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6 Dos and Don’ts of Renovating Your Heritage Listed Home

Renovating a heritage listed home with a rich background can be hugely rewarding, after all, they provide an important link to our nation’s history. But preserving their aesthetic appeal and ensuring their longevity can feel financially draining and complicated. As the saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail so having some structure around your renovation process can go a long way. 

So, what is a heritage listed home? 

A heritage listed home is a home that is protected in certain ways as it has been determined that it has a historical significance in the area it’s in. Heritage listings are designed to preserve the original look and design of the home to keep the link to the past open. Heritage significance is assessed on historic and aesthetic values that are deemed worthy of preservation for future generations. 

If you have a heritage listed home and want to do renovations, there are some things that you will need to know. Here are 6 dos and don’ts of renovating a heritage listed property:

  1. Do check with your local council
    The first thing you need to do is talk to your local council or heritage authority. This will enable you to find out what the heritage restrictions are on your home, and it will give you a much clearer idea of what you can and can’t do.

    Some councils are more rigid than others when it comes to restrictions. This may include but is not limited to using traditional finishes, using a limited colour palette and repairing rather than replacing wherever possible. In South Australia, the Development Act 1993 requires that any ‘development’ be approved by the relevant planning authority (usually local council).
    You also may need to draw up a heritage impact assessment and management plan which will outline how the renovations will affect or enhance the heritage status of the home.
  2. Do your research
    Learning about your home’s history can uncover information that you can incorporate into your renovation. But not only that, it helps you to have a clear picture of the property you’re dealing with from the outset. If you have a better idea about your home’s past, then what would have been unexpected problems are now expected and planned for.

    Engaging a builder or building inspector prior to the planning stage of your project can assist you in finding any structural or cosmetic issues like termite damage, poor foundations, plumbing issues or unsafe/unsalvageable areas of the house.

    Contact your local historical society or state heritage association, sometimes they may have old photos of your house in its original state or information about the designer.

  3. Do work with a professional builder
    Renovating heritage listed homes can be so rewarding but restoring original features can take a considerable amount of time and care and finding tradespeople with traditional skills can be very difficult. It’s important to work with a professional builder who has experience with builds of the same or similar scope as your project. It means they will be more skilled at blending or transitioning old to new so it appears seamless.

    Choosing a professional builder who is experienced in heritage renovations means they have access to a talented trade base and are accustomed to following official guidelines and warranties to protect your investment. This means there will be no corners cut in the restoration/renovation of your heritage listed home.
  4. Do preserve the details
    The whole point of your home being heritage listed is the preservation of its character so it wouldn’t make any sense to remove or replace some of its best features (whether you’d be allowed to or not). Your property’s facade, entry details like arches, ceiling roses and fireplaces are all features worth retaining as they often reveal your home’s rich history and tell a story about its past.

    This doesn’t mean you can’t blend old with new though, so don’t be afraid of contrasting its original features with the new ones. What we usually see our clients do is turn the smaller rooms of the older part of the house into bedrooms and add on living spaces to the back which opens up into the backyard and creates that seamless indoor/outdoor transition for contemporary living.

  5. Don’t forget about thermal properties
    Unfortunately, a downfall to owning a heritage listed home is that its thermal properties weren’t exactly thought of when it was built. Things such as its orientation, air movement and wet weather systems weren’t taken into consideration so allocating some of your budget to improving its thermal performance will benefit you in the long run.

    Things you can do to improve your property’s thermal performance is upgrading the windows to double glazing and retrofitting insulation.
  6. Don’t underestimate the size of the project
    The sheer amount of work that may be required to renovate your heritage home shouldn’t be underestimated so make sure you’re heading into your project with open eyes and an open mind.

    It is also a smart idea to have an emergency fund in place. When renovating a heritage listed home, you can sometimes come across unpleasant discoveries such as hidden structural damage that needs reinforcing or replacing. The age of these homes means they often haven’t been maintained or inspected over the years which makes it difficult (and expensive) to achieve that seamless connection between old and new.

Renovating a heritage listed home isn’t for the faint of heart, it will more than likely take longer (and cost more) than you think so doing your due diligence in researching heritage renovations, using a professional builder and researching the history of your home will all add to the success of your project.

Before you get started on your renovation project, make sure you read our guide on the #1 Thing To Avoid When Designing Your Custom Home Extension, Renovation or Addition.

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