Red brickwork
Solid wall brickwork bonding © Historic England
Solid wall brickwork bonding © Historic England

General Principles of Altering an Older House

This page provides an introduction to working on older buildings. Please bear in mind that, depending on the type of property you have, certain kinds of work could require planning permission, listed building consent or conservation area consent. For more information see: What Permission Might I Need?.

General principles

Doing some research into your house before you start will help you understand its important and historic features. It will also help to avoid delays if it is listed or in a  conservation area (which may mean you have to apply for extra permission before starting work).

We recommend that additions, alterations and repairs to historic buildings are capable of being reversed. This will minimise the impact of your work on historic material and will ensure the original plan, form or appearance of the building isn’t lost forever.

Some kinds of work, especially where they involve digging beneath floorboards or entering wall cavities behind modern wall finishes, offer an opportunity to learn more about your home. We recommend you take every opportunity to record any historic material or features of interest discovered during such works.

If you are able to do this, it is essential that you provide a copy of your findings to the local Historic Environment Records and any other relevant archives so future generations can share what you learned.

Traditional materials

Original historic materials are unique and make a major contribution to the character and significance of a building.

However, no material remains in perfect condition, and even the most durable material will need to be repaired.

When working on your home, we recommend you try to use traditional building materials and methods where possible.

Nonetheless, modern technology and materials can sometimes help keep more of the original material, but expert advice is particularly recommended in such cases to ensure compatibility. This could mean finding a joiner to construct new sash windows out of a suitable wood, or using new stone slates to repair a roof.

This approach can sometimes be a little more expensive, but will ultimately help to protect the character of your home.

If your house is listed, surviving historical material and objects may form part of the reason for listing. You would therefore need to apply for listed building consent if the proposed work will affect them.