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How do I repair stone on an old building that is Listed that does not look ugly?


Church Surveyors and stone buildings

As Independent Surveyors we carry out structural surveys on all Eras, types and styles of building included stone constructed buildings.  If you are responsible for looking after a stone building call our friendly team of surveyors for helpful stone building advice free phone 0800 409 6824.

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Introduction to stone buildings

We look in this article at every type of stone building from churches to houses and everything in between.

During a recent presentation photographs were shown of stone repairs on a church.  The stone repairs, for want of a better term, were ugly and stood out in bright white stone, which did not look to be the same kind of stone as the original church.  We have pondered why better matches and a more discrete repair could not have been carried out.  The question is – are there better alternatives to the way we repair stonework at present?


Deteriorating stonework

Deteriorating stonework

Stonework replacement stands out

Stonework replacement stands out as you can see in the adjoining photographs and does not match the original church wall the stone is squarely shaped and dissimilar to the surrounding stones.


stonework replacement

Stone repairs to historic buildings from churches to houses

Over the years stones can weather and deteriorate in many ways and then you are left in the position of needing to repair the stone particularly as dampness may be coming through into the main structure causing deterioration inside as well.


Before we look at the repair lets look at the cause of the problem

Often the need to repair stonewalls can come about due to other problems on the property.  Over the years, in our experience, these have generally been related to the following:-

  1. Cement mortar render and/or cement mortar pointing

Cement mortar is a hard material, originally a lime mortar or even a mixture of lime and cement, which are much softer than the current day cement both offering the opportunity for any water to run down the wall following the joint.  When this is re-pointed in a cement mortar this leads to deterioration of the stonework.

 cement pointing and dampness

Before you start any repair works we believe that you should also look at the condition of the stone and ascertain why there are problems.

  2.  Weathering of stone

Some stones are much softer than other stones and will weather.  Softer stones tend to have some carving either inside or outside the church or historic building this is because they are soft and as such will weather.  This is where replacement is needed but thought also needs to be given to the drip detailing and the joints.

  3.  Gutters, downpipes and hopperheads

Double check gutters, downpipes and hopperheads.

A cause of problems can often be other elements of the building such as gutters, downpipes, hopperheads etc;  these need to be checked and cleaned as a very basic requirement and also checked for cracks in them to ascertain if leaks are occurring.  Often, to some extent, the acid content of rain can indicate where gutters and downpipes are leaking showing lighter coloured stones.

leaking gutter

Leaking gutter - deterioration to wall

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 Dampness and gutters

The photograph shows two gutters the lower gutter is a sit on wall gutter and can have dampness problems too as shown in the adjoining survey sketch.

gutter on wall problems

Overflowing box gutters

Overflowing box gutters where too much rainwater is being discharged into them can be a problem.  Deterioration then occurs around the box gutter and to the downpipe below.

We have seen box gutters with an overflow on them which we think is good as this also helps clear any debris.

The adjoining photograph shows too problem box gutters with signs of overflowing and deterioration to the stonework one to the centre and one to the top right of the photo.

overflowing box gutter

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Did the stonework have a protective coat?

Many buildings with stonework had a protective coat of lime-wash, which builds up a protective layer, which was only added in relatively recent times (the past fifty to one hundred years).  In the years that we not have been regularly lime-washing some of the stonework there is no protection.

Investigations should be carried out to ascertain whether the building was originally lime-washed as this may be a way of preventing further damage to the stone as a whole.


Repairing stonework 

If it was a simple as replacing the existing stone as it is with materials that are made relatively quickly such as bricks and render there would not be a problem.  The problem with churches and historic buildings built of stone is often the stone is no longer available and no longer quarried.  Alternatives therefore need to be sought, you may be lucky and there may be a store of the particular stone available or you may be unlucky and have to choose a stone from another quarry. 


Choice of stone

The choice of stone is a difficult question.  Should you choose a stone that looks like the existing stone but will weather completely differently or do you choose a stone that weathers in a similar way or better way than the existing stone?


Do you require Listed Building Consent for stonework?

It will depend upon the extent and the magnitude of the stonework.  If it is truly repair then this work will not require Listed Building Consent.  However with some buildings it is best to consult with the local Conservation Officer to gain their view, opinion and contacts on how best to restore stone.


Can you avoid the brand new looking stone in an old building?

The general consensus at present is that you need to carry out an honest repair and as such this repair will be visible.  It will be particularly visible where the rest of the stonework around it is weathered and the repair stone has been formed in such a manner that the original stone would have been therefore tending to stand out.  It will also stand out colourwise as you have a relatively new looking stone.


An alternative that we have come across recently is where stonework has not been replaced at all by stone but by an alternative of a tile on edge.  We are sure that there are many factors that have come into play before this option was chosen, the building concerned is very prestigious and is a Grade I Listed building. 


In the adjoining photograph you can see that the architect choose in this instance to replace the stonework using an alternative in the form of tiles on edge.

stonework replaced with tiles

Some alternatives can work better than others


In the adjoining photograph of a church in Cambridge you can see a crazy paving type effect has been chosen on the wall, which is part of an extension that some people like and some don't!

Cambridge church

Specific problems require specific solutions


We always say that specific problems require specific solutions and specification.  We known the temptation to save money by going directly to a stone mason or builder but you do need to be aware that they may not have your best interests at heart but may have their own work requirements at heart and also they may not have the breadth and knowledge of stonework to make the correct decision.

When do you decide to replace a stone?


Damage and deterioration is caused by pollutants in the atmosphere, together with acid rain as well as poor repairs and bad maintenance.

If the structural integrity of a building is compromised due to stonework failing then stonework should be replaced.

The adjoining photograph of shows a mixture of repaired stone and un-repaired stone around the arched window. 

mixture of repaired and unprepared stone

Independent Chartered Surveyors - always happy to help


We are Independent Chartered Surveyors specialising in churches and historic buildings giving 100% impartial advice.  We are here to give you advice on any problem areas providing comprehensive building surveys and quinquennial reports with information as to how to solve any building issues together with outlining anticipated costs.

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