Annual inspection and possible maintenance can play an important part to extending the future life-span of a wall or structure. Prompt and appropriate action can reduce further damage and increased costs. If problems have occurred with a structure, to prevent repeated damage it is important to identify the original causes. Most frequent causes can be; lack of maintenance, damage by foliage (especially ivy), above or below ground tree damage, or soil removal or settlement. A correct assessment will recommend the most appropriate action to take.
In an ideal world structures should always remain free of foliage. Small plants like lichen or moss will always exist on the structure and cause little harm. However larger foliage in general will always encourage the breakdown of a wall by: holding water that causes freeze thaw; roots and stems can expand and create cracks and structure breakdown; encourage organic matter; by pure weight pull a structure over. Well chosen or well maintained plants can enhance the beauty of a flint wall with limited damage. By chosing ‘self clinging plants‘ such as Virginia Creeper or Clematis, plants that work on a sucker system or rest on wires rather than eating into the wall, the life expectancy of the wall may increase. If ivy is already an integral part of the wall and not possible to remove, it is very important that it is regularly cut back, and not allowed to spread or become ‘top heavy‘. We have rebuilt many walls where the wall could not cope any longer with the pure weight of the foilage. Small plants can grow on the wall, as long as it is in moderation. Small pockets of Toad Flax or Alyssum can visually break up the large expanse of a flint wall with little damage caused. In our opinion the three plants that cause the most damage to walls and flint structures are ivy, budlia and elder. So beware!
It is never a good idea to have any tree of any size in close proximity to a structure. Tree root, trunk or branch damage can cause many problems to a wall. New planting of trees should be well thought out. If expansion of an existing tree branch or limb is getting close to a wall structure, it may be possible to reshape the wall structure to alleviate pressure against the wall. If in doubt with regards to choosing a tree or doing any work to an existing tree it is always important to seek further advice either from the local district tree officer or from a recommended tree surgeon.
When inspecting a wall, as well as noting missing flints or pieces of mortar it is important to specifically check the condition of the top of the wall. The wall may be capped with half round or pointed capping bricks, or it may have a render finish. Ingress of water from the top of a wall can rapidly increase damage. Water can penetrate down the centre of the wall splitting the two outer leaves of flint apart. What general wall remedial action to take (if any) will depend on the scale of the problem. Despite the ongoing headache of maintaining the house let alone any garden walls or structures, it is always better to be proactive and maintain rather than be reactive to a major problem.
Despite what may appear as a complicated process, many repairs can be carried out by most individuals who are prepared to spend a little time and effort. However before undertaking any work it is important to assess the structure correctly. If it is of major structural or historical importance it may be important or even necessary to seek the advice of a professional or a conservation agency.
Before undertaking any work it is recommended to spend a little time appraising, researching and documenting the wall. With this little effort you will go a long way towards keeping the aesthetics and retaining the local distinctiveness of the structure. Damage can occur with indifference or when wrong repair techniques and materials have been used. When using correct methods and materials you are more likely to prolong the life of the structure. The Flintman Company gives consultation with technical advice on repairs and sourcing of skills and materials for specific projects, however large or small.
Become a flint knapper for a day. During 2014 the Company will be running its annual series of practical one day courses on flint work, and its use in structures. The courses are aimed at Architects, Conservation Officers, Planning Officers and private individuals. These courses emphasise and encourage the importance, and need, of good practice in flint construction and conservation. If you are interested in coming on a Course, require further information or would like to go on the mailing list please contact David Smith on (07973) 384057 or e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org.
We hope this Information Sheet may have been of interest now or in the future. The use of traditional building materials such as flint, forms an essential element in the promotion of ‘local distinctiveness’. We hope that you will encourage and uphold this tradition. Any comments or suggestions that you have towards improving this information sheet are always welcome. Good luck and good wall maintenance!
© The Flintman Company Ltd.