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Maintenance and Repair of Older Buildings

Maintenance and repair are needed to tackle the inevitable decay and deterioration of building fabric that occurs because of climatic conditions, wear and tear by building users, neglect or other threats.

What is Maintenance?

Maintenance can be defined as “routine work necessary to keep the fabric of a place in good order” (Conservation Principles 2008).

The main objective of maintenance is to limit deterioration. Inspections carried out at regular intervals, coupled with prompt action to pre-empt or remedy problems, are the basis of effective maintenance.

Maintenance is cost-effective, the time and money spent on routine care, regular surveys and minor repairs protect the value of the building. Good maintenance also helps to ensure the health and safety of building users and the general public.

Although it is often seen as mundane, maintenance forms a cornerstone of building conservation.

Find out more about maintenance plans

What is repair?

Repair can be defined as “work beyond the scope of maintenance, to remedy defects caused by decay, damage or use, including minor adaptation to achieve a sustainable outcome, but not involving alteration or restoration” (Conservation Principles 2008)

Repair is normally carried out to sustain the significance of the building or place. Equally important in most cases is keeping the building in use, which is the best way to safeguard its future.

In order to sustain significance you first need to understand the values that contribute to that significance and then how the elements that will be affected by repair contribute to those values.

Find out more about principles of repair

What is restoration?

Historic England’s Conservation Principles defines restoration as returning a building to “a known earlier state, on the basis of compelling evidence, without conjecture”. A number of criteria are set out which normally make restoration acceptable.

These criteria include:

  • Weighing up the effect of change restoration work would bring to the heritage values of the building
  • Compelling evidence for the restoration work
  • The form of the building as it currently exists is not the result of a historically significant event.
  • The proposed work respects previous forms of the place
  • The maintenance implications of the proposed restoration are considered to be sustainable

The distinction between restoration and repair can sometimes become blurred when architectural details and or decorative elements that are important to the character and appearance of a building become eroded or damaged.

Often a programme of repair provides an opportunity for the reinstatement of missing non-structural elements, provided sufficient evidence exists for an accurate replacement, no loss of historic fabric occurs and the necessary consents are obtained in advance.

In some circumstances, restoration may provide conservation benefits that cannot be achieved through repair alone.

For example, restoring the roof on a roofless building may be the most cost effective way of conserving valuable internal fabric, such as wall paintings or plasterwork. It may also help to make the building physically and economically sustainable in the long term.

For more detailed advice on maintenance and repair see: 

Conservation Basics

Conservation Basics

Published 29 March 2013

This volume, Conservation Basics, reviews the history and evolution of building conservation in England, explaining the philosophical and legal frameworks that exist today, and considering possible future developments.

It covers the processes involved in caring for historic buildings and gives advice on the practical application of current legislation and guidance.

Topics covered include:

  • Conservation planning
  • Surveying and recording
  • Assessment and
  • Planning programmes of maintenance and repair

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