When I purchased my heritage-designated home nearly ten years ago, it wasn’t entirely clear to me what that would mean. Well, several renovation projects later, I know precisely what it means!
Ottawa’s Heritage Homes!
The City of Ottawa has a few heritage designations – one for individual properties, which is what I have on my home, another for entire districts and yet a third for cultural heritage character areas. Carlington with it’s post-war homes is an example of this one. Ottawa has many conservation districts – sometimes referred to as a conservation overlay – and they generally mean you can make changes, but she changes will require City approval. I lived previously in a neighbourhood where a heritage overlay was imposed while I lived there and most of the residents were all for it, hoping to impede the growth of modern infill housing. But I digress!
What Does it Mean if you are Buying a Heritage Home?
A heritage designation on a property essentially means there are restrictions on changing the facade in any way. Some homes, like mine, also have restrictions on changing some interior elements. These designated homes with have a City plaque on the facade. The up side is that there are some heritage grants available to homeowners – which makes perfect sense since replacement to mimic original elements can cost more. The downside is things take longer and require an extra step.
Fully Understanding “Heritage Designation”
Understanding exactly what and what does not require approval is sometimes the toughest part. In general, I found the Heritage department to be flexible enough to consider options when necessary and to provide lists of suggested suppliers. But knowing before buying a heritage property requires a conversation and documentation from the Heritage department to fully understand the individual components of a property’s restrictions. As an example, my home is a mid-century bungalow designed by a well-known Canadian architect. Thus the designation. Not all of his homes are designated, so it really depends on whether a past homeowner has applied for designation. In my case, there were built in furniture elements and specific rooms that fall into the do-not-change list. Working around those elements has been both challenging and rewarding. A buyer for a heritage property needs to have an appreciation for the era and prefer restoration to renovation, for sure!
Dealing With the Department!
In general, I have found the answers to questions about changing things are greatly influenced by which part of the house you’re asking about. It seems changes that can be seen from the front are automatic no’s. That includes an addition on the side, a second story or any changes to the appearance of the roofline. This might explain why windows are high on the list of items needing approval. I have heard of a heritage property owner whose home was very, very old and the cost of replacing the windows so that they mimic the originals was so astronomical, it took plenty of time to find a solution. But I have not experienced this. In general, the department was easy to work with. I think there is a mutual respect for the owner who wants to honour the home’s heritage and the people employed to protect it.
If you are looking at a heritage designated property, definitely seeks the advice of an expert and take time to do your research. And do not assume a heritage designation means bad things for resale. When I purchased mine there were five offers on the property. Only the developers steered clear. There is plenty that is positive and special about a heritage designation!