A stitch in time…Makes good sense and saves money

Know your home

Understanding your building’s past is worthwhile and most people who live in old houses do so because they like old buildings and want to know its story. This means that most owners of traditional homes are predisposed to care better for their historic building. Understanding how your building developed might help to identify potential trouble spots, which allows you to pre-empt problems and plan effective maintenance.

It is particularly useful to know not just when your home was first constructed but how it has developed and been altered over time. Some alterations may be the cause of problems and deterioration in the building, so comparing it with similar buildings in your area could be useful.

There are two main approaches to researching the history of your house. The first is to use the physical evidence of the house itself, such as its layout and architectural details. The second is to use documentary sources such as maps, drawings and written records.

Start by collecting all the information you have on your home, and then draw a simple floor plan showing the layout of each floor. The plan, or floor layout, of a building maybe a good indicator of approximate age. Early buildings, for example, were just a single room deep.

Floorplans are especially useful for houses where features such as windows and fireplaces may have been substantially altered at a later date; for example, a mediaeval house that was re-fronted in the Georgian period might retain its cross passage plan, providing a vital clue to its early origin.

The materials, or the building fabric, and the finishes applied, can also provide vital clues and are worth noting on a plan. There is a huge quantity of resources that can be used to identify these items and give guidance to estimating the age of the original building and subsequent works. The roofs of most provincial houses before the 1830s, for instance, were gabled rather than hipped.

Understanding how your home developed may make it easier to understand recent changes and problems. Also understanding how your home is currently used is important in identifying problems. You live in your home on a daily basis and it is often easy to ‘miss’ the little things. Regular inspections will help you notice these things. For example, you may notice that a damp patch gets worst in heavy rain or at a particular time of day. These pieces of information can help identify the causes of problems.


Working with a Traditional Building 

Traditional buildings are those built using local, indigenous building materials by craftsmen.  If your home was built before 1919 it is almost certainly constructed along traditional lines and as such will best be repaired and maintained with traditional materials using traditional methods.  Traditional buildings were built to last and, if they receive regular care and attention, will continue to return the benefits of their natural materials, breathability and considered design.  The advice contained in Caring for your Home is mostly geared towards traditional construction and the guidance given here points towards responsible conservation of such valuable buildings.  

Many traditional buildings are also historic and either included in a Conservation Area or protected further with a statutory listing. 


Working in a Conservation Area 

A Conservation Area (CA) is an area of special architectural or historic interest in which planning controls exist to protect the area’s significant character.  If you are unsure if your property is in a conservation area, your local authority will be able to advise.  It is important that you know if the building is in a CA before beginning any repairs, in case the work you propose would require permission.  Most repair is on a like-for-like basis and does not need planning permission but if the work involves a change in the materials used or in the detail it is advisable to consult your local conservation officer to see if permission is needed.  In addition to the standard range of controls which CAs bring, some conservation areas also have Article IV Directions in place. These Directions are used to protect features particular to the area from being lost and may add to the types of alterations that need planning permission.  

General guidance for owners on conservation areas is provided at a national level (see External Links below).  


Working with a Listed Building

If you are unsure if your home is listed, or there may be other legislative controls, you should find out from your local authority and from the websites listed below.  The ‘list description’ supporting listings can provide a wealth of useful information on the historic importance and history of the property and its development.

Some descriptions are more in depth than others, and just because it is not noted on the list description, it does not mean that it is not important, significant or listed. Some outbuildings or neighbouring properties can also be listed by association, referred to as ‘Curtilage Listed’. This can be a completed process so it is worth speaking to the local authority to confirm.

When is it time to put in a Listed Building Consent application…? This is often a grey area, and again it is recommended that you to speak to the local authority conservation officer. As a general guide, anything that is deemed ‘like-for-like’ repair, that is removing lime mortar pointing and replacing with lime pointing to match the existing wall, is deemed to be a repair.  

Anything that is deemed to affect the character or significance of the property is deemed to require consent. It is worth remembering that the building is listed in its entirety, inside and out, and just because something is deemed as ’modern’ or ’not original’, it is still considered to be protected.

Replacing a bottom rail of a sliding sash with one in the same timber and profile would also be considered to be a repair. However, repointing a total elevation of your house, even in lime to match, is often considered to have an impact on the character and appearance of the property and therefore Listed Building Consent application or planning permission may be required for the work.

Listed Building Consent (known as LBC) is free and currently requires no application fee, but if you undertake works that are deemed to require Listed Building Consent or planning permission and you don’t have it, you are undertaking a criminal offence in the UK and liable for an unlimited fine and/ or up to a two-year prison sentence.  It is safest to contact your local planning authority to discuss your proposed works.

External links

You can find your local authority using the following link:

The websites of the national bodies for the historic environment also give general guidance on when Conservation Area Consent may be required. See:

You can find out if your building is listed using the following links: 

The websites of the national bodies for the historic environment also gives guidance on when LBC may be required. See:


Summary Do’s and Don’ts



Carry out regular inspection and maintenance

Consider creating a home maintenance fund

Seek advice from suitably qualified professionals

Repair rather than restore or replace

Respect the building’s character and history and  make sure new work is sympathetic to it

Avoid unnecessary work

Study the history of the building and how it has changes

Analyse the cause  of the defects

Use only traditional materials and proven techniques

Re-use material savaged from your own building

Remedy bad repairs

Adopt correct priorities for repairs

Use only reliable contractors of craftspeople

Obtain necessary planning and legal consents

Allow serious defects to remain

Expect independent advice from someone who has something to sell you

Repair in unsympathetic materials

Attempt to ‘improve’ by altering the original appearance

Clad walls with artificial stone or other modern material

Use unsuitable ‘off-the-peg’ architectural elements

Rely on commercially based claims for any product or technique

Use so-called ‘maintenance free’ products

Waste re-usable materials

Bodge repairs

Remove of demolish any original element

Replace windows or doors in non-original patterns or materials

Employ anyone without seeking references or inspecting their work

Do any work without the required consent or permissions.