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Preventive Maintenance in Histonc Stn~ctutes NORMAN R. WEISS 1 This paper reviews the role of the construction industry in the maintenance of historic structures. Cyclical inspection and maintenance procedures are derived from an understanding of the behavior of the entire building. This approach demands familiarity with materials and systems not normally con- sidered within the domain of the masonry contractors. Problems with the use of modem industrial maintenance products are discussed in terms of both performance and advertising claims, the latter often suggesting uses that can be destructive to weathered materials. Deemphasis of craft skills in contem- porary construction is also considered as a factor in the increasing inability of building owners to contract for careful duplication of historic and functional details. In recent years we have barely begun to shed the linguistic apparel that has kept building maintenance isolated from the scientific inves- tigative process. While the term "conservator" has come to mean a skilled materials specialist trained in building science, architectural history, and project management, the words "maintenance man" still leave us with an image of little more than the faceless fellow on the wooden end of a mop. In principle, competent building maintenance has the capacity to make a unique and outstanding contribution to the preservation of Norman R. Weiss is Assistant Professor of Architecture and Planning, Columbia Uni- versity. 281
282 CONSERVATION OF HISTORIC STONE BUILDINGS historic structures. Since 1974 this potential has been recognized and encouraged through training efforts by the National Park Service, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Association for Pres- ervation Technology. Viewed in terms of the duration of interaction with the structure, maintenance emerges as the most significant com- ponent of the conservation process. Maintenance personnel form a permanent team whose work continues long after the restoration crew has completed its more glamorous assignment. In this essay I would like to examine the difference between main- tenance theory and practice to attempt to bridge the wide gulf be- tween concept and performance. The logical premises upon which a maintenance plan can be con- structed are few and rather simple. First among them is that periodic inspection is a necessary component of the maintenance process. Upon the frequency of this type of examination depends the ability to locate problematic conditions soon after their appearance. Second, the nonlinearity of many weathering processes makes de- terioration more readily correctable in its early stages. Thus, appro- priate remedial actions based on periodic inspection can almost be preventive. Frequent operations at a relatively low level of intervention can be scheduled on the basis of prior experience with the stability of the materials present and with the observed patterns of building use. When maintenance operations are performed in-house, the physical closeness of the staff to the problem is a third asset. The basic issue, once again, is swiftness of response, combined in this instance with a day-in day-out familiarity with the building's systems. Finally, the record-keeping associated with maintenance a~ninis- tration is a valid means of trial-and-error learning and also provides important information to guide larger conservation efforts. Examina- tion of data recorded over a significant period can provide evidence of the lifetime of building materials in actual service. Such evidence is often more reliable than that generated by simulating weathering via accelerated testing. Unfortunately, many maintenance men have relatively little craft experience in traditional building trades and they have insufficient exposure to the new technology of architectural conservation. Training programs are necessary to impart even the most basic information on identifying materials and on conventional cleaning and repair proce- dures. Emphasis here must be on meetings, lectures, and demonstra- tions rather than on written texts maintenance manuals, training pamplets, and regulation books are not popular reading in the em- ployees' lunchroom. Perhaps because of this uncomfortable relation-
Preventive Maintenance in Historic Structures 283 ship of maintenance personnel with the written word, record keeping tends in reality to be erratic. A further problem is frequent employee turnover in Tow-leve! po- sitions, which undermines the effectiveness of educational programs. Employees in supervisory positions, while not necessarily more com- petent, have the benefit of seniority. They may, however, have been frequently transferred from site to site, having had little opportunity to learn the workings of any structure for which they have been re- sponsible. These comments, of course, have been directed toward predictable events in the lifetime of a building. When the unexpected occurs, maintenance personnel frequently avoid diagnosing the condition and seek instead to treat symptoms observed. Administrators wrongly place considerable emphasis on mopping up water and painting over stains, rather than on stopping leaks at their point of origin. When the type or extent of required remedial action calls for the services of a mason contractor, the ability to respond quickly may disappear. Contracting can be a time-consuming task, especially with publicly-owned buildings that may require allocating a significant amount of staff time to the preparation of forms. Similarly, contractural problems plague the in-house user of main- tenance products. Technical-product literature much of it laced lib- erally with quasiscientific gibberish must often be interpreted by pur- chasing officers, who are generally unfamiliar with the maintenance process. Their primary responsibility is to determine the equivalency of apparently similar products that may be cheaper, made locally, or distributed by a more reliable source. To accomplish this task on any basis of scientific fact is frequently impossible. Amidst this frustration lies another, somewhat concealed set of prob- lems that affects the construction industry at large. In the past few decades the role of the U.S. construction worker has changed. Today he is less of a craftsman and more of a heavy equipment operator. In some instances, he is merely an assembler of prefabricated parts. It hardly seems surprising, then, that today's average mason knows noth- ing about the tuckpointing of eighteenth-century brickwork. A number of other problems seem less related to the so-called prog- ress of contemporary construction technology than to the overall or- g~ni~ation of the industry. Trade specialization makes it difficult for craftsman and contractor alike to understand the reciprocal relation- ships between stone and other building materials wood, metals, paints, and so on. These relationships affect the pattern of the normal aging process of structures; they play a major part in the overall failure of a
284 CONSERVATION OF HISTORIC STONE BUILDINGS substantial percentage of large-scale masonry conservation efforts. For in-house work, there is frequently little understanding of the role played by such common operations as floor cleaning and deicing in the decay process. Materials manufacturers, another part of the industry, seem at times to work at cross-purposes to us all. Their products are compositionally remote from the analytical reagent-grade materials that we test in our laboratories. They are, by and large, cheap, although a 55-gallon drum of anything is expensive these days. To survive in the marketplace, a good product must still be affordable. Even when considerations of cost can be set aside, performance data may be irrelevant in product selection. Many of the products offered for preservation/maintennnce have been developed for and tested on new construction systems. In cleaners, coatings, and admixtures, this is where the profits are. There is a curious paradox in all of this, in that the attitude of organized labor toward maintenance workers has only recently started to change. Traces of the poor-cousin status persist, despite the fact that building maintenance is a rich source of jobs. For instance, con- struction unemployment has risen to 13 percent, twice the national rate for several other industries. But in New York City, Local 66the Pointers, Cleaners, and Caulkers local has 100 percent of its men working. The number of new housing starts, used as an indicator of our national economic health, is manipulated by fiscal planners, cre- ating a stop-and-start situation. But building maintenance, by its very nature, goes on. I mention Local 66 because it is of particular interest to me. In the fall of 1977, officials of this local, representing the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen, agreed to cooperate wih a training project called RESTORE. This project was developed by the Municipal Art Society, a not-for-profit organization with a board of socially and culturally prominent New Yorkers and a young and active staff. This curious amalgam of bricklayers and preservationists was created to disseminate building-maintenance restoration know-how to joumey- man masons, talented apprentices, and mason contractors. Several of the participants in this~conference have appeared as guest speakers for RESTORE, sharing with me the presentation of 50 cIass- room hours of lectures and nearly 30 hours of laboratory and workshop demonstrations each year. We are looking forward to the inception this fall of a second program of shorter, more intensive courses in both masonry and plasterwork conservation. These will be offered in a num- ber of cities throughout the country.
Preventive Maintenance in Historic Structures 285 RESTORE has succeded in part because it responds to a need for information that can be put directly into the mechanic's hands. That this need is real is supported by recent national figures showing that approximately 85 percent of all work on existing buildings is done within a simple contractor-owner relationshipwithout a restoration architect, architectural conservator, or structural engineer. Other successes are possible. Preventive maintenance, however, is grossly underfunded. This is as true for relatively new buildings as it is for historic ones. And it is true despite the fact that 35 percent of the construction dollars spent in 1979 were for preservation/mainte- nance. Look carefully at buildings in your own neighborhood and you will see that economic pressures have created a brutal emphasis on the functionality of repair work. Yet I am certain that the construction industry can refine its methods if we can somehow instill in today's tradesmen an antiquarian affection for old buildings. We need to balance the "fix-it-up-cheap" demands of the marketplace with a genuine personal concern for a different kind of maintenance, the maintenance of visual and historic quality. BIBLIO GRAPHY [Prepared at the committee's request by Anne Grimmer, National Park Service.] Architectural Resources Group. Checklist for Building Code Compliance and Building Inspection Checklist. Compiled by Bruce Judd (203 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94133), 1980. Chamber, J. Henry. Cyclical Maintenance for Historic Buildings. National Park Service: Washington, D.C., 1976. Council for the Care of Churches. How to Look After Your Church. London, 1970. Davey, Andy, Bob Heath, Desmond Hodges, Roy Milne, and Mandy Palmer. The Care and Conservation of Georgian Houses: A Maintenance Manual. The Architectural Press with the Edinburgh New Town Conservation Committee: London, 1980. Gilder, Comelia Brooke. Property Owner's Guide to the Maintenance and Repair of Stone Buildings. Technical Series/No. 5. The Preservation League of New York State: Albany, 1977. Holmstrom, Ingmar, and Christina Sandstrom. Maintenance of Old Buildings Preser- vation from the Technical and Antiquarian Standpoint. National Swedish Building Research Document D10. National Swedish Institute for Building Research: Stock- holm, 1975. Huhn, Tom. Directory of Training Programs and Inforn~anon Resources on Restoration and Preservation Building Trades and Crafts. Fact Sheet. National Trust for Historic Preservation: Washington, D.C., 1981. Insall, Donald. The Care of Old Buildings Today: A Practical Guide. The Architectural Press: London, 1972. Mack, Robert C. Preservation Briefs: 1. The Cleaning and Waterproof Coating of Ma- sonry Buildings. National Park Service: Washington, D.C., 1975.
286 CONSERVATION OF HISTORIC STONE. BUILDINGS Melville, Ian A., and Ian A. Gordon. The Repair and Maintenance of Houses. The Estates Gazette Limited: London, 1973. Pierpont, Robert N. A Primer Preservation for the Property Owner. The Preservation League of New York State: Albany, 1978. Stahl Associates, Inc. Maintenance, Repair and Alteration of Histonc Buildings. HP Document No. 1. General Services Administration: Washington, D.C., 1981. Weiss, Norman R. Cleaning of building exteriors: problems and procedures of dirt re- moval. Technology and Conservation 2j76~:8-13~1976~. Weiss, Norman R. Exterior Cleaning of Historic Masonry Buildings. Draft Report. Na- tional Park Service: Washington, D.C., 1975.