Carrying out electrical work in listed buildings
DRF Electrical have carried out a number of projects recently involving electrical work in listed buildings. Because of constraints around such buildings, there are some key considerations to bear in mind when undertaking this kind of work. It can be challenging and more time-consuming but it can also be rewarding and interesting.
So what do you need to consider when carrying out electrical work in listed buildings? We’ve used our experience and expertise to compile a brief overview of the key points.
Consent and inspections
Not all electrical work in listed buildings is subject to the same constraints, and a lot depends on whether you are installing for the first time, or repairing or replacing an existing electrical installation. However, it goes without saying that every project should try and cause the least amount of damage to the architectural and historic integrity of the building. This can sometimes present a challenge because of the intrusive nature of electrical installation work.
As well as adhering to building regulations, there may be a statutory requirement for listed building consent, which is granted by the local planning authority. Be aware that even if you are replacing like-for-like materials, consent may still be required. The work should be registered with, and inspected by, a building control organisation. For larger projects, a qualified mechanical and electrical (M&E) engineer should be consulted, and the work will also most likely need to be inspected by a Preservation Officer.
Repairing existing electrical installations in a listed building
Essential repairs will need to be carried out from time to time to the electrics in listed buildings, to ensure their function and heritage is maintained. Consideration may need to be given to electrical fixtures and fittings that are deemed significant and should be retained. This kind of electrical work is usually subject to an official application and a list of requirements.
Electrical installations in a listed building
Electrical installations for the first time in an old building can present many challenges, not least working out how to fit an electrical system into a building that was not designed to accommodate it or, indeed, was designed before electricity was even discovered! Specific expertise and experience is needed to ensure the work not only fulfils the purpose of the installation but also meets legal and safety standards while respecting the building’s heritage.
Use a professional
Most electrical work should ideally be undertaken by a certified electrician who is NICEIC registered. Any electrical work in listed buildings requires additional specific skills and expertise, as well as experience in such work, to ensure that the original architectural and historic features are retained as much as possible.
Collaboration with other contractors on a listed building project will also be needed to ensure the electrical work is carried out in the most sensitive and safe way possible.
A different approach
As mentioned above, any electrical work in listed buildings should be approached sensitively, with care taken to ensure minimal disturbance and to preserve the architectural and historic features of the structure.
But there are also more practical considerations to take into account. Many listed buildings are no longer used for their original purpose, so any electrical work will require a different approach to the one used for modern, purpose-built buildings.
Creativity may be needed to minimise the visual and physical impact of the work. This could include using alternative, concealed or disguised fittings and switches, or using modern technology such as remote or smart systems to reduce the amount of cabling.
Electricians may need to access or work in awkward or tight spaces such as cellars, roof spaces, chimneys, panelling and floor cavities, as these tend to be non-sensitive areas of the building ideal for concealing electrical components and cabling.
Fixtures and fittings
Original electrical fittings should be retained if they are of historic value, either disconnected or connected to a new system. Alternatively, new ones can be used that reflect the aesthetics and history of the building. Fittings for older forms of lighting can be converted for use as electrical lights, while old fuse boards can sometimes be fitted with modern elements.
Durability of components should also be considered, to ensure minimal maintenance, replacement or repair in sensitive areas of the building.
It’s recommended that most new electrical installations should be inspected and tested by a qualified electrician at least every five years. However, older installations, such as those often found in listed buildings, should be maintained on an annual basis to check for wear and tear, damage, and loose or broken connections which could cause fire or safety risks.