Give your period house an MOT for winter

Old buildings like mine need constant watching and tending, but even the newest of properties need maintenance. Many people are a bit daunted when it comes to maintenance, wondering just what they should be looking for and doing. That’s why The Society for The Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB’s) annual National Maintenance Week campaign in November (this year, November 19 – 26) is so helpful because it provides homeowners with simple, practical advice that can really make a difference.

* 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.
* Checking the roof for damaged or slipped tiles is another important task. 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. Every year I wash down the paintwork. This not only prolongs the life of the finish, it gives me a good opportunity to check them 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.

Even if you only tackle these simple areas you’ll be making a good start.

Recommended videos for you

Based on the regular winter maintenance chores I do around my own house, I’ve put together a simple SPAB 10-Minute House MOT to help people check their properties this autumn. It’s important to remind everyone to act safely and responsibly and not to tackle areas that really need a professional, eg. high roofs! But I hope this simple checklist will give you the confidence to do a bit of troubleshooting around your own house before a minor problem turns into a major disaster.

Top to Toe: SPAB’s 10-Minute Home MOT

Ten Tips to help you check that your nest is Tip Top – using binoculars can be helpful.

1) Do you have a chimney?

* Is it leaning?
* Is there any growth coming from the top?
* Can you see any missing joints?

All of these can lead to potential problems

2) Check your roof covering

* If it is tile or slate, are any slipped or missing?

Look out for tile debris and pieces at ground level – these can be tell tale signs of problem areas allowing rain to enter and cause rot very quickly

3) Look at the ridge tiles along the top of your roof
* Are they all there?
* Are there gaps where they join each other – ie can you see daylight through the joints?

Gaps may indicate a need to repoint.

4) Check gutters

* Are they leaking at joints?
* Do they overflow?
* Are they catching water from the roof or is it running down the wall?

Looking on a rainy day is by far the best time to check

5) Behind the gutters are the soffit and fascias and at the end of the roof quite often there are barge boards. If they are timber check if they need painting as bare wood rots quickly

6) Are your rainwater pipes working?

* They can be cracked
* Not fixed securely
* Or just blocked with things like leaves, twigs, tennis balls and even dead birds!
Green algae or vegetation on adjacent walls is a common sign of a problem

7) If your windows and doors are timber they need painting every three to five years.

* Look for bare wood especially on the cills and the lower parts of the opening sashes

Regular painting provides protection

8) Look at the bottom of the rainwater pipes to check the gullies

* They need regular cleaning. Look to see if they are working – if not they can cause dampness where the build up enables water to penetrate a wall and, possibly, cause subsidence

9) Check all growth against the building especially trees bushes and ivy
* remove, cut back and prune carefully where necessary

These items growing on a wall can also cause dampness and structural damage

10) If your 10-Minute Home MOT has identified problems consult a builder for specialist advice

* Check him as well, ask for references!

Find out more about SPAB’s annual National Maintenance Week (November 19 – 26) by visiting which offers practical and straightforward advice on maintenance and repairs to everyone who looks after a property.

Marianne Suhr is education officer for The Society for The Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) and co author of Old House Handbook, an authoritative guide on how to look after your old house.


You can find out more about the work of the SPAB and other heritage organisations on ProjectBook which has been created to help owners of listed or period properties understand how their buildings work and to help them find appropriate craftsmen, products and specialist information. The online Heritage Register contains over 540 registered businesses, the largest directory of its type in the UK. For more information, visit