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REPLACE Julian Davies takes a closer look at the complexities of window replacement projects in listed buildings


Windows are some of the most prominent, public-facing features of any building, from period properties to modern office blocks.

How they look often determines the look of the whole building, as well as its functionality – which means any changes have to be carefully considered. This is particularly true in blocks of flats, where differences of opinion between the various leaseholders, or between leaseholders and the landlord, can cause problems.

On top of the practical issues of deciding what alterations are necessary, how they should be carried out and what materials should be used – frames as well as the glass itself – legal issues often arise, making the process far more complicated than it might first appear.

And if it might seem like you need a degree in 'window studies' to manage a window replacement project in an ordinary block of flats, when it comes to listed buildings, things get even more complicated. This is because before work can begin, it is necessary to obtain listed building consent from the local planning department to ensure the special interests of the building as a heritage asset are taken into consideration.

Fortunately though, it is not necessary to advance to a PhD in window studies - instead, you can bring in an expert in the shape of a chartered surveyor, who can take responsibility for the whole process.

Alterations: what and why? Attractive, environmentally-friendly, efficient windows generate huge benefits for any property. They can improve a building's value, its appearance and its warmth. However, like almost every part of any property, windows have a lifespan and need to be maintained - and the majority of costs and headaches associated with window-related projects have to do with the frames. But replacing frames can also make all the difference to a building's appearance and functionality. A 1960s tower block, for instance, with relatively harsh lines and a concrete exterior, can be re-invigorated


Could existing windows be repaired?

by the introduction of new windows that enhance the look of the whole building.

For an older property, replacement windows can have considerable practical benefits too, allowing reversible cleaning for example, or substantially improving heat retention leading to energy cost savings. However, if the building is listed, planning and listed building controls will dictate the design for the replacement windows and will regularly prohibit replacement.

In any case, before undertaking to replace windows, it is always worth considering whether existing windows can be repaired instead – especially in listed buildings. Often when people see areas of rot in a window frame, they jump to the conclusion that the window must be replaced. Often, the older windows which are manufactured from high quality materials are replaced with poorer quality modern units, which is to the detriment of the building.

In fact, the latest guidance from English Heritage, titled Traditional Windows: their care, repair and upgrading, is not to replace windows in listed buildings at all, but to repair existing windows. This is sound advice: repairs to existing windows are always preferable in the interest of maintaining a building's character and – most important - avoiding the loss of historic fabric.

Many people do not appreciate that older windows can often be repaired. For example, wooden sash windows are designed to be taken apart if necessary, so that any damaged sections can be replaced. In the case of listed buildings, permission for repairs may still be required from the planning department, but obviously this is more likely to be granted for less dramatic alterations than for wholesale replacement.

The effect of the latest English Heritage guidance, however, is that local planning authorities may require robust evidence that

Issue 20

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