A stitch in time…Makes good sense and saves money
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 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.
The National Heritage Training Group offers advice and guidance on where to source craft and trade skills as well on training for those working in these areas.
When is a repair, not a repair?
Or when is it time to put in a Listed Building Consent application…? This is often a grey area, and again it is recommended that you to speak to the local authority conservation officer. As a general guide, anything that is deemed ‘like-for-like’ repair, that is removing lime mortar pointing and replacing with lime pointing to match the existing wall, is deemed to be a repair. Replacing a bottom rail of a sliding sash with one in the same timber and profile would also be considered to be a repair. However, repointing a total elevation of your house, even in lime to match, is often considered to have an impact on the character and appearance of the property and therefore Listed Building Consent application may be required.
Listed Building Consent is free and currently requires no application fee, but if you undertake works that are deemed to require Listed Building Consent and you don’t have it, you are undertaking a criminal offence in the UK and liable for an unlimited fine and/ or up to a two-year prison sentence. It is safest to contact your local planning authority to discuss your proposed works.