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Top Tips

Sense and Sustainability

Sustainability seems to be buzzword at the moment, but actually it's something that for the last 130 years has been at the heart of everything that The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) stands for.

Neglect On founding SPAB in 1877, William Morris spoke of the need to "stave off decay by daily care, to prop a perilous wall or mend a leaky roof." He saw that the best way to preserve and conserve the integrity of an old building was to ensure that it was protected against the worst that time and the elements could throw at it.

Maintenance is important to buildings of all ages and types and is as vital today as it was in Morris's time. Interestingly, his conservative approach to the repair and care of old buildings, was, and still is, the perfect expression of sustainability. SPAB believes that an old building should be sensitively mended rather than restored. When you repair rather than replace original features you continue the integrity of the building, allowing it to continue to do its job in the tried and tested way that the craftsman who originally built it understood.

An old property has stood the test of time. It is likely to have been built from local materials that are appropriate to the surrounding environment. But even sturdy old buildings need regular maintenance to ensure that they continue. Whatever its age, if a building is neglected it will decay and fail, possibly to the point where it may even have to be demolished and replaced!

Environmentally it makes sense to protect and conserve what's already there rather build new. When new houses are built in place of older ones the process entails many lorry loads of new materials, potentially traveling great distances, being transported to the site. Some of these new materials may not even be appropriate to the region and, inadvertently, could even be contributing to the wider environmental problems affecting the whole planet - the shipment of illegally logged timber for example.

BuddleiaIntroducing apparently efficient modern features like double glazing to an old building can lead to problems - and leaves a marked carbon footprint over the landscape in terms of the materials and vehicles needed to create and transport these new additions.

Old buildings also contain ‘embedded' or ‘embodied' energy. All the effort and materials it took to build them in the past will be wasted if they are allowed to rot - hardly a sustainable position in ‘The Age of Sustainability'.

Maintenance makes economic sense too. A well-cared for building will almost always retain maximum value and the cost of regular maintenance will more than repay itself whether or not you sell your property. A small regular investment in maintenance can limit the need for or the extent of expensive repairs. The annual cleaning of gutters and drains, for example, can be much cheaper and less inconvenient than having to cope with a serious outbreak of dry rot in the timbers of your roof caused by years of neglect.

SPAB's top tips for simple sustainable maintenance

1. Always think: 'what can I repair, not replace?'

2. A damp wall allows greater heat loss - don't leave it to get worse. SPAB's technical advice line can help you take the right action and make the right decision to tackle the problem. Telephone 0207 456 0916 (Mon/Tues/ Thurs) 0207 043 1075 (Weds).

3. Keeping your gutters, drains and rainwater pipes free from blockages can help you to avoid damp decay.

4. Replacing missing roof tiles or slates can stop water penetrating your roof and causing damp decay to timbers and roof trusses.

5. Blocked drains and gullies can lead to subsidence.

6. Clear below floor vents to avoid dry rot in timbers.

Paint failure

7. Painting exterior wood and metalwork every three to five years preserves the fabric.

8. Raised ground levels around a house can bridge the damp course and cause internal plaster to decay. Keep ground abutting the house to 150mm below the damp proofing course (dpc) or floor level if a dpc does not exist.



9. Cut back growths such as ivy or other climbing plants on the exterior of your property. Along with masking faults, these types of growth can cause structural damage and dampness.

10. Fix that dripping tap - both indoors and outdoors. A dripping external tap can cause damp if the water begins to penetrate the wall. It has been estimated that a constantly dripping tap wastes at least 5,500 litres of water a year - enough to fill a paddling pool every week for the whole summer. Faulty bath and shower seals - problems that are simple to address - are another prime source of dampness and decay.