Old building information
Are you responsible for looking after an old building- a pre-1919 building?
Traditional methods of construction were widely used in Wales until the early 20th century to build a broad range of types and styles of buildings over the years. Industrial terraced houses, farmhouses and agricultural buildings, cottages, churches, manor houses and castles can all be considered ‘traditional’, and many are still in everyday use and are not listed.
Older buildings are valuable for what they tell you about the past, and they currently make up a third of Welsh homes. However, looking after one properly can prove to be a challenge, since they work in a very different way from modern buildings.
Using modern technology on your old building will not only change its appearance and alter its character, but it can damage the building. It is therefore important to use a contractor that understands the importance of using traditional materials (see choosing your contractor).
- Walls of nearly all pre-1919 buildings were built in a completely different way from those that have been built later.
- Before 1919 most buildings had solid walls, made of breathable natural materials. Bricks and stones were generally held together with permeable mortars made up of lime and sand.
- Old buildings were originally built, plastered and rendered in lime.
- Thick, solid walls are designed to manage water through presenting a physical barrier to the rain. Typically the wetter the climate and the greater the driven rain, the thicker the walls.
- When it rains moisture is absorbed though the lime render. When the moisture level in the air around the house drops, the moisture leaves through the outer surface by evaporation.
- Today, cavity walls have been adopted as the standard method of construction.
- Techniques and materials that are used on new buildings, such as cement renders, are totally incompatible with traditional solid wall construction. A cement render will trap water within a solid wall, whereas a ‘vapour-permeable’ material like lime will not.
- Trapped water results in damp interior walls and low temperatures within the house. This then results in condensation and mould, and ultimately can result in accelerated decay to elements of the structure and significant damage to the building.
- Solid floors; made up of bricks or flagstones, which are laid directly on earth, need to breathe through the joints.
- Problems occur when rubber-backed carpets, plastic floor covering and linoleum are laid directly onto old floors or onto concrete screed that is applied to old floors. The moisture is unable to escape and this can then result in the formation of mould and damp.
- In the majority of old houses the windows are made from wood.
- If well maintained, timber framed windows have a very long life. Replacement should only be considered if completely necessary, and any replacement should match the original design as closely as possible.
- The position, proportions, the glazing pattern and the detailing of original windows in old houses forms an important element to defining it’s character.
The need for proper and adequate maintenance – when it comes to older building it is very important that it is maintained correctly and regularly. Regular maintenance is vital to help avoid expensive problems at a later stage.
Further information can be found at the following websites:-
- Historic Scotland - Inform Guides
- The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings - SPAB
- Understanding Traditional Buildings
For information on further literature please contact us.