Project Planning: 10 Tips for Success

What you need to know before making alterations to your heritage building

Before taking on any maintenance projects or making alterations to your heritage building, it is important to consider how changes may affect your building’s heritage character and significance as well as its performance. Too many historic buildings have suffered from poor planning and hasty renovations. Good planning can ensure you achieve your goals while retaining the endearing charm of your old building. There are professionals that can help you with every step. VHF recommends gaining professional advice and services from qualified individuals experienced with heritage. This guide will help in understanding key considerations and steps when planning a project whether it is a small repair or large rehabilitation.

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1. Get familiar with the National Standards & Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada.

The Standards and Guidelines offer guidance and advice when planning alterations or interventions to historic sites and buildings to ensure heritage fabric is preserved. Canada’s Historic Places has created a short presentation about the guidelines in addition to the full document for your reference.

2. Review other conservation resources.

a. Heritage Conservation 101 provides a good synopsis of heritage conservation in Canada.

b. Rehab: Yes or No? and What is Historic Character? are two interactive guides to heritage conservation. One takes you through a series of common renovation scenarios, the other helps you assess heritage features. Although created by the USA National Park Service, the principles apply to Canadian heritage as well.

c. Practical Guidelines for the Sustainable Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings in Canada advises on how to upgrade historic buildings in a sustainable manner while maintaining historic fabric and character.

3. Learn more about your building’s history & historic architectural character.

Use our guide to researching heritage buildings and investigate when your house or building was built, who lived there and how the neighbourhood has evolved. Also, explore Vancouver House Styles and other architecture resources to decipher your building’s style and heritage features. Finally, remember to consider how the building fits with the surrounding landscape and if there are elements of the site that impact the building’s heritage character. Perhaps the original landscaping was thoughtfully integrated with the building’s architecture, like in this West Coast Modern home described in the video below.

4. Document the current condition of your building.

Make note of past interventions, existing character-defining elements and relationships between features. This provides an historic record as well as being a useful reference when making a conservation plan. The preservation brief on architectural investigation by the National Park Service can help guide you in mapping out the features of your building. Also make note of minor and major maintenance issues as you inspect the building and site. Consider having a professional evaluation of the building’s energy performance. Energy evaluations are useful in assessing the most effective solutions for improving energy efficiency for your particular building. Make sure to seek out a Certified Energy Advisor with knowledge of historic buildings.

5. Consider how proposed interventions will affect heritage features & building performance.

Do the interventions minimally impact heritage character? Do they improve building performance and maintenance costs? Refer to the National Standards and Guidelines for guidance and consider hiring a heritage professional to help you develop a specific conservation plan for your building that mitigates impact to heritage values while incorporating economic and environmental values.

6. Determine whether your building is on the Vancouver Heritage Register, is municipally designated, or within a heritage conservation area.

It is important to know how your building is classified, as there are policies and By-Laws that apply differently to designated heritage buildings, buildings on the Register and character homes. Note that not all heritage homes are listed on the Register and not all buildings on the Register are designated. If your building is designated under the Heritage By-Law, it is noted on the Heritage Register and the property land title. Explore our Heritage Site Finder or view the Heritage Register to discover your buildings classification. 

7. Learn about the policies & By-Laws that apply to your building.

Visit our Policies & By-Laws page for an overview of the policies affecting heritage buildings in Vancouver and details on the City of Vancouver’s Heritage Action Plan. There is also a review of the 2014 Vancouver Building By-Law. The review outlines the requirements for heritage buildings under the new By-Law and points out areas where alternative compliance solutions can be found to retain heritage fabric. 
See the City of Vancouver’s website for details on alteration permits for designated buildings and heritage area zoning regulations. VHF recommends always obtaining appropriate permits for any work on your building or home.

8. Decide whether your project requires professional consultation.

Heritage consultants are available to assess your building’s heritage character and significance, and to develop a conservation plan. There are also several architects, landscapers and contractors that specialize in heritage buildings who can help you with restoration and maintenance projects. Visit our Consult a Professional page for more info.

9. Develop a financial strategy & find funding for your heritage project.

Regular maintenance can keep your building in good condition and prevent the need for large costly projects. However, even the best maintained home or building eventually needs a new furnace or roof, for example. Having a financial plan that goes hand in hand with your maintenance plan and incorporates your lifestyle goals can save you major headaches.

When planning, also make sure to look for financial incentives available to heritage buildings! VHF offers grants for painting, restoration and energy efficient retrofits. Visit our granting page to learn more.

10. Finally, remember to keep a log of alterations and maintenance projects.

Keeping a record of alterations helps track maintenance needs and streamline future planning.

Sample Project Log

For more on conservation plans and maintenance planning:

Heritage Branch BC: Conservation Planning 

Maintenance for Heritage Buildings