- Gutters & Downpipes
- Pointing & Rendering
- Exposing the underlying material
- Roof coverings
- Other elements
- The Setting
These are the elements of a building that tend to be replaced most often, with unsympathetic and inappropriate replacements, which alter the character of the building immensely. Most of the Protected Structures in Co.Westmeath retain their original or early timber sash windows. These will usually be between one hundred and two hundred years old but with professional repair and conservation they may last for another hundred years, making repair a sound economic and environmentally friendly propositions as well as being historically vital. In most instances, failing sash windows can be repaired by an experienced joiner. Sadly they are often replaced because they are too draughty or rotten, or that they stick or cannot be opened. Serious consideration should always be given to conservation rather than replacement.
While there may be occasions where a window is beyond repair, where this occurs it should be replaced with a replica using the same material. The joiner should take particular care to match the details of the sash boxes, glazing bars and patterns, and any horns or shutters of the original. Crown glass, an important feature, should be retained when windows are being refurbished. This type of glass was only superseded in the middle of the nineteenth century, when float glass was invented allowing the manufacture of larger pieces of glass. Crown glass has a distinctive sparkle and slightly distorts images when looked through. Every effort should be made to retain existing stone windowsills in good condition and they should not be replaced with slim line concrete sills.
The same criteria also applies to the internal and external doors of your building. Where internal doors are required to be fire resistant they can now be modified, rather than discarded. Traditionally, external joinery was painted; windows white and doors a different colour. If you decide to recreate the original colour scheme paint scrapings can be taken and matched with colours available from specialist manufacturers.
The majority of Protected Structures/Historic Buildings have gutters and downpipes made from cast iron. This is a very resilient material and often will clean up very well and be reusable. It is essential that, if part or all of the system needs to be replaced, cast metal, preferably cast iron, be used. Most modern lightweight alternatives, as well as being out of place historically, are prone to damage from ladders. It is also important that when replacing gutters care should be taken not to alter the eaves detail, for instance by introducing timber or uPVC fascia/bargeboards where there wasn't one before.
Most historic buildings constructed before the discovery of Portland cement in the middle of the C19th used mortars bound together with lime and, if rendered, lime render. Those built after this time were still constructed with mortar where the binder was mainly comprised of lime. These mortars are flexible and allow buildings to breathe and move slightly without cracking. When cement based mortars are used in repairs they are less flexible and prevent the natural evaporation of moisture through the mortar joints. This can cause dampness and also force the moisture to pass through the bricks or stonework resulting in unsightly salts being deposited on the face of your building, and fracturing of the wall face.
Severe damage can be caused to brickwork and stonework by using angle grinders to remove mortar. If this method seems necessary to extract existing mortar it means that in fact it does not need to be replaced. It is crucial that if mortar has to be replaced every effort must be made to match the original mortar in content and appearance. If necessary this can be achieved by chemical analysis. Suitably graded sand and aggregate of a matching colour should be obtainable locally, 'Harling', the local name for traditional roughcast, has a soft rounded appearance not only because of the coats of lime wash applied over the years, but because river gravel was often used as the aggregate.
The method of pointing is also visually very important and when re-pointing, particularly in terraces and groups, every effort should be made to match the appearance of the original. 'Strap' pointing and 'recessed' pointing are to be avoided. Joints should be raked out to three times the depth of the joint, the bed wetted, and mortar rammed home in three layers; otherwise the new mortar will not adhere properly and may fall out after a short time. Re-rendering with a cement based render or redecorating with a waterproof coating in an attempt to stop water penetration can have a harmful effect, as the wall will not be able to breathe.
The trend of stripping the external render of buildings to expose the rubble stone construction is a recent phenomenon. While the perception that the exposed stone is more aesthetically pleasing, there is a lack of understanding and awareness that the process of removing the render may cause more damage to the building in the longer term.
While stone is recognised as a traditional building material, it must be stressed that historically, the only buildings that were meant to be exposed were the important civic buildings such as banks, market houses, churches and courthouses etc. This can be explained by the fact that these buildings were prominently located and were designed to make a statement as well as projecting an image that the people who built them and used them were wealthy. The stone used in these buildings are generally of good quality having been specifically cut, dressed and laid in regular courses with narrow joints between them to prevent water penetrating. In contrast, the more modest buildings that make up our streetscapes were constructed using local rubble stone. This type of construction is not very efficient at keeping the weather out because the joints are large and the stones uneven in shape. This irregularity encouraged water ingress and associated damp problems. To prevent such problems arising, the rubble stone walls were typically plastered with a lime render, which acted as a protective layer while allowing the building to breathe.
Where renders have been removed, in most cases, a poor quality stone is revealed with large irregular joints. Brick can sometimes also be revealed when removing the renders, this would strongly suggest that the building would have originally been covered with an external render, most likely using a lime based mix. The argument for making this assumption is that because Ireland was a poor nation historically, only the rich used the best stone to construct buildings, and as mentioned earlier these buildings tend to be designed to make an architectural statement. The less well off population therefore tended to use the readily available fieldstones covered in a textured rendered to disguise the cheap materials. In the case of a building constructed from a mix of materials, it would not have been desirable to expose the various building materials and hence to minimise embarrassment at that time, there is no doubt that buildings such as these would have been deliberately built to be rendered.
There are three main types of roof covering materials used on historic buildings - natural slate, thatch and lead sheet. Original materials and methods of fixing should be respected and fibre cement slates and concrete tiles should not be used in repairs. The public's perception of thatch has largely changed, and now in parts of the UK and Ireland the craft of thatching is enjoying a revival, with both old and new thatched properties selling at a premium. There are, however, a small percentage of thatched buildings survive nationally, and in an effort to encourage owners to maintain thatch roofing the Department of the Environment and Local Government provide grants assistance for repair and maintenance of thatched roofs.
Internal details and materials of a building are as important as the external. Original plasterwork, joinery, including stairs and window linings, floors, skirtings and fireplaces all contribute to the value of a building. Often existing materials can be carefully removed, stored and reused. Similar materials are frequently available second-hand, such as bricks and natural slates. It is well worth identifying a source of similar materials before starting works as otherwise delays may be experienced, and your builder may press for the use of inferior or inappropriate modern materials in order to save time.#
The setting of a Protected Structure is often extremely important and is also protected by legislation from detrimental development. Too often gardens, gates and gate posts are sacrificed to provide wider access or additional car parking resulting in the degrading of the building's setting. In many cases the setting of a building was specifically designed to enhance the property. Examples range from the English landscape style of the eighteenth century encompassing entire demesnes, to the more modest avenue of trees leading to a country house or church.
Historic buildings as well as being important individually were sometimes designed to be appreciated as part of a group, for instance in a square or terrace. This group value can apply even to modest buildings. It can often be enhanced by the owners agreeing to joint painting schemes and other group actions that could mitigate the possibility that the decision of an individual owner will damage this group context. For instance, if one building in a stone faced terrace is cleaned whilst the others are not, it will stand out obtrusively, instead of taking its place in the total composition of the group.
Gates and gateposts are often an integral part of the setting of a building. In rural areas the traditional iron gates and stone pillars are important not only to the individual building, but to the rural environment generally and so are worth maintaining just as much as the buildings themselves.