The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) is a charity dedicated to providing training and technical advice to owners of old buildings, and works to secure repair works for listed buildings at risk.
We met with Douglas Kent, Technical and Research Director at SPAB, to find out what advice the society has for owners of listed buildings for upkeep, general maintenance and seeking home insurance. Find out more from our Q&A session below:
1. Is it worth going to a specialist insurance broker for listed building insurance?
As with work generally on older buildings, it really does make sense to use a specialist insurer who understands historic forms of construction, such as medieval timber-framing or cob walling, as well as the listed building requirements of local authorities. If you simply opt for a standard policy from a general insurer, this could fall well short of expectations if you need to make a claim.
2. What’s the ‘rebuilding cost’ of a listed property?
Most domestic insurance policies for houses require that the sum assured is the full rebuilding cost of the property. This is the cost to completely reconstruct the house, which often exceeds the market value in the case of an older property, due to the specialist methods and materials employed.
Even where you are only making a partial insurance claim, pay-outs will be calculated on the basis of the full rebuild value. If you confuse the rebuild value and market value, which sadly many people do, you could find yourself seriously out of pocket in the event of a claim, especially where statutory listed building requirements dictate that cheaper rebuilding options are inappropriate.
3. How would you recommend a customer obtains an accurate ‘rebuild cost’ for a listed building?
It’s the responsibility of the homeowner to obtain an accurate rebuilding cost for their property. Seek professional advice on the realistic rebuilding cost for your property from a chartered quantity surveyor specialising in older buildings rather than simply using the BCIS calculator online, which is more appropriate for standard, modern houses. And never just guess what your rebuild value might be.
The sum insured should allow for professional fees when rebuilding and compliance with modern building regulations. Valuations should be updated annually or, if an inflation provision is in-built, every 5 years.
4. What do you recommend homeowners consider before starting building work on their listed house?
If you’re planning building work, ensure first of all that you have listed building consent and planning permission, where required. If in doubt, check with your local council.
Talk to your insurer in advance about amending your cover during the work and any unoccupied period - and don’t forget to pass on details of the new rebuild value arising from any alterations. A building is rather like a patient in a hospital – it’s particularly vulnerable to harm when it’s being operated on. To reduce the risk of fire, appliances that produce naked flames should be subject to hot works permits and a person nominated to inspect all work areas at the end of each day. Check that there is no heat exclusion clause in your contractor’s liability policy.
Don’t forget to revalue your property upon completion of the work or inform your insurance company of the new rebuild cost.
5. Do you have advice for owners wanting to install double-glazing in a listed building?
The replacement of old single-glazed windows in old buildings with double-glazing is strongly discouraged because alternative solutions are available that not only retain existing old glass but can lead to better thermal performance. Plastic window frames have poor environmental credentials and it’s hard to source timber of the quality available historically.
Elimination of draughts should be the immediate consideration so first, service, ease and adjust the opening casements. If air leakage between the frame and casements is still a problem, this might be remedied by draught proofing the windows and, if present, shutters too. To reduce condensation, allow for additional ventilation near sources of moisture, or only partially seal windows. Heavy curtains, insulated blinds, reinstated shutters and secondary glazing may be used additionally, or as alternatives.
As well as draught proofing, secondary glazing may be a good way to reduce the thermal transmittance of old windows. It comprises an extra layer of glass that fits to the inside of the existing window and, if well designed, is unobtrusive. It can be removed when not wanted in the summer. For thermal insulation, the optimum air gap between panes is 20mm. A little ventilation should be maintained through the outer window to prevent condensation on the inner face.
6. Many listed and older buildings have outdated electrical wiring that can cause fires. What do you recommend?
All electrical installations should be regularly inspected, tested and maintained to ensure their safe operation. Some insurance companies require regular testing as a condition for the continuation of their cover and this may be a specific requirement with old buildings.
Where installations are old and fragile and the consequences of fire potentially very serious, an annual inspection and test may be appropriate whereas, for brand new installations, five years or longer may suffice. On average an inspection and test every two-and-a-half years would seem sensible, with the period being extended as faults are corrected and deterioration rates established. Testing can usually be entrusted to a suitably qualified and experienced contractor on the NICEIC roll.
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Double Glazing For Listed Buildings
So, thank you, Douglas, for sparing some time and talking to us about some of the concerns that listed building owners have had. Do you have any advice for home owners of listed buildings who want to install some double glazing in their property?
Generally, we would discourage people from replacing single glazed windows with double glazing because there are far better ways of saving energy and also you can repair old windows to meet or even exceed the energy efficiency standards of their modern counterparts. Plastic isn’t particularly good in terms of its environmental credentials. Timber is much harder to get nowadays, which meets the quality of historic timber, so there are all kinds of reasons where it makes sense to, wherever possible, keep your historic windows.
If you’ve got problems with draughts then the first thing is to service, ease and adjust the windows and perhaps consider draught stripping if necessary as well, and traditional methods like heavy lined curtains, insulated blinds, even reinstating shutters. All of those can help cut down on draughts. If you’re concerned about heat lost through the glazing itself then there are methods, such as secondary glazing, some of the examples of which you can see in our own building here at the SPAB, where we’ve got a number of different systems on trial here.