Recommended Maintenance Schedule
A useful timetable for owners of old houses
Historic New England’s Inspection and Maintenance Schedule is designed to help you get a handle how and when to inspect your home. It also shares the proper preservation methods for completing basic maintenance repairs.
Typically, each of the features listed below should be inspected twice a year, preferably in the early spring to catch any damage caused by a New England winter, and in the late fall to make sure your home is in good repair before snow flies. It is also a good idea to do inspections after a rainstorm, so any areas of moisture can be noted. Catching and addressing small problems early will save you from expensive and invasive fixes down the road.
Foundations and Steps
- The best way to protect and maintain masonry is by providing proper drainage so that water does not stand on horizontal surfaces or accumulate in curved spaces, building up and eventually deteriorating the stone. It is important to check steps and mortar for cracks, crumbling, and loose pieces.
- Unless masonry steps are heavily soiled or deteriorating, chemicals should not be used on the steps. If cleaning is deemed necessary, then masonry cleaning tests should be conducted to determine which cleaning method would be best for the stone. Tests should be conducted over a sufficient period of time to understand the immediate as well as long-range effects. The gentlest method possible should be used. Testing involves using two or three different concentrations of a chemical cleaner; the most effective yet non-abrasive formulation possible is preferable.
- Masonry should not be cleaned by sandblasting, wire brushes, grinders, sanding discs, harsh chemicals or other abrasive methods, all of which weaken masonry. Materials and techniques shall be selected based on results of test patch samples. Any chemical cleaner should be chemically neutralized and thoroughly rinsed off in order to remove residue chemicals that could damage masonry or finishes. In addition, snow removal materials, especially salt, damage masonry and should be avoided.
- Check the foundation for cracks in the stone. One indicator of leaks is the accumulation of water in the cellar. Periodically (four times a year) remove leaves and other debris that accumulates around the foundation, holding moisture against the foundation and eventually rotting wooden building elements.
- If cracks or leaks are discovered, repairs should be undertaken by a mason who is familiar with historic masonry. When re-pointing, any new mortar should be matched in color and composition to the original and surrounding mortar.
- Inspections should be completed twice a year, preferably in the early spring and late fall and/or after rainstorms.
Chimneys and Fireplaces
- All masonry (brick, stone) and mortar should be checked for crumbling, loose pieces and cracking. Examine the chimney above the roofline (through binoculars, if possible) for signs of missing mortar or masonry.
- If re-pointing or masonry replacement is necessary, this work should be undertaken by a mason familiar with historic masonry. The mortar used for repairing historic masonry should match the original in color, texture, and composition.
- Inspections should be done at least twice a year, in the early spring and late fall.
- Protecting and maintaining a roof requires cleaning the gutters and downspouts and replacing deteriorated flashing. Roof sheathing should be checked for proper venting to prevent damage from moisture, condensation, water penetration, and insect infestation. Roof shingles should be checked for worn, loose, or missing shingles.
- Unsecured roofing materials can be damaged by moisture penetration and strong winds. Therefore, nails and clips should be checked for corrosion and replaced in-kind, if necessary.
- If a roof is seriously damaged and requires temporary repair until something more permanent can be done, plywood or building paper should be installed over any exposed areas.
- Immediately repair leaks and loose attachments, and replace missing elements in-kind, to prevent any damage to surrounding features of the building.
- Inspections should be completed at least twice a year in the late spring and early fall. It may also be a good idea to inspect your roof after any sustained high winds over 40 miles per hour.
Gutters and Downspouts
- Check for leaks and loose or clogged gutters or downspouts.
- Re-attach loose gutters or downspouts, clean clogged gutters and downspouts and repair leaks. Install downspout leaders or trays to carry water away from the building’s foundation.
- Any downspout replacement section should be installed with the seam turned out away from the wall to prevent water from leaking out of the seams and onto the sidewall features of the building.
- Wood gutters are recommended because they possess superior tensile strength with respect to expansion and contraction over time.
- We recommend inspecting your gutters three times a year, in the spring, fall, and winter.
- It is important to protect and maintain the wood and architectural metals that comprise the window frames, sash, and muntins by using appropriate surface treatments such as cleaning, rust removal, limited paint removal, and re-application of protective coating systems.
- Windows can be made weather tight by re-caulking and replacing or installing weather stripping. Thermal efficiency will also be improved as a result.
- Patching, splicing, consolidating, or otherwise reinforcing deteriorated wood sash windows is preferred to outright replacement. Repair may involve selective replacement of deteriorated or missing parts; however, in-kind replacement should only be undertaken when surviving evidence exists and can be used for reproduction.
- Prior to re-puttying and re-painting, treat wooden window sash and frames with a mixture of boiled linseed oil and mineral spirits (in a 1:1 ratio, depending upon the wood’s ability to absorb) to extend the life of the wood and new glazing putty.
- Windows should be inspected twice a year, in the early spring and late fall.
Exterior Wood Features, General
- Retaining and preserving wood features such as siding, cornices, brackets, doorway pediments, paints and finishes is important in defining the overall historic character of the building.
- The best way to protect and maintain wood is to provide proper drainage, preventing water from settling on horizontal surfaces or in decorative features.
- Inspect painted wood surfaces periodically to determine whether repainting is necessary. In some cases, careful cleaning is sufficient to restore the surface. Power-washing should be avoided as water is forced into the building and can cause hidden deterioration.
- If repainting is necessary, paint layers should only be removed when there is significant paint surface deterioration. In fact, retaining the layers of paint help protect the wood from both moisture and ultraviolet light. If it becomes necessary to remove paint to the next sound layer, it is best to gently hand-scrape, hand-sand, and then repaint.
- Careful surface preparation and use of compatible paint products are essential to a good and long-lasting paint system.
- Repair deteriorated wood features by patching, piecing together, consolidating, or otherwise reinforcing the wood rather than replacing it. If replacement is necessary, carefully examine and use the physical evidence as guidance for the new work. All new work should be done “in-kind,” that is using the same materials, techniques, dimensions, and configuration as was used on the original building element.
- Routine inspections of exterior wood features should be done twice a year, in the early spring and late fall.
Exterior Wood Features, Sills/Cornices/Doors/Woodwork
- Check for deteriorated paint, moisture damage, cracks, holes, warping, splitting, and unsound joints.
- Check for loose or missing attachments and poorly sealed joints. Fill cracks and holes with appropriate substance, being sure to use caulks or epoxies designed for exterior use.
- If decayed wood is found, determine the source of moisture and stop the leak before undertaking further repairs. Repair, or if necessary replace, deteriorated elements.
- Flash or caulk unsealed joints. Prime and paint with a good quality exterior paint.
- Doors and porch flooring should be checked for warping, cracking or moisture damage.
- Exterior features listed here should be inspected at least once a year.
- Check for worn or bare spots, blistering, peeling, and mildew.
- Check where moisture is entering the building and stop these leaks (see above).
- Wash mildewed areas using a mixture of household bleach and water (and proper protective gear on hands and over face).
- Split blisters, scrape peeling areas, remove rust, and sand rough spots.
- Coat bare wood with preservative. Prime and paint wood with two finish coats using materials compatible with the preservative and each other.
- For metals other than aluminum, scrape and wire brush deteriorated paint and rust from metal. Prime and paint bare metal using materials designed specifically for the type of metal.
- Check exposed exterior and interior surfaces of walls and foundations, paying particular attention to stairways, floor openings, wall openings, and changes in wall masonry material. Check for cracks, collapsing, leaning or bulging areas or other signs of uneven settlement, movement or structural deterioration.
- Check interior wall surfaces at upper levels, with particular attention to joints between party walls and perpendicular front and rear walls, joints between floors and end walls, and those between partitions and ceilings. Check for cracks, crumbled plaster, gaps between finishes, or other signs of movement.
- Check exposed roof framing members for rotted, split, or cracked timbers.
- If rotted timbers, significant cracks, or other signs of movement are observed, assess the structural condition of building with an engineer who has experience in evaluating timber-framed structures to ensure that adequate safety standards and precautions are met. A home’s structural elements should be inspected at least once a year.
- Have a professional exterminator check once a year for termites and other wood damaging insects. Treat if necessary.
Wood, Railings and Fences
- Check for deteriorated paint, rust, moisture damage, and wear.
- Repair any loose joints, attachments, or hardware.
- Prime and paint as necessary.
- Wooden railings and fences should be inspected at least once a year.
Qualifying members get access to expert old-house advice.
Learn about our work to preserve private homes through the Preservation Easement Program.
Visit Historic New England's museum properties.