Advice and Support

Maintenance of traditional buildings

An overview of maintenance of traditional buildings, from how to draw up a plan and types of maintenance to saving energy.

1 Overview

Regular maintenance reduces the risk of urgent and expensive repairs. Making inspections as part of a maintenance plan helps to identify issues before they become problems.  

Water entering the building fabric is the main cause of most forms of decay. Planned maintenance should prioritise preventing water ingress.  

Read about making repairs to traditional buildings 

Find out more about how to save energy in traditional buildings 

You can find more detailed information in our Short Guide 9: Maintaining your home. 

2 Maintenance plan

You must know your property and how it functions before you can draw up a suitable maintenance plan.  

Walk around your property and make a checklist of key areas to inspectDecide how often each must be inspected. Then work out which areas you feel confident inspecting yourself and which you need help with. See the inspection cycles and common maintenance actions checklist in our Short Guide 9: Maintaining your home 

How often you inspect a building depends on its: 

  • exposure 
  • age 
  • general condition  
  • use 

A biannual inspection is usually adequate, with additional checks after extreme weather or other unforeseen events.  

In particular, you should check: 

  • rhones and downpipes twice a year – clearing them of leaves and debris as necessary 
  • below ground drainage periodically – including testing to ensure that water is draining freely away from the property 
  • windows and timber items for repainting every five years 
  • masonry twice a year 

After your inspection, draw up the maintenance plan, identifying work required in the short, medium and longer term. Ideally, you should agree this plan with your selected tradespeople. They can then prepare for the work and build it into their forward plan. 

The more complex a building’s layout and roof, the more care you must take to ensure that your inspection covers all areas.  

External areas to inspect and maintain include: 

  • rainwater disposal 
  • slates and other roof coverings
  • gutters, ridges and valleys 
  • chimney stacks
  • windows
  • high-level joinery and decorative ironwork 
  • wall masonry 
  • below ground drainage 
  • external ground levels 

Internal areas of focus include: 

  • mains water and domestic plumbing 
  • heating systems 
  • electrical systems 
  • ventilation 
  • attic space 
  • timber floors 

Keep a list of recommended tradespeople and professionalwho can help with inspection and repair work. You can also read our inspection tips 

3 Types of maintenance

Planning maintenance in advance can:

  • help you to manage finances and resources to better effect 
  • prevent decay, avoiding the need for more costly remedies in future 
  • maintain the character and value of your property 

Reactive maintenance also has its place.  

Planned maintenance 

Property owners should plan certain inspection and repair cycles – generally those related to common and recurring maintenance tasks. This lets you plan maintenance in advance, rather than wait for problems to occur.  

Planned maintenance includes tasks like: 

  • clearing out gutters 
  • painting timber and metal parts of the building 

You may be able to establish a programme of maintenance works with local tradespeople and professionals. Think about the likely cost of work and your priorities before deciding on the frequency and timing of planned visits by certain trades. 

Reactive maintenance 

The reality is that many maintenance tasks are only addressed reactively. This is when a defect in a particular place causes you to look for maintenance issues in the same area.  

For example, when repairing roof slates it makes sense to inspect the chimney masonry and the security of the chimney cans as well as other roofing elements. 

4 Inspection tips

Using a checklist helps you to tackle the inspection in a structured way. The larger and more complex a property, the longer the inspection checklist will be. 

Find a template inspection cycles and common maintenance actions checklist in our Short Guide 9: Maintaining your home 

You can use binoculars from the ground for a basic check of higher areas. A ladder allows for closer inspection of roofs and chimneys. But we recommend that you have a professional building surveyor or tradesperson carry out this part of the work. 

You may prefer to employ a professional to conduct the full inspection. A growing number of general building and roofing contractors offer an annual inspection and maintenance service. 

During the inspection: 

  • follow all relevant health and safety guidance 
  • avoid damage to vulnerable features like slate verges, rhones, downpipes and stone features 
  • avoid walking directly on slated or tiled roof surfaces 

Take precautions if inspection or maintenance work might disturb or expose hazardous materials. If you think your property contains potentially harmful materials such as asbestos, don’t do any work that could disturb or release the material, and get advice from a suitably trained or qualified professional. 

5 Stirling traditional buildings health check

All owners of pre-1919 traditional buildings in Stirling can get an affordable property ‘health check’ by joining the Traditional Buildings Health Check delivered by Stirling City Heritage Trust.

Members of the scheme can access a subsidised building fabric inspection service. Building inspectors with expertise in traditional buildings will conduct regular health checks and give impartial advice on repair and maintenance.

The aim is to promote proactive building maintenance to prevent small issues from growing into big problems.

This is currently the only such service being delivered in Britain.

Find out more on the Traditional Buildings Health Check website.

Read about the success of the initiative in our Pilot Project Review.

6 Maintenance and saving energy

Building maintenance and repair is an important part of ensuring energy efficiency in traditional buildings.  

Thermal performance of traditional buildings is reduced by: 

  • loose or defective pointing 
  • poorly maintained windows  
  • damp masonry  

Reduced thermal performance leads to heat loss and higher energy bills. 

Gaps around doors or windows let heat escape and cause draughts 

Building defects can cause masonry to become wet or stop water vapour escaping from the walls. A building with damp masonry will feel colder and its walls will also perform less well – heat moves more rapidly through wet material. 

Maintenance must be carried out before insulating a building. Defects and water ingress can both stop insulation from performing at its best, and further problems may occur.