heritage homes renovations

Why Renovating a Heritage Home is Different Than Your Typical Project

By Wayne Groszko Rise Renewable Energy Expert
Jul 28, 2017

Heritage homes are historic buildings valued for their architectural style and features or their connection to historical events. They help celebrate a community’s past, contribute to a strong local identity, and provide historic character. To recognize their historical value and help protect these buildings, many towns, provinces, and states grant official heritage designation to eligible homes.

Churchfield barracks
Image courtesy of Wayne Groszko

A heritage home has meaning to the broader community, and its significance can be reflected in higher property value. However, being built long ago, heritage homes often lack more recent energy-saving features and have high energy bills. In the 21st century, you need a building to be energy efficient if it is sustainable. You can renovate a heritage home to make it perform better in today’s realities; be aware of the challenges and opportunities that come with a heritage building.

Heritage conservation bylaws typically restrict the kinds of changes you can make to the exterior of a heritage building that is seen from the public street, so the building and neighborhood continue to look historic.

heritage home
Image courtesy of Wayne Groszko

Can You Renovate a Heritage Building?

The first step in any heritage building renovation is to understand local heritage bylaws. Suppose your building is a registered or designated heritage building or is in a Heritage Conservation District. In that case, you may need to inform the local heritage authority before energy conservation upgrades like insulation, new windows, heat pumps, or solar panels. The bylaws may be administered by the town, province, or state (e.g., Ontario Heritage Act, Nova Scotia’s Heritage Property Act, or Vancouver’s Heritage Property Register). Legislation can be difficult to navigate, so check if a local ‘Heritage Officer’ can guide you. They can help you create a renovation plan that meets the heritage regulations.

The rules vary from place to place, but there are many energy upgrades you can do with a heritage building in most areas, like installing energy-efficient appliances and heating systems and installing renewable energy systems. Because heritage bylaws usually cover the exterior of the building, upgrades like window and siding replacement can be more challenging.

heritage home windows
Image courtesy of Wayne Groszko

Can You Put Solar Panels on a Historic Building?

Whether to allow solar panels on heritage buildings is an ongoing debate in many cities. Some places allow solar panels on the roof of a heritage property, but most rules require that they not be visible from the street. You may need to apply to the local heritage commission for approval. On a flat roof, this can work out because a low-slope solar array might not be visible from the street. If your roof is sloped such that your solar panels would have an apparent visual impact in their proposed location, you may have trouble getting approval. In that case, it might help the approval process if you use a kind of solar panel that blends in more with the roof, such as Tesla solar shingles. Ask your local heritage officer for advice.

Investigate Funding Opportunities

Because heritage home renovations can have additional costs associated with preserving the character of the building, it’s worth checking whether government assistance is available. In some places, you can access funding to help with the planning phase, to get advice from an architect, engineer, or other professional. Examples include Vancouver’s House Call Grant and Nova Scotia’s  Conservation Advice Grants. And there may be funding available to help with the cost of renovating a heritage home, like Vancouver’s Restore It Grant, Nova Scotia’s  Conservation Work Grants, and Manitoba’s Designated Heritage Buildings Grant Program.

green heritage home
Image courtesy of Dane George

Even better, some places have specific grants for energy efficiency retrofits of registered heritage buildings, like the Heritage Energy Retrofit Program in Vancouver.  This grant helps pay a portion of the cost of pre-and post-renovation energy evaluations and energy-saving retrofits, including heating system upgrades, draft proofing, insulation, and window upgrades.

It is possible to have both the beauty of a heritage home and the comfort and savings of energy efficiency. Look to your local heritage advisors for guidance on how to renovate a historic home. And check out our related article on energy efficiency for older homes.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-10-16T15:45:22+0000
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