What to Know about Windows in a Listed Property

You might have heard a particularly old building described as 'listed'. It’s often the first thing that estate agents tell you about a property – the name is synonymous with prestige and class (but, as we’ll see, it can often be a double-edged sword). While this term has become thoroughly embedded into common parlance, it's not always clear what it means. Where is the building listed? For what purpose?

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport are in charge of deciding what to put on the list. They do this using a few distinct criteria. They consider the architectural merits of the building, based on its design and craftsmanship; and its historical significance. If a building calls to mind some aspect of British history, then the chances are it will be listed. Finally, a building might also be listed if it works together with other buildings to create this impression. For example, if a number of architecturally significant buildings are arranged around a square, then that square – however empty it may be – will probably end up being listed, too.

In England and Wales, listed buildings come in three different grades. Grade I buildings represent the pinnacle of British architectural heritage and include buildings such as Buckingham Palace, Warwick Castle and Blackpool tower. They account for around two-percent of all listed buildings. Grade II* listed buildings are slightly less prestigious, but still particularly important. They account for around four percent of all listed buildings.

The remainder of listed buildings in the country fall into the third category, Grade II. Grade II listed buildings are everywhere – they run through the heart of every town and village and help to make Britain recognisably British-looking. If you've ever walked through one of Britain's many smaller towns and been struck by the character and quality of the buildings there, then you probably have the listing system to thank.

It’s worthwhile to emphasise the importance of obtaining permission before carrying out any work on a listed property. The government's guidance on listed buildings states that 'it is a criminal offence to carry out work which needs listed building consent without obtaining it beforehand'. Moreover, if you do carry out such work, then you’ll invariably be forced to undo it, often at a cost of thousands of pounds. It’s also worth noting that when a building is listed, that means it is entirely listed. This includes both the inside and the outside and any other objects which might be attached to it.

Energy savings?

As undoubtedly worthwhile as the listing system is, it can prove a headache for those looking to make energy savings. Whatever their other virtues, listed buildings tend to lack the energy efficiency of their modern counterparts.

Of course, this is all dreadful news for those in possession of a listed buildings looking to carry out renovations. If you're running a business from such a building, for example and have terrible problems with heat efficiency, then you'll be at a disadvantage compared to any rival which might find itself in a non-listed building.

Let’s consider the area where most of the heat in a building is lost – through the windows. The modern solution to this problem is to install double, or even triple glazing. However, those looking to have double glazing installed into a listed property may run into considerable trouble. You'll need to demonstrate that the new windows will not alter the appearance of the building.

Double glazing is often despised by the authorities, since it interferes with the look of a building in several different ways. Firstly, double glazing panels take up more space than older, single-glazed ones. This means that double-glazing is too fat to fit into the old frame and so installing it can hugely affect the look of the building. This problem is being addressed by technological advances and newer, thinner double-glazed windows are slowly trickling out.

The second problem is that double glazing creates a strange, distorted reflection from the outside. If this is visible from the street, then you might encounter problems, since it totally undermines the look of the property. This might seem a trivial concern, but it the effect it has can be severe. Finally and perhaps most significantly, double glazing can interfere cause damp in the building. The walls of older properties are often designed to ‘breathe’, so that moisture passes from the inside to the outside. Installing double glazing can interfere with this and create problems of damp which can severely impact the house in the long run.

Fortunately, a great deal of energy can be saved in a listed property by simply replacing the windows with identical new ones. Since certain sorts of wooden frames tends to shrink and warp over time, it follows that replacing them could have a sizeable impact on their ability to exclude drafts and retain heat. In such cases, you’ll need to replace like-for-like with bespoke wood sash windows. For this, it’s advisable to call upon the services of a specialist such as Patchett Joinery.

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