Choosing a contractor

There may be occasions when you need help to maintain your building. Cadw is unable to recommend contractors, but here are a few simple tips to help you choose the right professional advisor, builder or craftsperson.

Architect or building surveyor

Not all architects and surveyors are used to working with historic buildings and traditional building techniques, so choose someone who:

• Has the necessary skills, knowledge and experience.

• Ideally, has had specialist training in building conservation.

• Belongs to an appropriate professional body, such as the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) or Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). Many professional advisors who regularly work with historic buildings are also members of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC).

• Ideally, has been recommended to you. If not, you may want to ask the person for details of past projects that are similar to yours and arrange to visit the properties and speak to the owners.

As well as carrying out maintenance inspections on your behalf, an architect or building surveyor will be able to advise you on what needs to be done and how. If necessary, he or she can prepare a specification, seek competitive quotes from suitable builders, and oversee the project to ensure that it is carried out to an appropriate standard.

Although you will be charged a fee for this work, appointing a professional advisor for anything more than minor repairs may save you money in the long run by ensuring that only necessary work is carried out, that it is properly completed and that you are charged a fair price.

If you have difficulty finding a conservation architect or surveyor, the professional bodies should be able to advise you on suitable people working in your area. You could also ask the conservation officer in your local planning department for a recommendation.

Structural engineer

If you have identified a problem that may affect the structural integrity of your building, such as movement in a wall or roof structure, you may need to seek advice from a structural engineer. In most cases, your architect or surveyor will be able to recommend someone with suitable conservation experience. Again, the conservation officer in your local planning department should be able to help. Alternatively, contact The Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) for contact details of suitable engineers.

Builders and craftspeople

Unfortunately, most builders lack experience of working with traditional building materials and techniques, and modern methods are not usually suitable for historic buildings. Indeed, the introduction of inappropriate materials can cause far more damage and be far more costly to put right than the original problem that they were intended to remedy. It is therefore essential that you choose a builder or craftsperson with the appropriate skills and knowledge for the job in hand. It is also essential to find someone who understands the principles of building conservation and will only do what is necessary. Windows, for example, should be repaired whenever possible, rather than replaced.

Try to choose a contractor whose work you know and trust. Ideally, the builder or craftsperson should be able to provide evidence of his or her ability to carry out the work required, which may include possession of a Heritage Skills Card. Details of the card scheme can be found on the Construction Skill Certification Scheme website.  If you are in any doubt, your architect or surveyor, or the local planning authority’s conservation officer should be able to suggest someone suitable.

Further help

If you need further help finding a contractor:

• Telephone the Technical Advice Line (020 7456 0916) operated by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) on weekdays between 9:30am and 12:30pm. The advice line staff can answer questions and give advice about specific maintenance or repair problems, and may also be able to suggest suitable contractors in or near your area.

• Contact the relevant professional or trade organization.  Many now have have useful directories that can be consulted online.

• Visit www.buildingconservation.com, where you can find an online directory of contractors and suppliers experienced in the restoration and conservation of historic buildings, as well as useful articles and other information.

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Greg Stevenson Greg Stevenson

'Guidance on what you should consider when selecting a contractor for works on your historic building.'
Greg Stevenson