Heritage Restoration, Inc.

Get to Know Your Building By Using All Of Your Senses

I have been known to linger behind, stare too long, and be reprimanded for being where I did not belong.  But I can’t help it; buildings are fascinating.  Buildings are an organic life mass assembled and manipulated by craftspeople and bad people.  They move, breathe, wear and can be loved.  So we need to read them like a patient: with diagnosis, treatment and long term care.  But who would bother, after all, to immerse themselves into this seemingly inanimate thing that does nothing but just be there?   Two kinds of people really, those getting paid and those with Building Obsession Disorder, hopefully both.  The getting paid part keeps the disorder satisfied and in check.  Although the passion is not always there or asked for, which is doing your building, its health, and your wallet, a disservice.  Be sure you work with someone who is engrossed in his or her work.


Observing a building requires all senses.  Become one with the building.  Spend time with it.  Know it in all its phases.  Study the quirks, the mundane and the expected.  Thinking about what makes a building tick is a top priority.  It should be a good investment, but only if you pay attention and help it live another decade or ten.  Here are some ways to get Zen with a building:



Know your building by not just looking at it, but SEEING it.  See how the house behaves in all weather conditions, especially rain.  Watch the water run off the roof, into the downspouts and out onto or into the ground.  Walls don’t just crack.  Floors don’t just sag.  If you see something out of the ordinary, figure out why it is happening, because everything happens for a reason.  Wood rots, paint peels, pipes fail by reacting to its environment, installation or care.



One of the cheapest and most effective methods of testing a healthy basement is to smell it.  Not up close at fist, but the air as you walk in.  Then find out why.  Bad downspouts that bring water in, water that seeps up through the floor, open windows, or other clues all have an effect.  A basement should not STAY wet, musty or moldy.  When you know why is when mitigation becomes effective.  Other house scents can trigger clues to problems, such as sewer gases, electrical shorts, or bad furnace venting.



The sounds of my own house can drive me nuts.  I listen intently when it rains for drips outside my bedroom window and the downspout I never cleaned.  A house has a distinct sound pattern, most of us get used to it.  Like when the heat comes on and the pipes against the wood “crack”, or slip from expansion, or some movement when the sun beats on an elevation.  Investigate sounds out of the ordinary.



Most investigative work involves seeing and feeling, where we can either gently probe or tear into something.  “Destructive Analysis” is reserved when the homeowner or client is ready to own what is revealed.  Feeling confirms the other senses, like when wood looks a little wavy from the ground is in fact a soft sponge when you touch it.



I do not recommend putting house parts in your mouth.  But there are times a small tasting has been prudent, like tasting the salty efflorescence from mortar.  Otherwise, resort to the other senses.


Bottom line: pay attention to your building.  It can save you thousands of dollars and potentially poor health.  A simple leak that got into a wall, rotted the wood, made the insulation moldy, cracked the drywall or plaster from movement, could have been avoided by listening for the leak, watching for the wall crack or wood rotting, and smelling the mold.


Most of us do not have the time to be “one” with our building.  We ignore it or hire people.  But you should, you must, pay attention.  Paying for the small is cheaper than waiting for it to get big.  Fix the cause of the problem and not just the effect.  It will help all of us who obsess about buildings.

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