A Guide to Living in and Insuring a Listed Building

Large Tudor style country house
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If you live in a listing building, you’ll already know how special it is. Now, it’s time to make sure you have the right insurance in place. Here’s everything you need to know about living and protecting a listed building.


By Matthew Mullee, Insurance Adviser, Partners&

Many people consider the restrictions of owning and living in a listed building to be onerous but consider this, if we didn’t have laws protecting our historic buildings, we wouldn’t have villages up and down the country full of beautiful homes dating as far back as the 11th Century. To own a historic house is a privilege and a big commitment and one that needs to be undertaken understanding the responsibilities that go with owning a piece of our country’s heritage.

Picture with caption: Grade I listed Luddesdown Court near Cobham in Kent appears to be one of the oldest continually occupied house in the country. Thought to have been built in or around 1120, it was previously owned by William the Conqueror’s brother, Odo.

As an insurer of listed buildings for the past 25 years, I work closely with surveyors and for this article I spoke to Dr Duncan Philips FRICS, IHBC. Duncan is a Chartered Building Surveyor and Historic Buildings Adviser, and a Professor of Architectural Conservation at the Centre for Building Conservation Studies.

6 things you need to know about owning a listed building, according to Duncan:

1. The whole house is listed, inside and out. It is not true that only part is listed or just the front elevation.

2. Any physical alteration after the date of listing requires listed building consent.

3. When you buy the property, you are also buying the legal liability for it, which includes the actions of the current and former owners.

4. Unauthorised alterations may be subject to Enforcement Action, which are a criminal offence and can result in a fine and a criminal record.

5. Owners should always use experienced building conservation trades and professionals. Never use 'normal' builders as they are unlikely to have the correct skills or understanding of heritage materials.

6. Be aware that traditional buildings should not be expected to perform like a new building. Don't have unrealistic expectations.

What is a listed building?

According to Historic England: ‘A building is listed when it is of special architectural or historic interest considered to be of national importance and therefore worth protecting. As the term implies, a listed building is actually added to a list: the National Heritage List for England. You can use this to discover whether your home is listed and if so, what grade it is. You may also be able to find out what is particularly significant about the building. Some listing records are more detailed than others.’

What are the different listed grades?

There are three grades of listed building, Grade I, Grade II* and Grade II. Grades I and II* are the top 8% of all listed buildings in the country, the other 92% are the regular Grade II. Grade I is for buildings of the highest historical significance. For example, St Paul’s Cathedral and Kensington Palace.

What are the restrictions on making alterations/improvements to my listed building?

We try not to see them as restrictions more as measures put in place to preserve the heritage of the building; once you’ve ripped out the 17th Century windows from your home and replaced them with double glazing they’re gone. That kind of history can’t be put back and part of the nation’s history has been lost. Anyone thinking of purchasing a listed building must understand that although things can be updated (these are after all, homes to live in and they need to adapt to modern life – none of them started life with central heating), owners must seek permission to make alterations first and only use specialist tradesmen and traditional materials and workmanship.

If you have questions about specialised home insurance contact our partner Partners&.

How do I get permission to update/improve my listed building?

You will need to apply for listed building consent from your local planning authority. As part of this process you will need to supply a Heritage Statement; this is a written document, including photos and drawings, that explains and justifies what you want to do, why you want to do it and shows that you have considered other options.

The justification for it is important, showing that you have considered other things and thought about the negative consequences of NOT doing work, for example if you don’t fix the pipes, the house will suffer a flood.

Work you can and cannot do in a listed building

Double glazing is always a good example of an alteration that many homeowners ask about. You have a beautiful home with exquisite leaded windows and historic handmade glass, but they aren’t good at keeping the cold out and frankly your heating bill is paying the price (not to mention the environment), so something has to be done. You won’t be given permission to replace the windows, but you may be given permission to install internal glazing which will have the same effect. You could also repair them to help them fit better and reduce draughts, and you can use shutters or heavy curtains. Curtains over doors and windows are an excellent and simple option to use.

Want to put in a swimming pool? Great, but they may suggest you put it at the bottom of the garden rather than butting up against the house. This is to preserve the ‘setting’ of the building.

Repairs to chimneys and rooftiles are occasions when people often get it wrong and damage the building. You can ruin the architecture of the building by using the wrong tile as all clay tiles are not made equal, and you need to use a specialist supplier and fitter. Also, lime mortar must be used in all pointing work, not cement based products.

Want to install a gun cupboard, safe, safety room, security lights, intruder alarms, or security gates? No problem. These are all perfectly possible, if, having obtained the necessary permission, you work with skilled tradesmen who specialise in listed buildings. Many houses have been damaged by owners using ‘regular’ builders or installers who may not appreciate the historic nature of the building they are working on.

Making your historic home ‘eco-friendly’ is exceedingly difficult. You can lag the roof if you have plenty of space but remember, where you insulate you must also ventilate. Houses need to breathe. You can’t do wall insulation or exterior double glazing (although interior may be ok as explained above). Floors are a problematic area for insulation, the older the building he harder it will be to insulate your floor.

Remember, your historic home isn’t always going to be perfect, and you mustn’t expect it to be so. Love it for its quirks and foibles and enjoy the privilege of being the caretaker of a part of the nation’s heritage for a few years.

Do you need listed building insurance?

You might think from everything you’ve read above that it would be extremely difficult to insure a listed building and that the premiums will be through your non lagged roof? I’m delighted to tell you that you’re wrong. The premiums aren’t that different to a modern home, often as a reflection of the care owners take of their listed building homes. However, you may prefer to buy your insurance through a specialist adviser like Partners&. Many ‘regular’ insurance companies and surveyors determine the rebuilding cost of a structure by quickly noting the exterior construction. This is not appropriate for a period building. From the outside, it may appear as late eighteenth century, but the inner timber structure may date to the fifteenth century; special features are frequently hidden inside, often requiring the skill off specialist craftsmen to restore after damage.

I’ve been insuring historic buildings for over 25 years, meaning I speak the industry’s language, am fully up to date with latest legislation and will be able to guide you through choosing the best policy for your home. I’ll also be able to put you in touch with specialists in the field like Duncan.

6 things you need to do when insuring your listed building:

1. Valuation – you should have your property valued by a specialist; underestimation may reduce your settlement in the event of a claim. Make sure you take detailed photos of the room and contents which could prove invaluable in the event of a fire. A digital 3D ‘scan’ or photographic record of the building is even better and is not expensive.

2. Reinstatement costs – you need a policy that covers you for ‘reinstatement’ using specialist builders and materials rather than a simple ‘rebuild’ policy. The costs will be very different and the time frame to repair much longer, taking into account the scarcity of specialist trades people and materials needed.

3. Listing – make sure you know what the real reason is for your home being a listed building. If even only a tiny amount of the ‘feature’ that makes it a listed building survives. By law, you may be required to rebuild the entire building.

4. Repairs – if you are undertaking consented repairs/alterations to a building, we can provide you with a policy that provides all the cover you’ll need, including protection for the existing structure, liability insurance for yourself and Contractors All Risks (CAR), if you opt to project manage yourself.

5. Extension and alteration – JCT Minor Works contract conditions usually place the onus on you as the employer to insure the works in joint names with the contractor. We can advise and guide you through a specialist renovation insurance contract. We will need a schedule of the works and details of your builder’s liability insurance.

6. Contents – if your home is furnished with art and antiques, we can help with specialist insurance for them too. Generally, these rates are lower than for general contents insurance.

I hope this helps to clarify some of the requirements for insuring a listed building, I’d be happy to speak with you in more detail about what kind of specialist insurance advice we could provide, so do get in touch.

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