Tile pavement
Tile pavement © Historic England
Tile pavement © Historic England

Materials for Historic Building Repairs

Buildings inevitably decay over time and will need repair. This section covers the selection and use of materials when repairing historic buildings.

Selecting the most appropriate materials for repair requires expertise, and sometimes considerable investigation is needed. The use of authentic traditional materials helps to retain the character of historic buildings and in turn supports traditional industries and vital craft skills. In some cases, though, alternative materials may be appropriate - especially if they allow more of the original building fabric to be conserved - but only if they have been tried and tested for use on historic buildings.

Whatever material is chosen, it must be compatible with the existing fabric. As well as the appearance of the repair material, you also need to consider its physical properties; some materials can actually harm the existing historic fabric and speed up deterioration. You should also consider the potential durability of the repair material and its future maintenance requirements; what might seem like the cheapest option might not always work out so in the long run.

The following topics are covered in this section:

  • Identifying and sourcing stone for repair
    Provides help with identifying the correct stone and sourcing a supply.
  • Stone slate roofing
    Information on sourcing stone slates for roofing with good practice guidance on installation.
  • Selecting timber
    Information on sourcing softwood for repair work.
  • Sourcing lead paint
    Explains the process to follow if you want to either use or supply lead paint for use.
  • Nanolime
    Advice on the use of nanolime to consolidate weathered limestone
  • Metals
    Information on Historic England’s research and guidance on deterioration and conservation of metals, particularly lead roofing.

Specialist directories

There is now a wide range of suppliers of many different types of material required for the repair of traditionally constructed buildings, such as lime for mortars, hair for plasters, hand-made bricks and clay roofing tiles and bricks.

Details can be found in specialist directories such as The Building Conservation Directory.

Learn more: Historic England webinars

View our extensive range of webinar recordings:

  • Mortars for conservation: 2021 webinars on Mortars for conservation: History and materials and Mortars in Conservation: Mortar analysis. Conservation professionals commonly use a familiar and favoured palette of materials. These have changed immeasurably over the past decades, according to evolving research, commercial availability and ephemeral fashion. This webinar examines historic mortars of the past, changing attitudes to conservation mortars and some of the issues with current materials and practice.
    The first webinar is an introduction while the second one address mortar analysis and its role in specification.
  • Earthen mortar:
    • 2020 webinar on earthen mortars and plasters. Anyone working in conservation will be aware of the past use of lime mortar, but what about earthen mortar? Where was it used and what was it used for? This presentation explores this under-appreciated material, explaining what it is, where and how it was used, and how to approach repair and conservation.
    • 2021 webinar on conservation case studies on earthen mortar. This starts with a brief review on how earthen mortar was used in the past before looking at two case studies on it's use in Barholm Old Hall, Lincolnshire and Horneystead, Northumberland.
  • Materials science: 2020 webinar on materials science for building conservation.
    This webinar explores the contribution of materials science to the conservation of built heritage. It explains how scientific techniques carried out in the laboratory or on site can be used to learn more about material composition and causes of decay, and how this can inform repair strategies and specifications. It describes some of the challenges and limitations to be aware of when commissioning materials science work. It also presents an overview of the setup of pilot-sites to assess conservation treatments in historic buildings, and the role of materials science in the development of innovative conservation treatments.
  • Purbeck marble: 2020 webinar on hard to treat stones focussing on Purbeck marble.
    Purbeck marble is a decorative stone which was used throughout England, largely during the medieval period. Examples can be found today all over the country. It suffers from unusual forms of decay and is a difficult stone to treat. It has been subject to a range of conservation treatments, some of which have caused more problems than they solved. This webinar discusses the deterioration of this significant stone and options for its conservation.
  • Concrete: 2021 webinar on Conservation of reinforced concrete.

For the best webinar experience, please use Google Chrome browser or download Adobe Connect.

Sign up to our Technical Conservation Newsletter

If you'd like to receive our latest technical conservation news and events details each month, please join our mailing list. Send an email to [email protected] to request the newsletter and please remember to include your full name. You can unsubscribe at any time. For more information about how Historic England handles personal data please visit our privacy policy.