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Conservation work – top tips for success

Image/Richard Parr People’s Studio/Gilbert McCarragher

Heritage work demands a different approach. This Q and A with Ben Sturges, Operations Director of specialist paint company Graphenstone UK highlights the issues.

Q: How do you I check if a building is in a conservation area. How would I work with the client to establish this? 

A: This would really be down to the client and or the contractor.  Usually, it’s the conservation architect specifying paint for their client, or the client who tends to ask for a specific type of paint from their contractor. Ultimately it would always be the conservation or listings officer who makes that final decision.

Most people with a heritage building want to use traditional materials, but often these can be quite impractical, and understanding which product to use and how to apply it can be a little daunting. Always work with your chosen paint supplier to determine the coating to use.

Graphenstone paints can be the answer to some of these types of projects, where paint needs to work for contemporary living standards. It is easy to use, has excellent coverage and opacity and ‘standard decorating rules’ very much apply. Graphenstone products ‘breathe’ (allow water vapour to pass through the paint)  and are classified as Class 1, with Sd ratings of between 0.01 and 0.1. They work to support and enhance the fabric of a building and being washable (tested to Class 1 wet scrub rating).

Q: What kind of restrictions are there when it comes to specifying colours that are permitted for use on both internal and external surfaces for buildings with listed or special status? What should those specifying colour think about on older building projects? 

A: Colour may well be down to the individual area or conservation and listings officers. Each project is highly individual. 

Q: What kind of guidance can Graphenstone offer in these situations?

A:We do offer a bespoke colour matching service which can be invaluable for tricky projects where an exact match is required to an existing finish or individual colour. 

Q: How should surfaces be prepared before applying paint to older buildings to ensure they are able to breathe ?

A: Older properties tend to have a mix of materials having been applied at some point in the past, so, for best performance, we would always recommend stripping the surface back to the original substrate .This ensures you are using a single system from primer to topcoat and will ensure a fully vapour open or ‘breathable’ surface.

Moisture in buildings can be a factor as it can affect everything from the structure of the building – allowing timber frames to rot or creating the perfect breeding ground for pests such as Death Watch Beetle – as well as causing unsightly damp patches and creating the optimum environment for mould and mildews to spread. Vapour open paints that allow surfaces to ‘breathe’ such as Graphenstone, help to manage these moisture levels, enabling it to evaporate from the surface rather than being trapped behind it.

My top tips for the application of coatings after stripping a surface would be:

1) Allow any substrate sufficient time to dry out properly – suitable repairs should be made (using natural lime-based plasters and fillers, natural insulations, and breathable felts and materials) and then allowed to dry/cure. 

2) Clean down surfaces well, make sure they are dust-free before applying any coatings. 

3) Prepare the surface with an appropriate primer, followed by 2 coats of Graphenstone paint. That way you have a fully vapour open (Class 1 rated) paint finish.

Once fully cured, you have a durable, washable and ‘breathable’ paint system that works with the structure of the building.

Q: In the event coatings need to be removed from properties – how would this be approached/steps/best practice?

A: It will largely depend on the building and substrate. There are numerous ways to remove coatings, including manually or using chemical poultice strippers (paste), to more professional systems such as dry ice blasting, and high pressure/high temperature cleaning systems such as DOFF.

In all cases, test small areas to ensure compatibility and make sure you know the nature of the surface you are dealing with. Pay particular care to materials containing asbestos and old lead-based coatings. These will need to be dealt with by a professional.

Q: Should old hardwoods be painted ? Use of oils on hardwoods? 

A: This can very much depend on personal choice and the hardwood – not all timber needs coating (Cedar, Accoya) and can age and weather naturally. Always prepare well, check for moisture and compatibility before going ahead with any project using either oil based or water-based coatings.

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