6 Watch Outs When Renovating a Heritage Home

Lauren O'Grady
September 25, 2019

Victoria is home to countless heritage houses found all over the state, including all parts of Melbourne. They are a reflection of the architectural movements Australia has experienced over the last few centuries and feature many of the design elements we still see in modern homes.

Due to their age, it is inevitable that heritage homes will require regular maintenance and in some cases, renovations. However, because of their historical significance, renovating a heritage home can be complicated. Here are six things to look out for.

1. What level of heritage significance is your home?

Heritage homes fall under either state or local significance. State significance means the home is important to the history and development of Victoria, which could mean anything from possessing uncommon or endangered aspects of the state’s cultural history, to demonstrating creative or technical achievement from a particular period.

Local significance means the home is important to the local area and as such, can be protected by a Heritage Overlay. Your local council holds a record of places of value, like homes. As such, when looking to renovate, you will need to go through the local council for a permit.

2. Permissions and approvals

Any home protected by a heritage law, either at state or local level, will require a specific permit to renovate. If you don’t obtain a permit, you will incur large penalties. Rules and regulations differ between each area, meaning it’s best to ask your local council exactly what approvals you need before commencing construction.

Certain works don’t require a permit, but once again, this is dependent on your council’s regulations. The type of works that generally don’t require a permit include conservation works, routine maintenance and introduction or replacement of cables, pipes or fire prevention services, proving the cultural significance of the property isn’t affected.

3. Experienced Builder

A residential renovation is complex enough, without the added complications of heritage laws. Therefore, when deciding which builder to trust your home with, it’s essential you look for a team that has extensive experience in heritage renovations and engage them from the very beginning of planning stages.

It’s preferable that they are local to your area, or at least have a strong understanding of your local council’s laws to prevent delays. A heritage builder should understand the specific requirements of your home, including structural integrity, restoration and preservation.

4. What can you reuse or recycle?

Just because you’re renovating, doesn’t mean that everything you’re getting rid of should head straight to the tip. In the design process, it’s worth considering how you can repurpose certain materials, such as hardwood floors, tiles and fireplaces.

This will help reduce wastage and overall costs, as you won’t need to buy new. It’s also a great way to strengthen the aesthetic link between old and new – for example, using the vintage tiles from your original bathroom on the splashback in your new kitchen can link the two areas beautifully.

5. What extra costs may occur due to renovating a heritage home?

As with renovating any home, you don’t really know what you’re going to come across until you start pulling down walls and ripping up floors, so you do need a contingency budget just in case something comes up.

An example for this is if you are wanting to keep the existing flooring in place. To the naked eye you may think the floor is level but once you start adding new cabinetry, new skirting boards and/or architraves you may soon notice that nothing fits and everything isn’t plumb.

This is because over time buildings move making walls and floor uneven. More than not we have to re-stump the existing section of the home and install a new complete new sub-floor and then flooring. A good builder should know just by looking at the flooring whether re-stumping may or may not be required. This will obviously increase the price of the works.

6.  Is it possible?

At the end of the day, heritage home laws exist to protect buildings of significance, so there is always going to be a limit on how much you can change. It's really a labour of love when renovating a Heritage Home as you will have to make some compromises on certain elements of the home. You need to embrace the history and work with it. Warts and all! If you can't see yourself being able to do this then maybe renovating a Heritage Home isn't for you.

To begin the process we suggest starting with the council – they’ll be able to give you an overview of what you can and can’t touch, informing your final design. From there, you need to consult a builder and if needed, architect or other specialist, to bring your vision to life.


We are the Melbourne experts when it comes to heritage home renovations. Get in touch to find out how we can help today.

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