Heritage Restoration, Inc.

Caring for Buildings During an Economic Decline

I am seeing buildings getting less care, where things are not working or just plain falling off.  It may be a lack of time, or being a bit tight on funds.  Maybe people don’t see it happening, or they don’t know who can fix it.  Or you think you know or get bad advice on how to fix it.  We have seen it all, and sometimes I just wish people got the right direction, or the right work done to begin with.


Preventing bad work or misused materials saves a lot of time, money and buildings.  They may not know the harm they do, since the effects can take years or decades to reveal themselves.  The key is to have purpose in everything you do, thoughtful and well researched.  Use your senses to figure out the problem.  See the problem in all its variations, like observing a water leak when it rains a certain way.  Look at the parts that make it up, how each one works with the other part.  Breakdown the parts by material; wood, metal, stone, concrete.  Then seek out the right information.


There are always many ways to get it done, some harder, and some easier.  Sometimes the easy way works, but most of the time the harder way is the only way.  The hard way costs and takes more time, but it is always the cheapest in the long run.  A job well done requires the right materials, products applications, and techniques.  Miss one, and the effort was for naught.  While none of us are immune from making mistakes or wrong choices, we always have to seek the right path.


If you hire someone or are the contractor, communicate; be informed and inquisitive without being combative.  Problems can start by not being involved or if there is poor communication.  So start by asking a lot of questions and documenting your intent.  There are good, well-trained, experienced, honest contractors out there, but there always seems to be plenty of hacks.  The best projects are from the most inquisitive players, asking trade specialists or finite suppliers about the best material and practice.  The worst ones will ask nothing, rely on what they think they know, or by the label, or what is on the shelf.  The payer and the user have to constantly work at defining expectations, so the work performs as expected, is reversible, and causes no harm to the building.


If you are doing it yourself, you rely on your own personal experiences and your supplier.  My own house is a laboratory.  I have made mistakes that I have to fix, figuring out what I did wrong, or identify the bad product, or wince, let it ride and turn a blind eye.  Although I do tend to learn the most is seeing other people’s bad work or products from years ago.  So the first lesson: learn from others and yourself.


Another issue is where we get stuff.  The places that have the better products, a well-informed staff, and service tend to be more expensive and not open on late Saturday or Sunday.  Some stores that have low quality and uninformed staff are open more often and are convenient by their variety.  They have built entire neighborhoods, like the areas hit by Katrina.  These bad products and assemblies last for generations, or not, and we all suffer the consequences down the road through filling landfills or having to rebuild after only 20 years.


Like what?  Tar and caulk abuse.  Tar creates more problems than it fixes.  Tar is a bad patch and not a repair.  Caulk is one of the most misused modern products.  Caulk is the go to product when something is not working right.  Have a roof leak? Caulk it.  Wood siding or trim gaps?  Caulk it.  Transition from one thing to another?  Caulk it.  Caulk has in the same water trapping qualities as tar.  Cement, mortar, concrete, and lime are all terms used interchangeably, although they are distinctly different in their performance.  The general rule of thumb is mortar (a mortar is what the building material is laid in) HAS TO BE softer than the building material.  There are specific mortar mixes for brick, limestone, granite, concrete block, terra cotta, and all the other modular cementitious materials.  Misuse is a deathblow to masonry.


If I have caused you to pause, reflect on your decisions, or just plain scared you, good.  These days people are looking for answers in a bag, tub or tube.  I have seen too many bad jobs from misinformed homeowners or unqualified contractors.  Mind you, I do not see as much good work or perhaps I have a very low tolerance for bad work.  I am far from perfect.  Perhaps I have been beaten down from perfection to better than good, by cost, time, or sometimes just having low expectations of people’s work.  Either way, we all should hold people to the same high building standards as we expect from our doctors, because the reality is buildings should last for hundreds of years.


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