A stitch in time…Makes good sense and saves money
When the work requires expertise …
While general day-to-day maintenance and basic repairs can be undertaken by a competent DIY person, when the repairs go beyond your capability, then seeking advice from an appropriate person is recommended. If the works are small, and you have a reliable, competent builder who is used to dealing with historic buildings, then they should be able to undertake the work for you.
If the works appear to be complicated or wide-ranging, you should consider seeking professional advice from a specialist architect, surveyor or other conservation specialist. Specialists appointed by the IHBC (HESPR), RIBA and RICS, for example, have faced the rigour of an accreditation scheme and it is wise to consider the particular specialism you need to ensure best value and avoid unnecessary expense. See the website of the organisation which most closely matches your purpose.
The specialist will examine your property and recommend repairs in order of priority and then over-see the work. A professional is there to look after your interests and that of your building. It is recommended not to go to a ‘damp specialist’ in the first instance as they will naturally want to sell you their product. A good professional will be able to guide you through any legal permission or consents you might require.
Finding the right help
Many building professionals are trained and experienced only in modern building construction methods, and this means that they know relatively little about traditional building methods. This means they can offer the wrong advice with the best intentions. As mentioned earlier, construction methods have changed, and new buildings have an outer watertight envelope, like a raincoat, where old buildings deal with moisture differently and need to ‘breathe’.
Your adviser should be independent and objective, and should have a good understanding of traditional buildings, and more importantly, they should be someone you can work with, discuss concerns and feel confident that they are listening to you.
The best way to avoid ‘cowboy’ companies is to hire experienced professionals, independent advisers and competent trades- people who are knowledgeable about old buildings.
There are reliable independent experts in various fields such as timber decay, rot and infestation, who have nothing to sell you but their advice. They will help you avoid unnecessary or inappropriate remedial treatments and guide you towards responsible specialist contractors and targeted repairs.
It can be a daunting task to find the right professional help to undertake a maintenance inspection, produce a report that recommends repairs in order of priority, and then over-see the repairs, but the following advice should make the process easier. It is important that you are guided by your professional, not led by them. They may be the experts, but it is your home.
Word-of-mouth is often the best way if possible, either through people you know, or by simple asking other home owners when you see good work being undertaken. Some local authorities have a list of competent trade people and professionals that they can supply. Make sure you speak to several, and follow your instinct and don’t be afraid to ask for references. There are now trade checker systems available online which provide consumer support in checking for suitable trades-people and these can give you confidence in your selection and choice.
The Institute of Historic Building Conservation is the professional body for conservation professionals. The IHBC’s HESPR recognition service provides a source for finding specialist conservation services and professional conservation advice and is used by property owners, developers, local authorities, conservation organisations and land-owners. HESPR includes consultants offering everything from hands on building conservation services to strategic planning and design.
There are other conservation accredited professionals in professional bodies such as Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) (or in Scotland the Royal Incorporate of Architects in Scotland (RIAS)) and Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). (see IHBC Specialist Registers)
It is always recommended that you meet more than one professional to ensure that you are happy with and the character and experience of the one you choose. Historic buildings cover a vast range, and an architect who is used to dealing with the interiors of large Baroque mansions, is probably not the most appropriate person to deal with a small vernacular farmstead. Some repair work maybe best dealt with by a Building Surveyor. These are people who are trained in construction methods and defects analysis and can often offer far greater insight into a problem then architects who are generally trained in design.
Finding craftsmen and skilled tradesmen
You may wish to find your own contractor or builder. Again you should use a specialist in historic buildings. Do not employ a tradesman who does not have experience of understanding and working sympathetically with traditional buildings. If, for example, they are going to carry out re-pointing of an old building and they say they will use a cement mortar, then do not employ them. Small, local, independent builders often have knowledge of the local building methods and materials and will often be the best people with whom to work. Their local reputation is important to them and they want to retain it. Again there are now invaluable systems available online for checking the standards of a trades-person which can improve confidence in your choice. (see IHBC Specialist Registers)
Your local Conservation Officer should know of local craftsmen who are used to working on historic buildings. They may not be able to make a specific recommendation but can usually supply details of craftsmen who have carried out good quality work in the past or advise you of buildings where good work has recently been done so that you may approach the owner.
A useful publication is the Building Conservation Directory, which lists a number of specialists in various fields. It also gives you names of trade organisations that can put you in touch with suitable local crafts people. There is a version available online- www.buildingconservation.com, which contains a selection of articles and useful databases of contact details.
Guidance on where to source craft and trade skills as well on training for those working in these areas can be found from specialist providers. See the IHBC specialist registers