Approaching Timber Conservation
Every historic building is different. Nobody can argue that a 200-year-old structure has been badly constructed. But they can get deteriorated due to various incidents that happened in their lifetime. It is our duty to preserve them, and conservation projects are what makes them happen. This blog explains the steps that need to be taken before starting work on a conservation project. It also spells out the different methods of timber conservation in these historic buildings.
List of Contents
1. Documentation of the Building
In conservation projects, detailed research of documents will lead to the history of the building; earlier interventions etc. A thorough physical inspection of the building, especially the roof and its structure should be carried out. Many aspects such as changes made to the roof, roof gutters, lack of maintenance, any alterations, quality of workmanship etc. will be revealed during documentation. Even during early inspections, there are always surprises when crawling through a ceiling trap door. Many members which look sound from outside may be in an advanced stage of deterioration after the building is opened up.
The worst is discovering that the majority of the rafters have been eaten away by termites or have rotted due to moisture penetration. When it comes to the repair of old buildings, it is almost impossible to arrive at an exact cost, before the work commences. The measurements and sizes which are given in the estimate are only approximate. Therefore, every element that needs to be repaired or replaced should be recorded before the commencement of the building preservation project. An attempt should be made to make the estimate as detailed as possible.
2. Ways of Timber Conservation
The timber roof is a predominant element in numerous historic buildings. A non-leaking roof is very important for the protection of the masonry, plaster, floor, ceiling etc. In the case of a timber roof that is leaking profusely, one may consider putting up a temporary roof using materials such as tarpaulin or galvanized iron sheets to help the building dry out. Additionally, the sizes of the timber members are usually over-specified in old buildings. They may be affected by defects like knots, insect decay or fungal decay.
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If the damage is beyond a limit, then temporary supports can be provided to support the defective members. The timber members which are rotten by fungal decay or insects could be removed and replaced. If the damaged area is small, it can be cut away and a new piece of timber can be joined to the remaining portion. Another option would be to strengthen the members using other materials like steel. If the damage is confined to a very small area, an epoxy-based repair is an option. Once the structural repair is completed, the adjacent areas may be treated with preservatives.
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3. Avoid Dismantling of Timber Roofs and Floors
There is a tendency among carpenters, contractors, and engineers to replace even slightly damaged wood members. Dismantling of a timber roof or floor should be the last resort in conservation projects. In-situ repair has to be given prime consideration. The problem with dismantling the roof is that it leads to a chain of replacements, and many timbers will get damaged in the process. In the case of a damaged timber beam, as shown in Photo 2, replacement of the primary timber beam will lead to the disruption of the whole structure, including ceiling planks, secondary beams etc. This can be an impossible task when there is an original painting on the ceiling.
The historic value of the building is because of its unique construction method and decorative details. Thus, every effort must be made to preserve the surviving timber in its original context. As a result, if it is structurally possible to carry out the conservation of old buildings without destroying a portion of them, each element of the edifice should be documented and the bare minimum replaced.
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