Does that old house you want have a heritage listing? What does it mean?

Posted by on Dec 15, 2013 in Blog, How to/ Tips, Planning | No Comments

Regular readers of this blog will know that I love working on renovations to old houses or those with a heritage listing. These are pieces of our history. They tell the story of how we used to live, what was architecturally fashionable in the day, and remind us of the way houses were once built. There was a craftsmanship and a degree of ornamentation that does not exist in today’s homes. Their charm and grandeur still captures our hearts, which is why these homes are often sought after.

Restoring heritage houses means bringing them back to their original condition; rejuvenating these now somewhat tired homes, so that they can last another hundred or more years. In doing so we allow future generations to see how we once lived. Taking on these projects is not only about getting a beautiful home, but also about playing a part in maintaining our cultural heritage.

Not all old houses are heritage listed. It is up to the council to decide which are significant enough to be listed. Heritage controls exist to protect those which are considered significant, from being demolished. They also ensure that any renovations are sympathetic to the original house.

As these are endangered, and therefore a protected species of sorts. It’s important to realise and consider that heritage houses comes with a set of rules you must work within: the heritage controls. This can place restrictions on what you can and can’t change, how much you can add on, where you can add it, how high it can be, and how it looks. So if looking to undertake such a project it is important to know how you will be restricted and whether such a project will still work for you.

There are different levels of heritage significance, and with them different levels of restriction imposed on what can and can’t be done. This is judged house by house, and is based according to their heritage contribution, or put more simply, according to how special or rare they are. A call to the council will determine what level of control is put in place on a house.

In the majority of cases the restrictions control work to the front façade – allowing you only to restore it to it’s original design, repairing or replacing (with the same design) any elements that have deteriorated due to age or that aren’t original.

The other restrictions make sure that any additions are visually recessive, meaning that they do not dominate the original home and respect its significance. The council’s concern is that you do not interfere with the character of the original house, and the character of the street. If you propose a two-storey addition, most councils will require that the second floor not be visible from the street. Their policies will usually have sight lines pitched up from the front parapet (the extension of a wall in height past the gutter to hide the roof behind it) the gutter, or the roof ridge (top of the roof); your second floor addition must be sited within this building envelope. See the diagram below for some of the different techniques councils employ to enforce this rule.

Sight lines 1 - From the book: A Block in a Hard Place

Sight lines 2 - From the book: A Block in a Hard Place

When purchasing a heritage property, perhaps your biggest consideration alongside understanding the costs involved must be: does the house, and the land at the rear, together with the envelope the council defines within which your extension must fit, give you the space you need? Will you have sufficient back yard left over?

Sight lines 3 - From the book: A Block in a Hard Place

For these reasons I think it is imperative you seek an architect’s advice before going into such a project to answer these questions. Also be aware that restoring old homes can be very expensive. Some need more work than others, and architect will also be able to tell you what costs are involved, so you can be sure this is a project you can afford to take on.

These projects make wonderful homes when done. Just be sure to do your homework first, and seek professional advice to ensure your project is a success. Long live our beautiful old homes.

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