Maintenance & Repair

A building in good repair performs more efficiently. Maintenance is generally considered to be a preventative measure, whereas repair works are a reactive measure.  Ongoing maintenance can limit, or even prevent, the need for repairs and therefore is cost-effective, whilst reducing the loss of embodied carbon (see BS 7913:2013).

BS 7913:2013 states; ‘the most effective way of ensuring energy efficiency and sustainability is to keep historic buildings in good repair so that they last as long as possible, do not need replacement and do not suffer from avoidable decay that would require energy and carbon to rectify. They should provide occupancy in an efficient manner, involving minimal production of carbon and use of energy without harming significance or the physical performance of the historic fabric.’

Traditional buildings require regular maintenance with appropriate materials. If routine maintenance works are to be carried out using authentic materials and traditional craft techniques, on a like-for-like basis, check with the local planning authority to understand whether permission or consent is needed. The use of a contractor with the necessary skills and experience of working on historic buildings is essential. The use of inappropriate materials can lead to the deterioration of the built fabric and overall performance of the building.

For maintenance guides, refer to Historic England’s guide for homeowners, including the Maintenance Checklist and the SPAB’s Preventative Maintenance Guide and Maintenance Calendar

Repair Works

NOTE - Repair works should be carried out before undertaking any energy efficiency measures, as unresolved repairs could result in significant risks to performance.

Undertaking required repair works can make a building more energy efficient. Understanding and resolving the primary cause of damage, particularly where this relates to localised areas of a building, is important before carrying out repair works in order to ensure that repairs will not need to be repeated. In this case it is essential that an appropriate specialist is consulted.

Dealing with damp

Damp within buildings can have major impacts to the energy efficiency of the building through excessive heat loss (between 30 to 40%) as well as significant impacts to occupant health.

Sources of moisture ingress and the cause of damp varies and must be understood before carrying out any remedial work. It can include:

  1. Poorly maintained and faulty rainwater goods
  2. Plumbing defects and building faults resulting in leaks
  3. Higher external ground floor levels
  4. Impermeable ground surfaces, such as concrete
  5. Excessive internal moisture loads

Typical examples of causes within walls include the application of cement render, this results in the walls not being able ‘breathe’ and leads to a build-up in moisture. This can lead to damp issues and the impact to other built elements, such as the rotting of timber joists and floorboards. Damp can also be influenced by occupant behaviour and activities.

To understand the moisture levels in a building and how this is effected, refer to the Moisture Balance Calculator. Developed by the UK Centre for Moisture in Buildings, the interactive calculator provides results and recommendations based on the submitted information, including moisture generation, occupancy, building condition, heating and ventilation.

Rising damp is very rare and any diagnosis should be double-checked before undertaking damp-proofing work, such as a chemical injection damp-proof course, as damp-proof courses can also have a detrimental effect on the building and should generally be avoided, regardless of the type of damp.

If a building has damp issues, this must be resolved before considering any retrofit measure, particularly insulation. This is because there will be an underlying cause; without addressing this, it might be exacerbated if the building is retrofitted. Also, as damp has an impact on the building’s hydrothermal performance, reassessing the building’s performance once the issues are rectified may change the approach for retrofit, or retrofit may no longer be necessary.

In 2022 RICS, Historic England and the Property Care Association produced a joint statement pertaining to the Investigation of moisture and its effect on traditional buildings.

Further information on damp:

General Damp Advice

The SPAB’s Technical Advice Note on Control of Dampness

CAT’s information on How to Improve Traditional Buildings

Historic Environment Scotland’s Damp: Causes and Solutions

Damp in Basements and Cellars

Damp below Ground by Geoff Maybank

Rising Damp

The SPAB’s advice on Rising Damp

Page updated: 26/05/2023

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