Essential Tips for Maintaining and Repairing Older Homes
Maintenance and repairs are essential to keep your home a comfortable, healthy, safe and energy efficient place to live. They are also necessary to sustain (and enhance) the value of your home as a financial and heritage asset.
Maintenance is cost-effective. By tackling problems at an early stage, you can avoid making more expensive and invasive repairs in the future. Our tips below will help you organise and manage the upkeep of your home.
1. Get to know your home
Understanding when and how your home was built, and how it developed over time, is a good first step in devising a maintenance plan.
Find out what materials were used to build your home. What condition are they in now? What kinds of decay and deterioration are they prone to?
Are there design features or details that make your home more vulnerable to decay (for example concealed gutters or internal rainwater pipes)? Identifying weak points will help you anticipate where problems might occur. Keep an eye on them and add them to your maintenance checklist.
Past repairs and alterations
Be aware of past repairs or alterations made by previous occupants. If they have been carried out with suitable materials and are performing well, they should be left untouched. But if they are failing or causing damage because the methods or materials used were inappropriate (for example hard, impermeable cement mortars), they may have to be redone. Repairs should always be carried out in ways that avoid increasing the burden of maintenance.
Think of your home and its surroundings as a whole unit. Is your home on an exposed or sheltered site? How is surface water drained? How is the building affected by nearby trees?
Don’t forget to consider building services like water, electricity, gas and telecoms. Include electrical and plumbing systems in your maintenance plan – fire and water pose particular threats to your home.
A professional building survey can help answer many of these questions.
2. Understand the causes
Understanding what is causing any deterioration or damage you find will help you:
- Decide how urgently you need to tackle it
- Deal with the causes rather than just treating symptoms
- Limit the work to the minimum needed to keep your home sound
3. Make a plan
Create a calendar to schedule inspections and preventative maintenance (for example clearing leaves from gutters; gas and electricity safety inspections; servicing heating and hot water systems). Include periodic maintenance, such as external redecoration.
A maintenance calendar will also help you to plan and coordinate future repairs and improvements.
4. Look out for problems – use a checklist
Regular preventative maintenance aims to spot problems before they become serious. Carry out routine inspections regularly (normally twice a year). Make additional inspections after severe weather or unforeseen events.
5. Act promptly
Once you see a problem, act quickly – even if it’s only to carry out temporary ‘first aid’ or emergency repairs. This will prevent damage from escalating and repair costs mounting.
Damp is a major cause of deterioration. If not tackled, it can cause timber to decay and damage decorative finishes, plaster, brick and stonework. Eventually, it might lead to major structural problems.
Damp also reduces the energy efficiency of your home and adversely affects the health and comfort of occupants.
6. Repair rather than replace
Some people think repair is short lived and inferior to renewing part of a building. But there are good reasons that it is better to repair than replace:
- You can damage the building's character and significance if you remove too much of what makes it special
- Repairs are usually more sustainable than replacement. The quality of original materials used in old buildings is usually higher than modern equivalents. Skilled repairs often have a longer service life than modern replacements
- Repairs are less likely to need listed building consent
7. Use suitable materials and methods
Aim to match your home's existing materials and methods of construction when you carry out repairs. This will conserve the character of your home and ensure that repairs will weather in the same way as the rest of the building.
The only exceptions would be where there is a design flaw or a weakness in the existing material. Then it could cause more damage or fail if you were to simply match it (for example, where a gutter is of inadequate size).
Use new materials and techniques only if their use in older buildings has already been proven.
Get the help, advice and permissions you need
Emergency work can go ahead. You will need to apply for retrospective planning and inform the conservation officer at your local authority that the emergency work is being undertaken.
Tip: Could you make changes to increase the energy efficiency of your home at the same time as making repairs? If you are making repairs to the roof, floors or walls, it may be cost-effective to have insulation installed at the same time.