This guide has been put together to answer some of the most commonly asked questions by those who live in or care for listed buildings.
So whether you want to know more about the listing process or what to consider when you want to make changes to your home, we hope this guide will help point you in the right direction.
What does it mean if my house is listed?
A building is listed when it is of special architectural or historic interest in a national context. Listed buildings have extra legal protection within the planning system.
Listed houses come in many styles and sizes, and range from terraced houses to simple country cottages and stately homes.
There are three categories of listed building, based on their significance:
Grade I buildings are of exceptional interest and only 2.5% of listed buildings are Grade I
Grade II* buildings are particularly important buildings of more than special interest and just 5.5% of listed buildings are Grade II*
Grade II buildings are of special interest and the vast majority, 92%, of all listed buildings fall into this category There are around 500,000 listed buildings in England, but it is difficult to be precise, because one listing for example can cover a row of terraced houses.
How are buildings chosen for listing?
Not surprisingly, the older a building is, the more likely it is to be listed. All buildings built before 1700 which survive in anything like their original condition are listed, as are most of those built between 1700 and 1840.
The more modern a building is, the more remarkable it will need to be if it is to be listed. Buildings that date from 1945 onwards need to be particularly carefully selected and usually a building has to be over 30 years old to be eligible for listing
What are the benefits of listing?
Listing is a mark of special interest in a national context and most owners are rightly proud of their special building. Inclusion on the National Heritage List for England means that the building makes a contribution to the specialness of England’s diverse historic environment. It can also increase the value of the property.
What parts of my home does listing cover?
Listing covers a whole building, including the interior, unless parts of it are explicitly excluded in the List entry.
It will usually cover:
Any object or structure fixed to the building;
Any object or structure within the curtilage of the building which, although not fixed to the building, forms part of the land and has done so since before 1st July 1948
Because all listed buildings are different, what is actually covered by a listing can vary quite widely. You should therefore always check what’s included in your listing with the local planning authority.
When a building is listed it means that there are additional planning controls that apply to that building, both inside and out.
You will therefore need to apply for listed building consent for work that involves altering, extending or demolishing your home where it affects its special architectural or historic interest. This is of course alongside any planning regulations which would normally apply.
Owners sometimes find this frustrating and inconvenient, but without this important step many historically important buildings would be damaged or destroyed and their significance lost forever.
What changes are covered by listed building consent?
Loose furnishings are not covered by the listing process. But items fixed to the building such as light fittings may be, so if they contribute to the special interest of the house, you may need consent to remove them.
Most fitted furniture such as kitchen units, baths, toilets and wardrobes are usually relatively recent and not of special interest, so removing them may not need consent.
But older fitted cupboards, bookcases or similar may be considered to be part of the listing.
When existing decorative finishes are clearly recent it should be possible to repaint and to re-hang wallpaper. But removing paint and other finishes to reveal bare construction materials is likely to affect special interest and to need consent.
‘Stripping back to reveal the original’ often destroys much of the interest in the evolution of a listed house and is rarely a good idea.
You can start to find out what’s special about your home by checking its entry on the Heritage List and you can also find out what criteria we use to list your particular type of building by checking the appropriate selection guide.
You can then contact your local authority who can advise you further about the need for listed building consent.
What happens if I make changes to a listed building without applying for listed building consent?
Carrying out unauthorised works to a listed building is a criminal offence and you can be prosecuted.
Through issuing an enforcement notice, a planning authority can insist that all work carried out without consent is reversed. You should therefore always talk to the local planning authority before any work is carried out to a listed building.
You may also have trouble selling a property which has not been granted listed building consent or a Certificate of Lawfulness for work carried out, as lack of permission from the planning authority will be revealed by the legal search.
Most listed buildings dating from before the First World War were built either with solid masonry walls or with a timber frame and infill panels.
This type of construction differs from most modern buildings in that permeable materials were used which allow moisture such as rain, groundwater and internal moisture within the building fabric to evaporate freely away.
This is often referred to as ‘breathable construction’ but more accurately it is about the movement of moisture rather than air.
It relies on sunshine, wind, heating and adequate internal ventilation through windows, chimneys and draughts in order to stay dry. In good condition and with regular maintenance the system stays in balance.
After the First World War building methods gradually changed. The cavity wall replaced solid walls for most domestic properties and cement mortars superseded lime mortars, with concrete increasingly becoming a part of most buildings. These new forms of construction all relied on keeping moisture out through damp proof membranes and cavities.
If you use incompatible materials or methods on older buildings, it can affect their ability to balance moisture content. Materials such as cement pointing and renders reduce the ability of the moisture to evaporate which can then lead to problems such as condensation, mould and damp.
Where possible therefore, you should use matching materials when altering or repairing an older property.
A listed building will always have its own description – the statutory List entry – on the National Heritage List for England (NHLE).
The List is a remarkable, searchable, database of all England’s protected places, including listed buildings, scheduled monuments, registered parks and gardens and battlefields, and protected wrecks.
Look up the entry for your home on The List database and you may be surprised by the information you find.
It’s worth remembering that the way we list buildings has moved on from the early, short entries that were purely for identification so, depending on when your building was listed, the information on the NHLE will vary. But it’s a fascinating online resource which can be found on the Historic England website
Making changes to your kitchen
If you just want to update your existing kitchen by replacing modern units, as well as plumbing, wiring and other finishes, this is usually straightforward and you probably won’t need listed building consent.
But when adding new pipework or fitting extra equipment, such as an extractor fan, site them carefully to minimise damage to important historic fabric.
And if your kitchen has any important historic features such as a bread oven, cast iron range, stone flags or old floor tiles, a plaster cornice, a fireplace or fitted dresser and you want to remove any of these, you will probably need listed building consent.
Making changes to an existing bathroom
If you just want to replace the fittings and refurbish your existing bathroom, this should be fairly straightforward.
You will probably only need permission if you are also planning to alter the size of the room or carry out some structural work at the same time.
Installing new pipes or extra equipment could affect the historic fabric of the house, and you should avoid cutting into beams or removing historic timber floors and ceilings.
And if you need to install new soil and waste pipes, try to site these at the rear or side of your house as these can be unsightly.
If you are lucky and your bathroom has original Victorian or interesting 20th-century fittings and decoration, these may be part of the reason for the house being listed. If so, you will normally be expected to keep them.