Normal Cyclical Maintenance for Historic Houses

The following information was provided by the City of Austin Historic Preservation Office

Clean the Walls Regularly:
Use a mild soap solution to clean dirt, pollutants, insect and bird residues from wood, stone, and brick walls.

Use a mild bleach solution to clean mold, mildew, and moss from masonry walls. Cleaning mold from the walls regularly reduces the level of moisture in the walls and prevents the early deterioration of masonry and mortar.

Remove any plant growth from walls – plans retain moisture against the walls, causing deterioration of the wall material. Be especially watchful for north-facing walls and adjacent vegetation – north walls receive a limited amount of sun, and plants adjacent to the north walls tend to cause more moisture retention than plantings against other walls.

Roofing and Gutters:
Clean the gutters on a regular basis to ensure that they work properly. A clogged gutter allows water to pour down an exterior wall, which results in the buildup of mold or moss on the wall; moisture leads to deterioration of the wall materials.

Ensure that the gutters lead to downspouts which direct the water away from the building. Evidence of a malfunctioning downspout or gutter includes a buildup of mold or moss on the wall at the bottom of the downspout. Directing water away from the building is crucial to prevent deterioration from moisture and to prevent rising damp, which occurs when the piers of the building begin to wick up moisture from the ground, causing deterioration of the exterior and interior walls of the building. Too much moisture around a house could require the installation of a new ground drainage system, such as French drains, to direct water away from the building and protect its stability. Check with your contractor to determine if your ground drainage system is working properly to preserve your building.

Clear tree debris from the roof regularly to prevent the buildup of moisture under the leaves and branches which will result in the deterioration of the roofing materials.

Paint
Be sure that all wood elements of the building are painted or otherwise treated to prevent water penetration. Water causes wood to rot, and historic wooden elements are both susceptible to rot and often difficult to replace. Bare wood requires the application of an all-purpose primer then several coats of paint to provide complete coverage. Clean, sand, and re-clean any areas which require painting, and pay particular attention to areas which are subject to deterioration because of exposure to the sun or which seem to have more moisture-retention problems than other areas of the house. Contact a contractor if you find rotten wood – the wood may be repaired with putty, or it may have to be replaced if the rot is too widespread. Do not paint over rotted wood!

Windows and Doors
Ensure that all windows and doors close properly to avoid water penetration. Repair broken glass, broken window sash-members and screens whenever you notice a failure of the material. Wooden sills are especially vulnerable to wood rot if left unprotected, or if the wood breaks allowing moisture into the window or door unit. Caulk and paint the window sashes and panes if they appear to be deteriorating, or if the glass panes appear to be loose.

Re-pointing Masonry
Brick walls require close inspection to ensure that the mortar is not deteriorating. Signs of mortar deterioration include crumbling mortar, uneven mortar joints, deeply recessed joints, and holes in the mortar. Before undertaking a re-pointing project, consult the City Historic Preservation Office to obtain specifications for the mortar type to be used on historic masonry walls.

Fences, Walls and Outbuildings
Ensure that fences, walls and outbuildings are cleared of debris, and that the fence, wall or outbuildings are maintained in accordance with the guidelines above for the type of material.