First of all, it's worth saying that there's no outright law against fitting double glazed windows into listed buildings. Instead, it's down to your local authority to grant permission, which they will decide on a case by case basis. As bureaucratic as it might sound, don't be tempted to skip your application as all unauthorized works on your listed home are a criminal offense, with scope for a custodial sentence. Put simply, there's a chance – although it's admittedly small – that you could go to jail.
Traditionally though, many of those that have made an application have been disappointed. There's a real culture of minimal intervention when it comes to conservation in this country, meaning that in practice it's difficult to get permission to replace anything that's less than absolutely essential. Until recently, this was pretty much accepted when it came to double glazing, especially as many thick uPVC products did little to improve a listed building's appearance.
However, technology has come on a long way over the past few years. Ultra-thin double glazing units are now available that fit into most existing single glazing openings and not be noticed. Yet even these have been rejected in large numbers by local authorities despite their green credentials – replacing one square metre of single glazing with low-E double glazing can save around 90kg of carbon dioxide emissions per year by cutting down on heat loss.
In spite of this, there's still some hope. In late March, a new government policy paper, Planning Policy Statement 5: Planning for the Historic Environment [PPS5] was released. This document puts a much greater emphasis on protecting the environment and making historic buildings less environmentally damaging. At the moment the PPS5 just serves as a guide, and doesn’t provide much information about its practical application. Yet it does make clear that the drive for sustainability must be balanced against the need to preserve the integrity of historic buildings. It will take some time before it becomes clear if this translates into more planning permissions being granted, but for now, it's a start.
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