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Renovation, Restoration, Preservation and Conservation.

Aug 13, 2016

Owners of hertiage buildings need to plan carefully before undertaking any work on them. The first decision to be made is what the end result should be. It sounds a simple decision, but the type of work to be carried out isn't always as straightforward as it seems.

There are four basic categories into which work on heritage properties fall. Renovation, restoration, preservation and conservation. It is important for owners, architects and trade professionals to have a basic understanding of these categories. It is also important to understand that the distinction between them can change with the building and project. Many buildings in Britain are centuries old, and have elements from many periods within their fabric. So several or all of the categories may be required on one building. 


The aim of renovation is to make a building look like new. In this category a building is a starting point for the owner's imagination. 

The building itself, materials, type of construction, historical importance, and period, are not the critical factors in a renovation. Consequently there are far fewer restrictions on the work to be done during a renovation.


The aim of a restoration is to return a building (or part of a building) to a particular period in its life. 

A Victorian property for example, may have living rooms returned to the style and appearance when they were originally built. Bedrooms could be recreated as Edwardian, with a 1960's style kitchen. All would be correct, in that the styles of these periods may have been in use during those times. The customer determines the most desirable period or style; and the builder or architect chooses the appropriate materials to return the property's appearance to that period.


Preservation aims to keep a building from deteriorating and ensuring that it is not irredeemably altered or changed. 

Preserving a building places additional requirements on the decisions regarding materials and techniques. The final appearance is no longer the most important factor; it's about retaining the maximum amount of building fabric. 

In order to retain the maximum amount of building fabric, work must be carried out with the bare minimum, or preferrably no changes to the original building fabric and materials. Where possible the same construction methods should be used as when it was built. 


The primary requirement in conservation is to retain the absolute maximum amount of the original material without altering it. 

Any repairs or additions must not remove, alter or permanently attach to any original material. In other words the repairs or additions must be reversible and removable without affecting the condition of the original material. This sounds impossible, but with careful planning and selection of methods and materials it can be achieved quite readily.

Conservation means that the building dictates the outcome of all choices on how it is treated, and removes artistic/stylistic choices or experimenting with materials and finishes. 

In recent years 'conservation' has become the most widely used term for work on heritage buildings. Hopefully the brief description I have provided here will demonstrate that it's frequently an inacurate description.

Planning and preparation are the keys to any building project, and having the correct description for your brief will ensure that everyone involved in the project has the same aim.