The Need For Innovation – Why Research In Building Conservation Technology Has To Continue?

The Need for Innovation – Why Research in Building Conservation Technology Has to Continue?

The Need for Ongoing Innovation

Our main area of interest is dampness, more specifically: understanding and solving dampness related problems in old buildings. As we started working in this field we gradually became aware of some of its controversies - lots of opinions and conflicting ideas floating around, such as:

  • ... it's normal that old buildings are damp and you have to live with it...
  • ... rising damp is condensation...
  • ... stone buildings are cold...
  • ... if it breathes it's not waterproof...
  • ... rising damp doesn't exist...
  • ... lime is just too soft...
  • ... the way to solve dampness is to seal it completely...

... just to name a few.

Moreover, there seems to be considerable disagreement even among professionals on how dampness should be eradicated or dealt with, or what materials should be used for renovating an old building, making property owners seeking for advice often deeply confused. Over the past years we have learned the hard way that beyond a few basic concepts, scientific data and efficient conservation technology is almost completely missing when dealing with difficult scenarios. 

Let me illustrate this: conservation professionals know that they "need to use lime". But they also know that "lime is porous and weak" so when it comes to, say, waterproofing a basement, they resort to modern materials such as cement tanking, plastic membranes and bituminous paints etc - despite of the fact that they know these are neither traditional nor good for an old building.

We noticed the same in other areas too, in the field of:

  • Plastering, rendering and pointing
  • Adding thermal insulation to old buildings
  • Damp proofing listed buildings
  • Draft proofing
  • Adding protective coats against salts etc.

Add to this the pressure from various regulatory bodies, that old buildings have to perform better; the higher expectations of old property owners about thermal insulation, energy efficiency, damp, health and other aspects of upgrading traditional buildings to 21st century standards; as well as listed building regulations rightfully advising to stay away from modern materials such as cement renders, gypsum finishes, plastic membranes, silicone coatings, chemical injections, you name it; the lack of easily accessible and understandable practical scientific information instead of opinions - these all create complex, multi-facet problems architects and builders need to deal with and solve.

Don't exist traditional, building friendly solutions for these difficult, "heavy-duty" problems, or they have just been lost or forgotten over time?

By talking to customers, architects and old building enthusiasts we realized that they do care about their old and listed buildings, and if there would be a better way of doing these they would prefer that one.

As a result we decided to take on the challenge to fill in this void, and started our own research in this field. We decided to:

  • Take everything back to basics: research, clarify and demonstrate the various mechanisms, drivers and underlying principles of moisture movement in order to bring clarity and simplicity into this field.
  • Make the information available in plain English, in an easy to understand format for those interested.

Research is not always easy nor simple. Discovering something truly groundbreaking challenges the conventional status quo and wisdom, and it feels like swimming "against the tide" until the new concept get established and accepted by the mainstream.

This is how a Harvard professor explains this concept. 

What our research into Building Conservation encompasses?

Currently, we operate two laboratories:

  1. A lab for small-scale proof-of-concept projects in a controlled environment with high-end lab equipment, and 
  2. Another lab for large scale tests, with a natural but protected environment where we can replicate the natural behavior of old masonry

We also collaborate with CMR Italy, an accredited Italian building materials research lab, as well as with a Hungarian geomagnetic research establishment.

Research Projects

Our research encompasses the following areas:

Building fabric damage: causes and mechanisms

  • Moisture damage
  • Salt attack and erosion due to salt crystallization 
  • Thermal expansion / contraction
  • Damage caused by incompatible building materials
  • Frost damage
  • Damages arising from non-breathability
  • Etc.

Traditional building materials: aging and behaviour under different conditions, especially in high-salinity environments

  • The behaviour and aging of lime, gypsum and cement - similarities and differences
  • Exposed masonry vs. plastered one
  • Stone vs. brick,
  • Etc.

Physical, chemical, electronic and magnetic phenomena that influence the behaviour and ageing of old building materials in the presence of moisture

  • Mechanics and drivers of capillary action
  • Condensation vs. capillary suction 
  • Vapour diffusion vs. capillary damp
  • Natural electro-osmosis
  • Geo-magnetically induced electro-osmosis
  • Salt related osmosis and hygroscopic damp
  • Electronic phenomena, such as battery effects, ion clouds
  • Natural electronic charge up of the masonry
  • Differences between pH values
  • Behaviour of different pore sizes and pore structures
  • And probably much more as we go along

Our own building materials and solutions: testing and documenting the working mechanisms and limits of their performance

  • How waterproof is the salt-resistant and waterproof MGN Rinzaffo lime plaster
  • Breathability and performance of our main lime plasters
  • Working principle and efficiency of the Magnetic DPC
  • Thermal insulating characteristics of our thermal lime plaster range
  • Performance and durability of our breathable water-repellent nano-products
  • And probably much more as we go along

In closing, here is a video about rising damp being recreated in the lab. 

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