Monday, January 21, 2013

External Decorations - Routine Property Maintenance – Part 2

Nature gives us the choice of whether to ignore our buildings externally and let them deteriorate or to undertake regular maintenance and improve their life expectancy and aesthetic appeal.  We have no control over nature but we do have control over how we react to it. 

Source: Google Images
I am not a mechanic but like most people I am aware that if I do not take care of my car then it will eventually break down. Regardless of what you may know about cars, most people (but not everyone!) can do basic things such as checking oil and water levels, checking and maintaining tyre pressures as well as filling up with fuel and occasionally even cleaning the car!  In a similar way buildings require 'regular basic maintenance' in order to prevent more long term issues manifesting themselves, which if not carried out can prove to be very expensive to rectify.  Last week I discussed the importance of undertaking maintenance to buildings and introduced a number of routine basic maintenance tasks including clearing rainwater gutters, cutting back trees, shrubs and vegetation and washing down UPVC.  This week I offer some further advice in respect of external decorations.

How many times do you walk or drive past a building, which is in a very poor state repair and asked yourself why the occupants have allowed this to happen?  Allowing the external envelope of a building to deteriorate will not only give a very negative visual impression, but also create an environment for materials/components to deteriorate and decay. As an example let us consider softwood timber, which is used externally for numerous building components including windows, doors, soffit and fascia boards, barge boards, cladding and so on.  Different treatments are available, including oil and water based preservatives, which are designed to reduce the risk of moisture ingress into the timber and therefore protect and increase the serviceable life of the material.  These however do not last forever and even in the event that pre-treated timber is used it will still require regular coatings to maintain the protection.  Where pre-treated timber is not used, it is necessary to provide an alternative protection, which in most cased will be a painted finish.  Once the protective coating to the timber deteriorates, be that preservative or paint, the timber then becomes vulnerable to decay, particularly wet rot. As a general rule of thumb, the time frame for routinely carrying out external decorations is between three and five years, however this will vary depending on a number of factors. 

Timber Splice Repair - Source: Google Images
Firstly, preparation of decorated surfaces.  Even if timber is in the early stages of decay, it is still necessary to deal with the decay before applying the decorative finish.  There is not much point in just painting over decaying timber (and I have seen this many times), and hoping that the problem will some how rectify itself!  In these situations, depending on the extent of decay it may be necessary to cut out effected parts and introduce new timber (something called a splice repair), if the decay is less serious it may be more appropriate to remove areas of decaying timber and then fill with a good quality timber filler, or in serious cases it may be necessary to replace the whole component. Whatever the circumstances the repair must be appropriate depending on the extent of decay.

Secondly, quality of materials – It is essential that the correct products are used when undertaking external decorations.  You only need to visit one of the large national DIY outlets to see that there are numerous manufacturers who provide a range of products for all sorts of applications.  This seemingly unlimited choice is sometimes the problem.  Many people do not read the labels properly (sometimes not at all) and end up buying a product that is not appropriate.  A common example of this is where internal quality gloss paint is used for external applications. 

The other issue in respect of quality of materials is cost.  The quality of products can vary significantly and the cheapest price very rarely represents best value.  It often proves to be more cost effective to use more expensive products because they are likely to be better quality and therefore last longer.  More expensive products do not always guarantee this however a little bit of research into a product (nowadays with the internet you read other customers reviews) will help you to decide.  Using well know established brands may also be worth considering.  These again may prove to be more costly, however they are well known brands for a reason! 

Finally, quality of workmanship – You do not need to be a tradesperson to undertake decorations to your building, as most people can lift and use a paintbrush!   This may be true for applying a finishing coat and works of a simple nature, however a little more knowledge is required when undertaking the majority of external decorations. 

Depending on the surface to be decorated, after preparation, it may be necessary to apply an undercoat or primer, followed by a number of finishing coats.  Certain products will also come with a list of ‘manufacturers instructions’, which must be followed in order to make the finish effective.  Failure to understand and apply an appropriate level of workmanship will result in a sub-standard finish, which will undoubtedly require addressing much sooner than you would want.  I would suggest that poor workmanship was the most common factor for many of the external defects that I come across when undertaking inspections.  Therefore, in some circumstances it is likely to be more cost effective to employ the services of someone who has got the correct level of knowledge and expertise, than attempting the work yourself to try to save a few pennies.

Decorating externally on a routine basis is fundamental to maintaining and improving the serviceable life of building components and materials.  For the purposes of this article I have considered external joinery, however all materials/components should be considered in a similar way.  Nature gives us the choice of whether to ignore our buildings externally and let them deteriorate or to undertake regular maintenance and improve their life expectancy and aesthetical appeal.  We have no control over nature but we do have control over how we react to it. 

The video below shows a method of repairing a timber window frame which has suffered wet rot decay.  If the timber had decayed any further it is likely that a splice repair would be necessary. 

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.


  1. In older properties, there could be concealed lead paint. The British Coatings Federation produces a good guide which can be found here

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