Inspecting stone decay to cornice
Inspecting stone decay to cornice © Historic England
Inspecting stone decay to cornice © Historic England

What to Consider When Repairing an Older Home

In order to be effective, any repair work you carry out needs to address the underlying causes of the problem and not just treat the symptoms.

The Need for Repair

A thorough maintenance regime will help keep repairs to a minimum but even then there will be times when repairs will need to be undertaken. You may need to make repairs because a building has been neglected or previous repairs have failed.

Inappropriate repairs could be creating new problems, as could badly thought-out alterations. The use of unsuitable materials in the past for repairs could interfere with the building's ability to 'breathe' - for example, concrete blockwork and cement render have been used to replace wattle and daub panels in a timber-framed building. See Materials for more details.

Will I Need Permission for Repairs?

If you want to make repairs to your home you may need permission and should seek advice, especially if your home is listed or in a conservation area (see Who Do I Contact?). Repair involves specific work to remedy defects caused by decay, damage or use (for example, retiling a roof). It may include some minor adaptation or restoration.

Simple maintenance work, however, such as fixing a loose roof flashing, should not need any form of consent. 

See Permission for further information.

Repair Is Preferable to Replacement

Many people think repair is short lived and inferior to renewing part of a building. But you can damage the building's character and significance if you remove too much of what makes it special. A conservative approach to repair is the best way to conserve the appearance and character of an older home. Retaining as much of the original fabric as possible and keeping changes to a minimum are key.

Understanding the Causes of Defects

A thorough understanding of the way your home has developed over time is a great start when considering repair work. It's also useful to undertake a survey of its structure and what it's made of. How do those materials behave as they age? What sort of decay might they be susceptible to and how is it caused? See Understanding Decay in an Older Home for more details.

Knowing what's causing a problem will help you decide how to approach it, and allow you to limit the work to what is actually necessary to keep your home sound.

If your home is particularly historically significant then it may need further archaeological and architectural investigation, recording and interpretation of its structure, and assessment in a wider historic context.

Using Proven Techniques

You should aim to match existing materials and methods of construction when carrying out repairs. Not only will this conserve the traditional appearance of your home but it will also ensure that repairs will weather in the same way as the rest of the building.

The only exceptions should be where a design flaw or weakness in the existing material means it will only cause more damage or fail if you simply match it (for example, where a gutter is of inadequate size). See Materials for more details.

New materials and techniques should only be employed if their use in older buildings has already been satisfactorily proved. You may also need permission and should seek advice if your home is listed. 

Professional Help and Advice

If you are employing a professional advisor, architect or surveyor, it is important that they have expertise and experience of working with historic buildings. See Conservation Accreditation for more details. Looking at their previous work and talking to their other clients may also help in your selection.

Energy Efficiency

If your home needs repair work it's worth considering whether you could make changes to increase its energy efficiency at the same time. For example, if you are carrying out repairs to the roof, floors or walls, you may wish to have insulation installed at the same time. This will be more cost-effective than carrying out such works separately and, if you were considering taking energy saving measures anyway, can also minimise any disruption.

Make sure that the materials you use are appropriate to the construction of your home. For more information on energy efficiency, see our Saving Energy pages.

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