Developing an analytical approach

Before commencing the survey, prepare a checklist of the subject items to be covered in the survey. This will maintain a logical framework during the survey with helpful prompts to ensure that all items are covered. The scope of survey work can seem very complex and daunting, but by breaking the survey down into a series of logical elements or tasks it is possible to work progressively through manageable sections to develop a thorough and comprehensive analysis. It is surprising how a pattern of understanding develops when a series of observations link together the causes and effects of decay and the remedial action. Consider using identification marks or abbreviations in the survey notes to highlight significant or fundamental points which need further investigation during later stages of the condition survey or detailed discussion in the final report. For example, when carrying out the survey a series of questions need to be asked:

• What is the building? What is its date, function and type?

• What are the materials?

• What is missing? For example, capping stones, roof, buttresses, etc.

• Which elements are significantly decayed?

• Are protective finishes missing, such as plaster or limewash?

• Are structural elements missing?

• Are weathering elements missing?

• What elements are significantly or dangerously decayed?

• How have past repairs performed?

• What corrective action is necessary?

• What conservation and repair techniques are appropriate?

• What repair materials are required?

In general, the construction and architectural form need to be understood before analysing the type and causes of decay.

Decay is frequently caused by a combination of factors. Often, there is a primary or root cause and then several secondary causes or factors. For example, uncontrolled water ingress into a structure is considered a primary cause of decay since, without water, other decay mechanisms such as soluble salt crystallisation, freeze—thaw cycles or invasive plant growth would not occur. 'Controlled' water ingress, for example surface saturation in heavy rain, is normally acceptable provided the water can freely evaporate out of the structure during warmer, drier weather. Therefore, by addressing primary causes of decay many secondary mechanisms can be resolved or managed.

The next, often difficult, issue to resolve is how to record the scale or scope of the decay. For example, if salt-related decay is found in ten areas, should this be recorded as one item or ten separate items? This question can only really be answered by the person undertaking the survey and the approach will vary from one site to the next or even from one decay mechanism to another. In general, it is better to group the defects together within the written report under a summary of the zones and causes of decay, and to record the defects individually with the schedule of defects, so that future readers may see the scope and pattern of common defects and also be able to judge the rate of ongoing decay.

Adopting a methodical approach will provide certainty and confidence. A condition survey report should make a substantiated case for intervention where it is necessary.

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