Period properties can offer a wonderful beauty and charm, but they also come with their own issues that need careful consideration to preserve the character and structure.

For instance, when it comes to renovating a Victorian home, it helps to know which elements you should retain in order to preserve the character of the property and which ones you can change to update the space for modern life. If you have acquired a period property and are looking to begin a programme of renovation, here’s a few tips top consider.

Get a thorough survey done
While you’re in the process of purchasing a period property, it’s critical to carry out a thorough survey. You can opt for either the RICS Building Survey, which starts at £400, or a Full Structural Survey, which starts at £600. These will give an overall picture of the condition of the property and identify any issues that will need to be dealt with during your renovation.

A CCTV Drain Survey is also important, as many period homes have old drainpipes below or beside them. The last thing you want to deal with after you’ve completed your home project is a broken drain. The CCTV drainage report can give you the levels, routes and state of your current drainage, so you can repair and plan ahead for the renovation.

Assess the outside
Older properties can suffer from deterioration over time, so some maintenance of the exterior of the house is a sensible starting point. For instance, you may find that the brick walls may need cleaning and repointing, or new guttering is required to divert water away from your property.

Then there’s the front façade, key features of which are the bay window and the tiled front path. Large bay windows allow more natural light to enter the house but can be somewhat exposed to the elements. Do check and try to preserve the wood frame, or replace with double-glazed wood units that retain the original Victorian character.

If you are lucky enough to have the original tiled front path, see if you can refurbish tired, broken and uneven tiles with a specialist tiling company.

Retaining your home’s original style
Victorian homes typically had many smaller rooms, mainly to make heating them more efficient. Today, with our modern efficient heating systems, it is quite possible to open up these spaces for a better circulation around the house and, most importantly, to bring in natural light.

But even with these transformations, you can still maintain the character of the original building. The original front layout of your Victorian home can still have answers for today’s lifestyle needs. The hallway separates the entrance from the living room, and provides a protected corridor in case of fire. The two rooms to the side of the hallway can still be used as reception rooms – perhaps one as a more formal room and the other as a family room, exactly as the Victorians used it. If you do decide to open up the two rooms, make sure you speak with a professional or a structural engineer, as the wall between the two spaces is often a structural one that supports the roof.

There are some things that can be reworked in order to make your Victorian home more comfortable for modern life. For instance, the back rooms in Victorian houses were often used for cooking, laundry and other services, so the design was more functional than the high-quality, ornate style of the front rooms.

Nowadays, the kitchen is the heart of the home, and is where households spend much of their time. To fulfil the needs of modern family life, the rear of your Victorian home can be opened up and extended. This addition brings in natural light, transforms the space into a sociable kitchen-diner and connects the room to the garden. If Planning Permission allows, an extension can have a positive impact on the quality of living inside the home, as well as the look of the rear façade.

Restoring internal woodwork
A lot of the wood we now use for joinery, such as staircases and doors, is made from fast-growing softwood. The Victorians used more mature trees, so their timber was very durable. If your woodwork isn’t infected with woodworm or any type of rot, it can usually be renovated and restored to its original glory.

Internal doors can be refurbished by stripping paint and filling cracks, dents and any other damage. If you require a fire door, you can often upgrade your old door rather than replace it with a new one.  Building Control can usually approve an upgrade, such as fireproof sheets, which can be installed on the panelling and painted over. Alternatively, 30-minute fireproof paint is another solution.

Windows can be renovated in the same way as doors. In most cases, the timber can easily be restored and the sash frame can have a draught treatment if required.

Interior plasterwork
In older homes, ceilings and internal walls were constructed using lath and plaster. This involved narrow timber strips being nailed across the ceiling joists or wall studs with small gaps in-between to form a key for the plaster. Unfortunately, this method didn’t pass the test of time and can be unstable during renovation. When you remove old wallpaper, for example, you never know how it will affect the lath and plaster below. It could stay solid, or it could crumble. If there’s evidence of previous water damage, it’s advisable to remove any loose plaster, especially in the ceiling.
If you are faced with the original lath and plaster ceilings, do check for loose plaster on your walls or ceiling. Now may be a good time to reboard and replastered for a robust, clean start for your new attractive décor.

While Victorian houses were simple in terms of shape, elaborate ornamentation in the shape of ceiling roses and cornicing was very popular. Ceiling cornices originated as a practical detail to cover the joint between the walls and ceilings, but developed over time to become a feature. Many cornices still remain in good condition, but in some cases the delicate pattern can be disfigured by layers of paint. During your renovation, make sure any original cornices and ceiling roses are well protected, as 100+ year-old plasterwork doesn’t always respond well to constant vibrations. Ceiling roses can always be taken away, set aside, then reinstalled.

If the ceiling cornice is damaged or likely to fall, try to find an undamaged area and ask a specialist to make a template to reproduce it, which can then be installed at the final stage of the renovation.

Replacing your windows
Before you rip out the old timber in the windows, check to see if they in fact could be preserved through suitable treatment and saved.

If you do want to replace the original single glazed windows to prevent heat loss and noise, you have a couple of options; either install slim double-glazed units and keep the original sash window or replace the whole sash window with modern UPVC slider windows.

Do make sure you consult an experienced professional when renovating your windows and check the regulations that apply to your particular property, as these can differ from area to area.

Heating features
Radiators appeared in homes in the late Victorian period, but central heating was expensive, so you will more than likely only find them in larger homes. If you want to keep the original cast-iron radiators, it’s important to check them for leaks before you make a decision on using them permanently as a heating source. If your contractor or plumber gives the all-clear, you can revive tired radiators by stripping off the layers of paint and repaint them for a fresher look.

If you’re considering underfloor heating as your main heat source, you can still combine your old radiators with a modern heating system. You should be able to keep the original flooring in your period property. You can carefully set the floorboards aside and install insulation between the existing joists with the relevant draught treatment, then carefully reinstall the original timber. This will help ensure the underfloor heating does not affect the stability of old and solid timber flooring.

There are much tighter regulations on the use of open fires in the home nowadays, but the fireplace still remains a major focal point. You may well find that keeping an open fire is against modern safety regulations, but that doesn’t mean your original fireplace has to be thrown away and replaced with a contemporary one. You could keep the original fireplace and either amend it for gas use or consider a bioethanol insert. Alternatively, if the surrounding mantel is the only original element of the fireplace left, you could line the chimney and install a wood-burning stove.

How FABRICO can help

Within the FABRICO Group we have teams with specialist knowledge and experience of renovating period properties, from designing and making structural changes to supplying specialist materials, painting and decorating.We are always pleased to discuss your plans and give you the benefit of our time and expertise. Feel free to contact us either through our website (click here to contact us) or email us

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