Man repointing brickwork
Repointing brickwork © Historic England
Repointing brickwork © Historic England

Maintaining an Older Home

When it comes to looking after an older house, it's very important to carry out regular maintenance in order to prevent expensive repairs at a later date. All buildings deteriorate with age, but good maintenance will slow that process and keep your home a safe and pleasant place to live.

Effective maintenance

Maintenance is cost effective. Tiny problems can soon escalate and even risk permanently damaging your home if they're not tackled when they're first spotted. Ignoring them can prove costly at a later date. A properly maintained home will also keep its value.

Keep the building dry

The most important thing is to stop damp from getting into your home. You need to check roof coverings, gutters, downpipes and drains regularly to make sure they're working properly. A leaky roof is the most obvious issue, but damp from overflowing gutters or badly ventilated spaces can also cause timbers to rot, plaster to flake off, and bricks to crumble. It can eventually lead to major structural problems.

Drawing up a maintenance plan

A maintenance plan will help you identify any maintenance issues that will need your attention. Your maintenance plan should take into account how your home is constructed, what changes have been made over its lifespan, and its overall condition.

  • Identify weak points and anticipate where problems might occur. For example, in many older houses hard-to-access gutters, particularly if they're hidden from view, can get forgotten.
  • Think of the building as a whole, including its interior and the surrounding site. Consider such issues as surface water drainage or the proximity of trees.
  • Take into account your home’s position and exposure to the elements. A building in an exposed upland area or close to the sea will need a different approach to one on a sheltered inland site.
  • Include services in your maintenance plan, especially electrical and plumbing systems: fire and flooding pose particular threats to historic fabric.

Maintenance inspections

Using our Maintenance Checklist will provide a starting point when carrying out inspections and help you work through the process in a logical order. There are two types of maintenance inspection:

  • Periodic: These take place at planned intervals - monthly, annually or even every four to five years depending on the nature of the building.
  • Occasional: These are carried out following severe weather or unforeseen events and need to concentrate on those parts of a building where water could get in easily - e.g. parapet gutters.

Professional condition surveys

If you think you need professional advice you can commission a condition survey of your home. There are three types of professional survey:

  • Valuation Survey: Usually carried out on behalf of a mortgage lender, this survey simply says whether the property is worth the amount of money it's being sold for. For an old house surveyors and valuers usually refer to 'the red book', an appraisal and valuation manual by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), which provides guidance on what they should look for when inspecting historic buildings. A valuation survey will not be very detailed and may just suggest the building be inspected by damp-proofing contractors or other specialists.
  • Home Buyers' Survey and Valuation Report: This is more detailed than a valuation survey. It follows a standard format set out by RICS and is suitable for most properties up to about 150 years old.
  • Building Survey: This is an independent full condition survey. For an older property this should be undertaken by an architect or surveyor familiar with older buildings and their associated problems. Consider using an architect, architectural technologist or building surveyor who is accredited in building conservation (see Finding Professional Help).

Will I need permission for maintenance work?

Simple maintenance work, defined as routine regular tasks to keep your home in good order, should not need any form of consent. A good example would be refixing a loose roof flashing.

If you want to make repairs to your home, as opposed to maintenance work, you may need permission and should seek advice, especially if your home is listed or in a conservation area (see Who Do I Contact?). Unlike maintenance, repair involves specific work to remedy defects caused by decay, damage or use (for example, retiling a roof). This may include some minor adaptation or restoration.

Keeping a log book

Consider creating a log book for your home. Make a note of when you last did a maintenance check and what you found. You can record what repairs needed doing, when they were done, and who by, particularly if you had to use a professional.

You can also use it to record details of alterations you may have had done. All this information will be very useful not only to you, but also to any professionals who have to carry out work on your property, and to any future owners should you move on.