Cottage with ‘Yorkshire sashes’
Cottage with ‘Yorkshire sashes’ © Historic England
Cottage with ‘Yorkshire sashes’ © Historic England

Advice on the Most Common Types of Work to Older Houses

If you are thinking about making changes to an older property, such as replacing windows or doors or adding an extension, you will find lots of practical tips and advice in this section on what to consider, who to consult and whether you are likely to need permission. The emphasis is squarely on balancing the needs of the home-owner with the historic significance of the building so any changes are sympathetic to both parties.

Understanding your building

If you understand why your home is significant, it will help you think of changes that sustain and enhance it. On a more practical note, if you know how the building has been constructed, and what materials have been used, it should give you an idea of what changes are viable.

It is also important to be aware of what changes have already occurred over its lifetime. Alterations and extensions of different periods can contribute to the property's character and interest. However, if they were not done in a considered way, past changes can cause long-term problems, and may even have disfigured the building.

New changes can provide an opportunity to put things right and enhance the significance of your home. Whether you are aiming to create extra living space, make your home more accessible for a disabled person, or merely improve your home’s appearance, please follow the links on the left to learn more about individual types of work you may be considering.

if you would like to read more about maintenance and repair, please see our Looking After Your Home section.


It is important to remember that various types of works to older buildings may require consent. Where older buildings are designated - for example, listed buildings - then listed building consent will be required for demolition or for alterations or extensions that affect its special interest. Planning Permission is required to demolish an unlisted building in a conservation area.

It is a criminal offence to carry out works to a designated historic building without consent when it is needed.

In addition to these consents, planning permission and/or building regulation approval may also be required for works that affect historic buildings and those in conservation areas.

Additional restrictions known as ‘Article 4 Directions’ might apply to buildings in conservation areas, which could mean that making changes to a building that could have an impact on the character and appearance of the conservation area will require an application for planning permission.  

You are strongly advised to speak to your local authority planning department if you are in any doubt about whether a permission or consent is needed to implement any changes to your older property, particularly if your building is designated or within a conservation area.

You will find more information at Who Do I Contact? and What Permission Might I Need?, and there are specific notes on the individual Types of Work pages. If in doubt, always check with your local planning authority.

Energy efficiency

We all have a part to play in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and using less energy. While you need to take a more careful approach with older buildings, there are still many things you can do to make your home more energy efficient without spoiling its character. See our Saving Energy pages for more information.

If you’re thinking of making changes, it’s worth considering how you live in the house now. Simply changing how you use the rooms could reduce how much energy you use.

If you are intending to make changes to your home anyway, consider what energy-saving measures you could take at the same time. For example, you could lag hard-to-reach pipes, or draught-strip your windows. Installing some types of insulation can be quite disruptive, and doing this when you are already working on a particular area could not only minimise the disruption but also be cost effective.