Breathing new life into an old home, or rescuing it from ruin, can be incredibly rewarding. However, before enthusiasm gets the better of you, make sure you have prepared your home (and finances) for the renovation ahead. Here, Period Living advises on the things you need to do before you get to work.
1. Check for restrictions
It should have been made apparent to you at the point of sale if your home is listed, but if you are unsure, you must check, as it is a criminal offence to carry out unauthorised work to a listed home. Many buildings built around 1840 or earlier are likely to be listed — and over half a million in the UK are. You can check if your home is listed on Britishlistedbuildings.co.uk and if it is, you will need to gain Listed Building Consent for alterations. Even painting a listed home with plastic paint or using gypsum plasters is unauthorised, so always check before you start work.
A home located in a Conservation Area has another protective status that can affect work to it. Restrictions in Conservation Areas generally affect only the exterior of the property as the intention is to ‘preserve or enhance the character or appearance’ of an area, but your Permitted Development Rights (works that you can usually do without planning permission) will be affected, meaning you may require planning consent for works that are authorised elsewhere.
2. Devise a plan
Be clear on what you plan to do to the property before you make a start, and prioritise works that stop further decay or stabilise the structure. You might find that works in one room impact on those in another (especially where plumbing and wiring are involved), so have a clear vision for the whole house and prepare a schedule of works listing the order of jobs – so for instance, re-wiring is completed before walls are replastered.
If you are carrying out major structural work, or adding an extension, consult the appropriate professionals first, as there may be implications you are unaware of.
For example, converting the loft might seem like a job isolated from the ground floor of the house, but adding an additional habitable floor carries building regulation demands and might require fire doors, a sprinkler system and mains powered alarms. You need to be aware of these issues early on as they will affect the budget, and also the aesthetics of your property.
3. Get the right insurance
Few would forget to insure their property and its contents, but many are unaware that home insurance policies may not cover for extensive building work. If you carry out alterations without addressing this, you might find your policy is voided and claiming against it impossible should anything go wrong. It is also worth noting that standard insurance policies only cover an inhabited house, so if you plan to move out while the work is carried out, make sure your insurance company knows.
4. Secure the site
Simply insuring a home while it is being renovated is not enough — you must ensure the property is adequately protected against break-ins, too. If the property is empty, don’t be mistaken in thinking there is nothing worth taking: pipes, wiring and architectural salvage can all be stolen or vandalised.
Windows and doors on period properties are prone to rot and may not offer the protection your home needs. Even if you plan to replace them eventually, take the time to add locks for the immediate term. It is not wasted money when you consider how much you could lose if the house were broken into. When you do come to replace windows, make sure they are adequately boarded up in between the old being removed and the new ones put in.
5. Sort your finances
Before taking on the property, you should have checked that the project is financially viable, but once you have taken possession, had a good look around and properly assessed the extent of the works, you can get a detailed financial schedule in place. Some mortgage lenders will help you fund your renovation project and offer the money in staged payments. If you are going down this route, find out what those stages are and work out by when you will have each step of the renovation finished.
In other cases, you need to be realistic about what work you can afford to do and when. If the property is not in a habitable state, your first priority should be to make it safe and dry, with hot water and heating, so that you can move in — especially if you are spending money to live elsewhere while the work goes on. Avoid moving in until major works are out of the way, but you can live among cosmetic alterations as long as you have finished rooms in which to cook, wash and sleep.
If a contractor is helping you with your project they have to give you a clear quote, which will help you with your budget. It is advisable, however, to have a contingency of 10–20 per cent to allow for the unexpected expenses that can arise when renovating older homes. You will also need to create a separate budget for decorating and furnishing the home once structural work is completed.
6. Conduct a bat survey
Bats love the dark, quiet nooks and crannies in old homes — even more so if those homes have been left uninhabited for some time. It is a criminal offence to harm bats or disturb them when roosting, so conduct a bat survey and find out if you need to take special measures with your project. Bat surveys can be expensive, but the fines imposed for not taking the precautions and disturbing bats are higher, so do your research well in advance as conducting a survey too late could hold up works. Find out more on bat surveys and whether your home is likely to be affected.
7. Research period features and safeguard them
Over the years many period homes have been stripped of the things that make them charming. Beams are covered up, beautiful sash windows replaced with uPVC and original fireplaces swapped for electric alternatives. It is sad to see homes that have lost all of their character, but before you go about ‘restoring’ period features, remember it can be equally damaging to a home’s heritage to install what would not have been there in the first place — so do some research.
Get to know your home, the age it was built in, and the kind of people who would have lived there — the average workers’ terraces would not have had the regalia of a Georgian townhouse, so don’t shoehorn in ornate plaster mouldings and intricately carved fireplaces. The best approach is to repair existing features, make the house dry and safe, and undo any well intentioned mistakes that could affect the condition of the building (such as breathable stone walls covered in impermeable waterproof coatings that cause damp).
8. Clear the property
Once you have listed the features that must be maintained, start clearing rubbish and broken parts from your home. Furniture and old carpets left by previous occupants might need to go, but stripping back the rooms also gives you a good chance to check for damp, rot and unusual cracks. If you find anything alarming consult a specialist, but beware of damp companies offering free consultations only to advise ‘urgent’ repairs are needed.
When it comes to getting rid of rubbish, don’t put everything in the skip — not only is that environmentally unfriendly, but you might miss out on making money from unwanted fixtures and fittings.
Items usually fit into four categories: salvage, sell, charity, or tip.
- Salvage anything that you can use such as old sanitaryware, which can be cleaned up and re-enamelled if need be.
- Sell things that are in good condition, but not needed — salvage yards will take anything from old windows to spare roof tiles.
- Take things that can be used by someone else to the charity shop or an organisation helping people furnish their homes.
- Only bin things that are damaged beyond repair. This reduces your skip costs and environmental impact.