All buildings require regular maintenance to prevent them from falling into a state of disrepair and endangerment. The importance of regular maintenance cannot be over estimated as most of the damage that occurs to older properties can be avoided by simple, small-scale maintenance regime. Inevitably, defects start as small problems and grow in scale when they do not receive the required attention. Maintenance will require only a small amount of time and will result in considerable savings in the longer term.
Simply noting broken rainwater goods, areas where serious decay may develop can be addressed early preventing further deterioration in the future. Without systematic maintenance the aesthetic appearance and fabric of the building can deteriorate to an unacceptable level. If this is allowed to continue more extensive restoration work is needed to ensure the preservation of the building.
The following although not intended to be exhaustive, identifies elements of a building which require regular maintenance that if overlooked can lead to serious problems
Blocked gutters and downpipes, especially hidden gutters, can lead to water penetration which can lead to many damp related problems and may result in structural problems in the longer term. Leaves and silt should be removed from gutters, flat roofs valleys, etc approximately every three months or more frequently during the autumn when leaves tend to fall in larger amounts and more often.
Most historic properties are constructed using a lime-based mortar, which have many superior features that modern cement based mortars. However, these lime mortars are more susceptible to damage caused by the roots of vegetation. Plant growth such as moss, should be removed from the building regularly to avoid the roots penetrating the structure causing instability and encouraging further water ingress into the building which may lead to problems associated with dampness. The acid run-off from moss and lichens can also gradually erode metals. There is a particular danger to lead work, but copper, zinc and iron are all at risk where these growths exist.
Redundant chimneys should not be sealed to allow for ventilation. Its imperative that historic buildings achieve a balance between the uptake of moisture from internal as well as external sources. Water vapour must be allowed to escape through ventilation openings and chimneys; otherwise condensation will occur which can lead to fungal attack. Disused chimneys should be cleaned and weather-proofed as water accumulating in a disused flue can be very damaging.
External woodwork, render and metalwork should be repainted every three to five years. Lime render should be lime washed. A variety of colours are available and the washes, when properly constituted, will give a durable finish that will allow the wall to breathe.
Pay particular attention to the state of the glazing, the glazing putty and the timberwork to ensure timber windows are in good order. Timber windows can be particularly vulnerable to rot attack so investigate any smells of rot or the mustiness of damp.
Why bother with old windows?
Sash windows constitute a major contribution to architecture, their different designs chart social, political and environmental history over the last 300 years, during which time they have been the dominant window type. Although a significant amount of sash windows remain, many are at risk from neglect, decay and the double glazing salesman.
Sash windows don't last very long, do they?
There are many examples of C18th sash windows surviving in-situ in Ireland and they are also in good repair. uPVC lasts for a maximum of 30 years, before either the rubber seals degrade, the plastic chalks, yellows and bends, or the double glazing itself perishes. That is, if all the components in your window are still working. Because of all the different companies selling uPVC, the varied types of components available and constant uPVC modifications windows, householders often find it very difficult to find a replacement part. Unlike wooden windows, you can't just cut the broken bit out and seamlessly mould a replacement part in to uPVC.
PVC is cellular in construction, which means its put together like a jigsaw, not carved like wood. uPVC makers are getting better at replicating detail, but still don't come close to wood. Poltrusion fibreglass can imitate thin glazing bars but these still need to be painted.
This is a total misnomer: a blowtorch will bend a PVCu frame, a gasket can easily be removed with a screwdriver. No insurance company will give a householder a reduction on household insurance because a house has uPVC windows. Double glazed windows may be harder to smash (true of wood or uPVC) but are the bane of fire brigades because they are difficult to get into in an emergency. Older uPVC units have been particularly susceptible to security failures. Less expensive units can be relatively easy to lever open, and even completely remove.
Are wooden windows drafty? Wood is a better insulator than uPVC. The same draftstripping is used in wood as in uPVC. Humans should have three changes of air per hour in a room. Well fitted single-glazed wooden windows which let in a certain amount of air work in a similar way to sealed up windows which use in-built, and obligatory, air regulation vents to allow the room to breath i.e. draft-proofing can be overdone. The Building Research Establishment has linked Sick Building Syndrome to poor indoor air quality and problems from increased condensation. Householders should also remember that it is not healthy to sit in a sealed room. Ventilation is an important part of a building, especially if the house has gas appliances fitted.
If we want to save life on earth as we know it, global C02 emissions must be cut by 60%-80% of current levels. To achieve this we have to drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels. The oil companies, however, have other ideas. They have massive funds to spread scientific doubt, misinformation and financial decline. If calamitous climate change occurs, inaction by rich nations will overshadow all other acts of barbarism in the history of mankind.
"Withdrawal from our dependency on fossil fuels will, unquestionable, be the greatest intentional change in technology and the structure of industrial economy ever undertaken, and will require a tremendous collective effort" David Fleming, The Lean Economy, The Little Earth Book 2000
"All the toxic minerals like mercury or fossil resources which we dig out of the earth, refine and use, will eventually degrade back into the land, water and air and cause cumulative pollution. We must not extract more than can be safely contained or reabsorbed." Jonathon Porritt, Playing Safe, The Little Earth Book 2000.
The average house changes hands every 7-10 years. It takes between 60 and 100 years for the average uPVC double glazed installation to pay for itself. If you spent the same amount on draftproofing existing windows, lagging the loft, changing to a more efficient boiler etc, you would see much more of a return on your investment after only five years! Secondary glazing can reduce up to 20 per cent of heat loss and provides additional security.
Two thirds of joinery companies are owned by uPVC window manufacturers, so their outlets for protest are effectively gagged. Small independent window makers do not have the resources to target people with the wooden window argument, and most are too busy with ongoing work to devote time to changing the market's overall direction.
Chlorine destroys ozone molecules? Lack of ozone kills plankton and plankton is more effective at hoovering up carbon dioxide than trees. It is obviously vital to only use trees, which are replaced or are commercially grown for the job.
Slates and Tiles
Loose or displaced slates can lead to water penetration and should be refixed as soon as possible. Broken slates or tiles should be replaced with matching ones.
Where lead flashings are failing they should receive attention. Refixed or replace damaged flashings as soon as possible. Lead roofs should be inspected for holes or splits that can lead to water penetration. The internal sign of water penetration is often far removed from the defect, as water will often move horizontally through the structure before finding a vertical path. Small repairs may be made using lead patches or whole sheets may need to be replaced. Either way this is a job for a specialist contractor. Additional information can be sought from the Lead Development Association.
Thatched roofs need regular, usually minor, repairs as a result of natural decay, wind or animal damage, and this should be carried out in a matching material by an experienced thatcher using materials tested for its nitrate content. High nitrate concentrations in thatching materials have resulted in expensive premature decay.
When repairs are necessary, they should be approached using the basic principles of conservation, so that as much of the original fabric can be retained where possible.
All too often repairs to the older buildings have removed large amounts of the original material, which have been replaced with replicas. An historic building loses its integrity when a substantial proportion of its original fabric has been replaced, as well as the patina of age that the material gains over the years. Repairing original building elements is often cheaper than manufactured replacements. For these reasons we recommend that you employ an architect with experience in repairing historic buildings.