National Maintenance Week 2015: November 20th - November 27th

Neil Oliver - Image credit: Ralph HodgsonBroadcaster, author, historian and archaeologist Neil Oliver is leading this year’s campaign to make people aware of the importance of winter property maintenance. A familiar face from popular programmes including, Coast, The Vikings, A History of Scotland and A History of Ancient Britain. Neil is keenly aware of the changes that the passage of time can make to a building, but he knows that whatever the age or condition of a structure, good, regular maintenance can play a role in its future.

SPAB's (Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings) annual National Maintenance Week campaign encourages owners of all sorts of buildings (not just ancient ones!) to be aware of the importance of regular care. It's a message that's relevant to home owners and to anyone who cares for a property.

Neil says. "When I travelled round the country for BBC’s Coast series, the importance of protecting a building against the ravages of the wind and the weather was very apparent. I could see it was a constant battle. Maintenance makes a difference – never put it off!”

SPAB took Neil to the beautifully maintained, Christopher Wren–designed church, St Andrews, Holborn to give him a bird’s-eye view of the tricky nooks and crannies that can cause problems if leaves, twigs, nests and other seasonal debris are left uncleared.

“Even though it’s relatively modern compared to many of the places I’ve visited and written about as part of my work, it’s easy to see how vital it is to make sure it’s maintained.” he said. “As an archaeologist I’m very familiar with the care challenges faced by significant, historic buildings which don’t conform to

a standard pattern. Planned and regular maintenance is vital to ensure that they have a future as well as a past. That message is equally applicable to buildings of all types and all ages.”

He adds: “ ‘Stave off decay by daily care... prop a perilous wall... mend a leaky roof.’ It’s amazing that what SPAB’s founder William Morris wrote nearly 140 years ago is still sound, practical advice. Faulty gutters and blocked drains don't repair themselves - the longer you ignore a problem the more costly and difficult it becomes to put it right, and that’s true if the place you care for is an ancient ruined broch, a medieval church in a village, a Victorian terraced house or a modern apartment in a town or city..”

Running for the last 14 years, National Maintenance Week reminds anyone who looks after a building - regardless of its age, type or purpose - of the simple, achievable steps they can take to prepare for the worst that winter can bring. The UK’s last wet, blustery winter and the recent run of harsh, cold winters underline the importance of the regular care. Bad weather can leave a legacy of problems that need attention. 

Neil is right about maintenance making economic sense. If you turn a blind eye to cracked pipes, faulty drains or broken/missing roof tiles you might as well throw hard earned cash to the winter wind. 

SPAB’s annual awareness week always ends with National Gutters Day - this year on Friday November 27th. National Gutters Day is a gentle, light hearted reminder for everyone to take 10 minutes to make a simple check on the condition of any property they care for. A little time spent on a basic building ‘MOT’ can save people from having to spend a great deal of money at a later date. 

SPAB’s key suggestions to give a property a basic Maintenance ‘MOT’: 

Water damage is the prime concern when it comes to maintenance. November is the time to start trouble-shooting because that’s when drains and gutters could become blocked by autumn leaf fall and debris like twigs and old bird nests. If any of these obstruct the easy flow of water away from a building – damp and other serious problems can follow. It’s relatively easy to check and clear accessible sections of drain and guttering yourself. 

Check the roof for damaged or slipped tiles. Even a relatively small gap can let in damaging amounts of water. It’s much easier and cheaper to have a tile fixed than replace trusses rotted through years of neglect. You can check your roof from the inside - looking for chinks of daylight in the attic. Outside, you might find that using a pair of binoculars helps you get a good clear view of potential problem points. 

Windows are another important area. If you really want to protect your investment then looking after your wood windows is vital. It’s a good idea to wash down the paintwork. This not only prolongs the life of the finish, it gives a good opportunity to check for decay. 

 Vegetation growing on or near a house needs monitoring. It’s quite easy to check all growth against the building especially trees bushes and ivy. This should be removed, cut back or pruned carefully where necessary as these items growing on a wall can also cause dampness and structural damage.” 

SPAB’s Top 10 tips for National Maintenance Week 2015 

• Look for blocked downpipes (best done during heavy rain to see water coming from any leaky joints – in dry weather look for stained brickwork) 

• Check ground level gullies and drains to make sure they are clear of debris like leaves, twigs and even things like balls and toys - and have them cleaned out if necessary

• Every autumn, clear any plants, leaves and silt from gutters, hopperheads, flat roofs and drainage channels. It’s a good idea to do this in spring too to deal with anything that might have found its way into the wrong place

• Remove potentially damaging vegetation from behind downpipes by cutting back or removing the plant altogether

• Use a hand mirror to look behind rainwater pipes as splits and cracks in old cast iron and aluminium often occur here and are not easily noticed 

• Fit bird/leaf guards to the tops of soil pipes and rainwater outlets to prevent blockages

• Have gutters refixed if they are sloping the wrong way or discharging water onto the wall

• If sections are beyond repair, make sure that replacements are made of the same material as the originals
(on older houses, this is sometimes lead, but more usually cast iron)

• Regular painting of cast iron is essential to prevent rust – and keeps your property looking good!

• Don’t – undertake routine maintenance work at high level unless you are accompanied and have suitable equipment.

If in doubt always seek help from a professional  

And here’s a very important extra tip - remember to take care at all times, wear protective gloves when necessary and never work at heights or use ladders if you are alone