Advice and Support

Repair of traditional buildings

Advice on repairing traditional buildings, including finding the cause of an issue, using skilled tradespeople and using suitable materials.

1 Overview

Repairs to resolve the cause of the problem should be made as soon as you find a defect in a traditional building. You’ll need to engage skilled tradespeople to do the work, and the materials for the repairs should match as closely as possible those used originally.   

Neglecting the cause and simply doing a ‘quick fix’ to keep the symptoms at bay could make a straightforward problem much worse. Unsuitable or unsightly repairs may bring down the value of a property and damage its fabric over the longer term.  

Always aim to repair rather than replace, as historic materials are generally much better quality than their modern equivalents. 

Common repairs will often need to be organised in tenements and other buildings with multiple owners. This involves all owners in the building agreeing to the work and sharing its cost. Some buildings have a scheme or a factor to help with this 

Find out if you might need permission to make repairs. 

2 Find the cause

You must first find out the cause of the defect. Suitable repairs can then put a stop to the issue arising again. Treating the symptoms only will cause the issue to return in future.  

For example, blistering paintwork on masonry will keep occurring if it’s simply replaced with more of the same product. Better to work out why it happens and then use a different, more suitable paint. 

Similarly, there is little sense in repointing masonry that has suffered decay due to water ingress unless the leaking downpipe responsible for the problem has been repaired. 

View the useful table of common defects and remedial action in our Short Guide 9: Maintaining your home. 

Learn about parts of traditional buildings that may require regular repair such as leadwork, masonry and windows in our INFORM Guides

3 Use skilled people

You will need to engage the services of a skilled tradesperson to make repairs to a traditional building. You may also need to involve a surveyor, architect or engineer for large or complex repairs. 

Repairs must be sympathetic to the original construction. You should choose a tradesperson who understands older buildings and their needs, and has experience of using traditional materials. 

For large repairs in particular, it’s critical that work is correctly specified to ensure that the methods and materials are appropriate. Your appointed tradesperson should be able to manage this for you 

Discuss the repairs with them at the area needing attention. Be very clear about the work to be done. You may ask for a sample panel to be completed first for some types of work, like pointing and cleaning. 

Badly executed repairs: 

  • will affect the character of a property  
  • may speed up decay and prompt further remedial work 
  • may end up costing more in the long run 

4 Source suitable materials

Materials for repair work should be a good match for, and compatible with, the originals used. This is vital to preserve the character and fabric of your property. The repairs will also age in the same manner as the rest of the building.  

Using the wrong materials may cause damage to your property. For example, damp and decay are likely if materials don’t allow the building to ‘breathe’ and moisture to escape.  

Your contractor will have to source appropriate and matching materials from specialist suppliers. 

Stone and brick for repairs should match existing masonry. A number of companies in Scotland offer a stone matching service.  

Lime, stone, slate and other natural materials may need to be specially ordered. 

Cast iron railings, finialsrhones and downpipes are often a standard pattern and may be held in stock by a foundry. 

Standard items like chimney cans, lead, sarking boards, zinc ridges and some aggregates are readily available 

You may need permission to make changes – particularly if materials can’t be replaced on a like-for-like basis.

5 Keep a record of repairs

A record of repairs and maintenance shows that a building has been well cared for. It will also help and reassure potential buyers.  

You should keep: 

  • maintenance inspection checklists  
  • records of repair work carried out 
  • details of the tradespeople or contractors and any professionals involved 
  • a note of the dates of the work  
  • invoices detailing the costs 

It’s also useful to take photos before, during and after the repairs.