with alternative measures that adopt higher standards than those recommended in the approved documents.
Special considerations for buildings of architectural or historic interest
Some of the approved documents explicitly recognise that special considerations are needed for buildings of architectural or historic interest such as:
- Listed buildings
- Buildings situated in designated conservation areas
- Buildings which are of architectural or historic interest and which are referred to as a material consideration in a local authority’s development plan
- Buildings of architectural and historical interest within national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and world heritage sites
- Vernacular buildings of traditional form and construction.
Buildings included in the schedule of monuments under Section 1 of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 are exempt from compliance with the requirements of some building regulations.
Relevant sections of the approved documents
Though Approved Document A does not explicitly mention works to historic buildings or traditional constructed buildings, it does apply to certain material changes of any building structure. It also highlights that the construction of a new building should not cause
‘deflection or deformation of any part of the building, or such movement of the ground, as will impair the stability of any part of another building.’ (Page 5, Loading A1 (b))
Nor should it cause
‘subsidence (other than arising from shrinkage), in so far as the risk can be reasonably foreseen will not impair the stability of any part of the building.’ (Page 5, Ground Movement A2 (b))
Where an extension is being built onto an existing traditionally constructed building, a structural engineer with experience of traditional construction, and where required conservation accredited, should be employed to assess how the extension might impact the existing building, to prevent issues such as differential movement occurring.
B: Fire safety
Part B of Building Regulations 2010 applies to all material changes of use set out in Regulation 5 of Building Regulations 2010.
Approved Document B and amendments provides guidance on fire safety measures within and around buildings. There are 2 volumes: dwellings and buildings other than dwellings.
Many fire safety measures do not require building regulation approval. Fire safety should be addressed in all listed and other historic buildings, and often fire safety measures can be incorporated without causing any significant impact to the building.
The approved document recognises historic buildings:
'Where Part B applies to existing buildings, particularly buildings of special architectural or historic interest for which the guidance in this document might prove too restrictive, some variation of the provisions in this document may be appropriate. In such cases, it is appropriate to assess the hazard and risk in the particular case and consider a range of fire safety features in that context.' (Volume 1, page 3 paragraph 0.10 and Volume 2, page 4 paragraph 0.17)
Where measures cannot be retrofitted, an engineered fire risk strategy should be undertaken by a trained professional in fire engineering solutions. This is covered in Approved Document B under Fire Safety Engineering (Volume 1, page 3 and Volume 2, page 4).
For more guidance on fire safety, follow the links below to:
C: Site preparation and resistance to contaminates and moisture
Approved Document C highlights the following for historic buildings:
'The need to conserve the special characteristics of such historic buildings needs to be recognised. In such work, the aim should be to improve resistance to contaminants and moisture where it is practically possible, always provided that the work does not prejudice the character of the historic buildings, or increase the risk of long-term deterioration to the building fabric or fittings. In arriving at an appropriate balance between historic building conservation and improving resistance to contaminants and moisture it would be appropriate to take into account the advice of the local planning authority’s conservation officer.
'Particular issues relating to work in historic buildings that warrant sympathetic treatment and where advice from others could therefore be beneficial include the following:
a. Avoiding excessively intrusive gas protective measures
b. Ensuring that moisture ingress to the roof structure is limited and the roof can breathe. Where it is not possible to provide dedicated ventilation to pitched roofs it is important to seal existing service penetrations in the ceiling and to provide draught proofing to any loft hatches. Any new loft insulation should be kept sufficiently clear of the eaves so that any adventitious ventilation is not reduced.
'In most cases the rate at which gas seeps into buildings, mainly through floods, can be reduced by edge located sumps or sub-floor vents. These are less intrusive than internal sumps or ducts that may involve taking up floors. If flagged floors are taken up the stones should be indexed, and their layout recorded to facilitate relaying when work is completed.
'Radon can be dispersed by ventilation strategies such as positive pressurisation. These systems can often be accommodated in an unobtrusive manner.
'If internal mechanical ventilation is used to disperse ground gases, it may affect the functioning of combustion appliances and may lead to the spillage of products of combustion into the building.' (pages 7 to 8)
Flood resilience or resistance for existing buildings is not currently a requirement of the Building Regulations 2010, but flood risk is mentioned in Approved Document C (page 9, paragraph 0.8). In particularly the guidance refers to that of elevated groundwater levels, sewer flooding and intrusion of groundwater via floors or floor voids.
Historic England's Flooding and Historic Buildings advice provides more information on making a building flood resilient.
D: Toxic substances
Approved Document D covers toxic substances, including insulating materials in cavity walls, and the prevention of toxic fumes entering buildings.
Historic England's Energy Efficiency web pages provide more information on the appropriate insulation materials to use in traditionally constructed dwellings.
E: Resistance to the passage of sound
Approved Document E covers the resistance to sound. The section on historic buildings says:
'In the case of some historic buildings undergoing a material change of use, it may not be practical to improve the sound insulation to the standards set out in Tables 1a and 1b. [Defining the performance standards for separating walls, floors and stairs].
'The need to conserve the special characteristics of such historic buildings needs to be recognised, and in such work, the aim should be to improve sound insulation to the extent that it is practically possible, always provided that the work does not prejudice the character of the historic building, or increase the risk of long-term deterioration to the building fabric or fittings.
'In arriving at an appropriate balance between historic building conservation and improving sound insulation it would be appropriate to take into account the advice of the local planning authorities conservation officer.
'In such cases it will be reasonable to improve the sound insulation as much as is practical, and to affix a notice showing the sound insulation value(s) obtained by testing in accordance with Regulation 41 or 20(1) and (5), in a conspicuous place inside the building.' (Approved Document E, page 13 paragraph 0.7)
Approved Document F covers the appropriate ventilation for buildings.
Work to the following types of dwellings may not need to comply fully with the ventilation standards in this approved document, this includes listed buildings, buildings in conservation areas and:
‘other historic buildings with a vapour-permeable construction that both absorbs moisture and readily allows moisture to evaporate. These include those built with wattle and daub, cob or stone and constructions using lime render or mortar’ (Volume 1, page 2 and Volume 2, page 2).
The section on historic buildings says:
'Work to a building in paragraph 0.5 should comply with the ventilation standards in this approved document where reasonably practicable. The work should not result in either of the following outcomes.
a. Unacceptably affect the significance of the listed building, conservation area or scheduled monument.
b. Increase the risk of long-term deterioration of the building fabric or fittings.
'New extensions to historic and traditional dwellings should comply with all ventilation standards in this approved document unless there is a need to match the external appearance or character of the extension to that of the host building.
'The local authority’s conservation officer should be consulted when undertaking work to a building in paragraphs 0.5a or 0.5b.' (Volume 1, page 2, and Volume 2, page 2)
Historic England's Overheating web page offers advice on managing overheating in historic buildings.
G: Sanitation, hot water safety and water efficiency
Approved Document G covers the installation of sanitation, hot water safety and water efficiency.
The section on historic buildings says:
'Special considerations may apply if the building on which the work is to be carried out has special historic or architectural value, and compliance with the sanitation or hot water safety requirements would unacceptably alter the character or appearance of the building or part of it.
'When undertaking work on or in connection with buildings with special historic or architectural value, the aim should be to improve sanitation and hot water safety where and to the extent that it is possible provided that the work does not prejudice the character of the host building or increase the risk of long-term deterioration to the building’s fabric or fittings.
'In arriving at a balance between historic building conservation and sanitation or hot water safety requirements, it would be appropriate to take into account the advice of the local authority’s conservation officer before work begins.' (page 8)
H: Drainage and waste disposal
Approved Document H covers the installation and maintenance of drainage and waste disposal, including foul water, surface water and rainwater goods.
Historic England's guidance on Flooding and Historic Buildings includes advice on surface water flooding.
J: Combustion appliances and fuel storage systems
Approved Document J covers the installation or reinstatement of combustion appliances and fuel storage systems. The section on historic buildings says:
'It would not normally be considered appropriate to relax the requirements of Part J since they relate to health and safety. However, it may be necessary to seek alternative technical solutions to those set out in this approved document in order to achieve reasonable standards of safety without prejudicing the character of the host building or increasing the risk of long-term deterioration of the building’s fabric or fittings.
'In determining what is appropriate in the circumstances, the advice of the local authority’s conservation officer should be sought. The views of the conservation officer are particularly important where building work requires planning permission and/or listed building consent.' (page 5)
Where it is being proposed to bring an existing flue back into use (page 24) the flue and chimney need to be checked and deemed satisfactory.
In addition to the building regulation requirements, it is recommended that the flue and any adjoining flue (even one not being put back into use) should be swept and cleared of any combustible material. Where cleaning of adjoining flues is not undertaken this could result in a fire risk.
Find more advice from Historic England:
K: Protection from falling, collision and impact
Approved Document K provides guidance on some health and safety recommendations during building works and should be used in conjunction with the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 or the Health and Safety Executive’s health and safety for the construction industry guidance.
L: Conservation of fuel and power
Approved Document L was last amended in 2021 and came into effect in June 2022 as part of the government’s measures to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions. There are 2 volumes: dwellings and buildings other than dwellings.
Under Volume 1, paragraph 0.8; and Volume 2, paragraph 0.12, there are exemptions for listed buildings, buildings in conservation areas and scheduled monuments.
'Work to a dwelling in paragraph 0.8 must comply with the energy efficiency requirements, where this would not unacceptably alter the dwelling’s character or appearance. The work should comply with standards in this approved document to the extent that is reasonably practicable.' (Volume 1, page 3, paragraph 0.9)
'Work to a building in paragraph 0.12 must comply with the energy efficiency requirements, where this would not unacceptably alter the dwelling’s character or appearance. The work should comply with standards in this approved document to the extent that is reasonably practicable.' (Volume 2, page 4, paragraph 0.13)
'The energy efficiency of historic and traditional dwellings should be improved only if doing so will not cause long-term deterioration of the building’s fabric or fittings. In particular, this applies to historic and traditional buildings with a vapour permeable construction that both absorbs moisture and readily allows moisture to evaporate. Examples include those built with wattle and daub, cob or stone and constructions using lime render or mortar.
'New extensions to historic and traditional dwellings should comply fully with the energy efficiency standards in this approved document unless there is a need to match the external appearance or character of the extension to that of the host building. The work should comply with standards in this approved document to the extent that it is reasonably practicable.
'In determining whether full energy efficiency improvements should be made, the building control body should consider the advice of the local authority’s conservation officer.' (Volume 1, paragraph 0.10 to 0.12, Volume 2, paragraph 0.14 to 0.16)
Appendix C paragraph C2: ‘If it is not reasonable to meet the target U-values in Table C1, considering technical risk and practicality of the work in relation to the dwelling and impacts on adjoining buildings, then the U-value should be as close to the target value as practically possible.’
Approved Document L states that where the renovation of a thermal element is greater than 50% ‘the renovation must be carried out so as to ensure that the whole of the element complies with paragraph L1(a)(i) of Schedule 1.’ With the caveat, ‘in so far as that is technically, functionally and economically feasible.’
Upgrading windows and fully glazed external doors is mentioned in paragraph 4.10 that where they ‘cannot meet the requirements of Table 4.2 because of the need to maintain the character of the building’ then ‘single glazing should be supplemented with low-emissivity secondary glazing’. In addition, as per paragraph 4.23 ‘they should be well fitted and reasonably draught-proofed’.
Historic England's web pages provide a comprehensive suite of technical advice and guidance on retrofitting historic buildings to improve their energy efficiency:
M: Access to and use of buildings
Approved Document M covers the access to and use of buildings but has very limited impact on existing buildings. There are two volumes.
Volume 1 on dwellings says:
'Requirements for accessibility should be balanced against preserving historic buildings or environments. In achieving an appropriate balance, it would be appropriate to take into account the advice of local authority’s conservation and access officers, English Heritage [Note: now Historic England] and the views of local access groups.' (Volume 1, page 2)
Volume 2 on other types of buildings says:
'The need to conserve the special characteristics of such historic buildings must be recognised. They are a finite resource with cultural importance. In such work the aim should be to improve accessibility where and to the extent that it is practically possible, always provided that the work does no prejudice the character of the historic building or increase the risk of long-term deterioration to the building fabric of fittings. In arriving at an appropriate balance between historic building conservation and accessibility, it would be appropriate to take into account the advice of the local authority’s conservation and access officers, and English Heritage [Note: now Historic England], as well as the view of local access groups, in order to make the building as accessible as possible.
'Particular issues relating to work in historic buildings that warrant sympathetic treatment are where advice from others could therefore be beneficial include:
a. restoring the historic character of a building that had been subject to previous inappropriate alteration, e.g. replacement windows, doors and rooflights;
b. rebuilding a former historic building (e.g. following a fire or filling in a gap site in a terrace);
c. the choice of appropriate construction materials and techniques, e.g. making provisions enabling the fabric to ‘breathe’ to control moisture and potential long-term decay problems: see information Sheet No.4 from The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB)' (Volume 2, page 13)
Historic England's Improving Access to Historic Buildings and Landscapes web page provides detailed guidance on how to make positive changes to historic places.
P: Electrical safety
Approved Document P covers all health and safety requirements to comply with electrical safety for both new buildings, as well as additions and alterations to existing electrical installations.
Historic England's Building Services Engineering web pages provide advice about installation and maintenance of services such as electrics and lighting in historic buildings.
Q: Security in dwellings
Approved Document Q only applies to new buildings.
R: High speed electronic communications network
Approved Document R covers the installation of high-speed electronic communications network in new buildings, as well as additions and alterations to an existing network.
Historic England's Building Services Engineering web pages provide advice about the installation and maintenance of services.
S: Infrastructure for charging electrical vehicles
Approved Document S covers the installation of electrical vehicle charging points to new residential and non-residential buildings, buildings undergoing a material change of use to dwellings; residential and non-residential buildings undergoing major renovation; and mixed-use buildings that are either new, or undergoing major renovation.
The section on ‘Historic and traditional buildings undergoing material change of use’ says:
'The following two building types undergoing a material change of use may receive special consideration by building control bodies regarding installing electric vehicle charge points.
a. Buildings that are of architectural and historical interest and that are identified by plan-making bodies as non-designated heritage assets.
b. Buildings of architectural and historical interest within national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, registered historic parks and gardens, registered battlefields and World Heritage Sites.
'The following building types, when undergoing a material change of use, are exempt from complying with the requirements of the electric vehicle charge point installation regulations if compliance would unacceptably affect the significance of the building or its surroundings.
a. Those listed in accordance with section 1 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.
b. Those in a conservation area designated in accordance with section 69 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.
c. Those included in the schedule of monuments maintained under section 1 of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.
'When a material change of use is made to a building in a class in paragraph 2.4, work should comply with requirement S2 as far as reasonably practicable. The local authority’s conservation officer should be asked to help assess whether complying with the requirements of the electric vehicle charge point installation regulations is reasonably practicable, on a case-by-case basis.
'What a material change of use is made to a building in a class in paragraph 2.3, when installing electric vehicle charge point infrastructure, the aim should be to not harm the character of the building. This may, for example, mean that electric vehicle charge points are not installed in associated parking spaces next to an important elevation of the building.' (pages 13 to 14, paragraphs 2.3 to 2.6)