Caring for Architecture | Antique Restoration
The range of materials found in today’s architecture is vast and changing constantly
as new materials and technologies are developed. Wood, stone, metal, glass, plaster,
ceramic, brick, terra cotta, concrete, paint, plastic, asphalt and rubber are just
a few of the materials you might find in your building. One material might be used
several different ways in the same building. For example, ceramic tile could be
found as both bathroom flooring and on the exterior façade. Glass may be used for
windows, ceilings, walls or flooring. Architectural conservators are familiar with
both historic and modern building materials because both may be incorporated into
a structure and require conservation or antique restoration.
ENVIRONMENT | ART RESTORATION
All materials will react in some way to their environment. Because structures are
built to stay in one place, one has little control over their exterior environment.
Exposure to water, sunlight, heat and cold weather deteriorates building materials.
Water is particularly damaging to building materials. Your building exterior needs
inspection regularly for signs of water infiltration. Roof damage or missing shingles
are common locations for water infiltration. Sometimes a water infiltration problem
is related to the design of the building. If poor design is the culprit, skillful
retrofitting of existing details can eliminate the water infiltration problem and
preserve the historic appearance or delay the need for antique restoration.
Buildings are generally designed to protect interior spaces from the exterior environment
so the environment at the interior of a structure is more easily controlled and
therefore less damaging. Unfortunately, temperatures and humidity levels that are
comfortable for people may not be best for building materials. An architectural
conservator and antique restoration specialist knows how to maintain a balance between comfort for people and safety
for building materials. Sometimes even simple steps like providing ventilation in
areas where moisture accumulates, or installing vapor barriers to prevent moisture
migration, can make significant differences. First, however, one must accurately
INSPECTION AND MAINTENANCE
A regular program of inspection and maintenance is the most critical step in preserving
a structure. Tools to have on hand for conducting an inspection might include a
ladder, binoculars, and powerful flashlights.
WHAT NEEDS INSPECTION
Places where water could infiltrate: Roofs, gutters, downspouts, subsurface drainage
Functional building elements: Doors, windows, fireplace flues
Exterior materials: Bricks, stone, mortars, wood sheathing
Interior materials: Wood framing, flooring, wood trim, plaster
Plumbing, heating, and cooling systems: Have a systems engineer inspect these
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Water damage: Stains, soft wood (rot), peeling paint, salt crystals
Signs of infestation: Droppings, dead insects, holes in wood (place glue traps to
check for insects)
Anything unusual or different from your last inspection
You may find it cost effective to hire a conservator or art restoration specialist to conduct the inspection.
Because of their training, art restoration specialists are skilled at catching problems
early and can help prepare a prioritized preservation plan. Certainly they are the
best qualified people to carry out the inspection of large, complex, abandoned or
A long-term maintenance strategy should include planning and budgeting for regular
maintenance work (like exterior painting or roof replacement) and for capital improvements.
The cost of maintenance will always be less than that of a major preservation effort
after a period of long neglect.
Careful housekeeping can greatly extend the life of building materials. Removing
dirt from floors and other contact surfaces limits deterioration by abrasion. Keeping
the building free of food waste reduces the likelihood of pest infestation. Use
housekeeping and maintenance tools and equipment carefully to protect building materials.
Avoid operations that might cause incidental damage. For example, a sharp metal
tool used to remove ice can leave gouges in a stone step and metal parts on mops
can easily scrape finishes.
Written and photographic records provide valuable information for scheduling maintenance
and improvements and for long-range planning. Keep accurate, complete written records
of inspections, maintenance work and repairs on site. Photographs are always desirable.
Include in the site records the name and manufacturer of any cleaning or maintenance
products used. This information may provide clues for unraveling future material
ALTERATIONS AND IMPROVEMENTS
When your main goal is building preservation, every proposed alteration or improvement
must be considered carefully. Consult with an architectural conservator when planning
alterations or improvements, especially if the changes are being considered to solve
specific problems like a damp basement. The potential effect of a change on other
elements and systems of the building must be fully understood. For example, installing
central air conditioning will not only change the environment of different spaces
within a building but may have a significant impact on the building materials. Any
changes made should be easily reversible to return the building to its original
Disasters can have a devastating impact on a structure, sometimes even necessitating
its demolition. Fire, flooding (from natural causes or plumbing failures), hurricanes,
tornados, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other disasters can all cause significant
damage. Planning for a disaster can help lessen its impact.
At the very least, develop a plan to respond to fire. Early detection is critical.
Heat and smoke detectors are available at hardware stores and more sophisticated
systems can be purchased from specialized dealers. These systems must be tested
regularly to be sure they work. Place appropriate fire extinguishers throughout
the building, and inspect them regularly. More expensive suppression systems like
sprinklers are also available and often required by code.
A more comprehensive disaster preparedness plan can minimize the extent of damage.
Start by identifying potential disasters for the geographic area in which the building
is located. Write the plan in great detail. Describe any procedures to be implemented
when disasters threaten, such a boarding up or taping windows when high winds are
forecast. Consider what effect the disaster might have on the community and its
If there are no drawings or photographs of the building, consider photographing
it with a still camera or a video camera. Photographic documentation will provide
a record to aid in disaster recovery. Copies of available documentation should be
stored away from the building, preferably under archival conditions.
Vandalism can be an ongoing problem. Use constant bright lighting in areas prone
to vandalism. If constant lighting is problematic, use motion sensor lights instead.
Planting prickly or thorny shrubs like holly, roses or evergreens beneath windows
and along vulnerable walls can reduce the chance of vandalism or burglary.
Remove graffiti promptly, as quick removal has proven a good deterrent to future
graffiti. A conservator can help develop a plan to deal with different types of
graffiti so that maintenance staff will know how to remove it quickly and safely.
The wrong treatment can damage building materials irreparably.
Buildings, and the materials from which they are made, are subject to a wide variety
of problems and require constant attention. You can prevent many of these problems
by careful planning, regular inspection, continuous maintenance and good housekeeping.
An architectural conservator can not only work with you to resolve existing problems,
but can also help with planning to prevent future problems.