s soon as you start to study old buildings and how to care for them the first thing you are made aware of today is the importance of using traditional materials. I would like to think that most owners of old building now understand this but sadly owners are not made aware of this fact until they go looking into it. If you are unaware that information is lacking in your knowledge of older properties unfortunately you won’t go looking for that information. I’m certain some of the people who will read this will have heard it all before but I’m also hoping that there may be someone out there who will benefit from the knowledge that properties built before the 20th century were built using different materials then we use today, and those properties are incompatible with modern building materials.
If you understand the basic principle on which old buildings function then it becomes obvious why using the appropriate materials are so important. Old buildings were built so that the building could breath, so that moisture would be absorbed into its fabric and moisture would naturally dry out again. These building were built with a softer material and it was accepted that a certain amount of movement would take place within the structure and that this movement would in no way damage that structure.
Today new buildings are meant to function in a different way. Today we seal buildings, we prevent moisture getting into them and we prevent movement. This works great in new buildings.
So what happens when we take a building, which is meant, to breath and move and try and stop it from breathing and moving? We get problems, we get rising damp, plaster being blown off walls, stones chipping and flaking, slates disintegrating and when we go to the experts for advice we are still being told the wrong information we are being told to try and further stop the building from doing what it is naturally supposed to do. They tell us to try and seal up every crack and stop its movement in the hopes that it will solve a problem that modern methods cannot solve. The amount of money owners have spent on improper repair when those funds could have gone towards preservation is atrocious. The cost of removing bad repairs is astronomical and trying to remove cement from an old building when cement itself is so much stronger then the fabric of the building is at times impossible.
For a very long time even the expert bodies such as English Heritage and Cadw were advising that a portion of cement was added into lime mixtures. This practice went on into the 1980’s it was only when after cement and concrete had been used on old buildings and enough time had elapsed for us to see the damage that these materials caused did the word slowly start to spread that these buildings were different and needed to be treated differently.
It would be nice if anyone who ever bought a listed building was given a book of advice. It might be better still if they were forced to take a course on how to care for these properties before being allowed to purchase one. Many well-meaning owners have made mistakes and many more mistakes will be made. The fact is however that these mistakes are being made on properties, which are irreplaceable, and we cannot afford to continue to make mistakes.
The information is out there to be found but owners of listed buildings as well as older properties need to actively look for it in order that they and their buildings will be able to benefit.