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Maintaining & Reparing Farm Buildings

Historic England has produced practical advice on maintaining and repairing traditional farm buildings aimed at those who own or manage them.

The advice primarily covers buildings in active farming or related uses, but it is also relevant for buildings that face an uncertain future or need urgent works to prevent them from deteriorating further.

Roof of farm building at Glencoyne Farm, Cumbria
Roof of farm building at Glencoyne Farm, Cumbria © Historic England

The value of traditional farm buildings can easily be compromised by neglect or poor repair. It therefore makes good economic sense for farm businesses to include planned maintenance in their annual budgets, not least because major repairs cost far more than ongoing regular maintenance.

The Maintenance and Repair of Traditional Farm Buildings

The Maintenance and Repair of Traditional Farm Buildings

Published 23 September 2011

This publication gives practical advice to farmers, land managers and others involved with the maintenance and repair of traditional farm buildings.

What is maintenance?

Maintenance differs from repair work in that it is the continuous protective care of the building.  Repair on the other hand is work to put right significant decay or damage that has already occurred.

Maintenance can be carried out either on an ‘as needs’ basis or as part of a pro-active cyclical plan.

Having a maintenance plan

The best way to retain the value of a farm building is to keep it in good condition and weather-tight. When carried out on a regular basis, maintenance prevents those predictable and often expensive types of failure that occur within the life of a building.

For example, cleaning gutters on an annual basis can be much cheaper than dealing with rot in the feet of rafters or a wall-plate.

Planned maintenance means regular inspections, cleaning, testing and carrying out minor repairs. To make the task easier it is a good idea to work from a plan which states how frequently each maintenance inspection or task is to be carried out.

Most jobs will be annual but additional inspections should be made after one-off events such as bad weather or accidental physical damage.

Carrying out repairs

The purpose of repair is to stop the process of decay without damaging the historic, architectural, or archaeological significance of the farm building and its landscape context.

This generally means carrying out the minimum work necessary to put the building into a sound condition. The repair work should also pay due regard to habitats for wildlife that the building/s and the site may provide.

The key issues to consider when carrying out repairs include:

  • Retain as much significant historic material as possible
    Replacing historic components and features can undermine the value and authenticity of a building. Contractors who have the right building skills can usually repair decayed or failed components rather than replacing them.
  • Minimise changes
    Altering features that give the building its historic or architectural importance should be avoided. If significant features have already been lost, there may be a case for reinstatement providing that there is good evidence for their former existence.
  • Use appropriate methods and materials
    A key feature of traditional farm buildings is the use of ‘breathable’ materials in their construction. Permeable materials coupled with the good ventilation, inherent in most farm buildings, allow moisture to escape without causing damage to the building fabric. Serious damage can result from the use of incompatible materials that restrict this ability of the building fabric to ‘breathe’.
  • Matrch repair materials carefully
    New materials should be close matches for those being repaired or replaced.
  • Respect historic repairs or changes
    Repairs or additions made in the past may be of historic interest. They need to be considered rather than simply being removed because they are of later date.
  • Only use a modern material if it helps to retain original features
    Modern materials, such as stainless steel ties, can be the best solution if they allow significant historic fabric to be retained and avoid the need to dismantle parts of the building. Resin repairs to timbers can sometimes help retain more material than traditional methods and so aid future interpretation of the building’s history.
  • Do not rob material from other buildings
    Avoid using second-hand materials of unknown provenance as this encourages the practice of ‘robbing out’ material from existing buildings that may be of historic and architectural value.
  • Obtain professional help
    Take professional advice before carrying out major repairs that go beyond the minor repairs needed as part of a maintenance plan. The conservation and repair of traditional buildings often requires specialist skills if mistakes and unnecessary damage are to be avoided.

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