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How to choose paint for an older property

Did you know that England has one of the oldest housing stocks in Europe with 21% of dwellings built before 1919? That means a lot of people will have the pleasure (and responsibility) of owning a piece of history. And according to Historic England it’s thought that around 500,000 UK buildings are listed.

Even if your property isn’t listed, it’s important to consider the long term impact of any alterations you make. From larger scale work like extensions, renovations and conversions, to seemingly smaller choices such as interior details and finishes, every aspect can impact on your building.

Of all the enquiries we receive at Earthborn, advice on painting older properties, and in particular questions about breathability, are the most common. We think this is great news because it means more people are considering the implications of the work they carry out to older, period properties, where even a simple paint choice can make a difference to the fabric of the building.

Why should I treat my older property differently?

Most historic buildings were constructed from solid walls using porous materials like stone, brick or timber, along with plasters made from lime. Traditionally, breathable materials were used to allow the air to flow through and prevent condensation. It is the porous nature of these materials that is key to the construction.

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However, many modern building materials work on the basis of blocking the elements rather than allowing air to pass through. Non-porous materials prevent this flow of air and ‘seal’ the walls. In modern houses this can be a good thing, but if these non-breathable materials are used on older properties without professional expertise, it can lead to future problems. The moisture in the air becomes trapped and is then forced out through the porous parts of the building, causing damp.

Likewise, if an older property is painted either inside or out with a plastic-based paint, rather than an appropriately breathable paint, it will prevent moisture from flowing through the walls and can exacerbate damp problems. So if you have invested time and money in choosing the right building materials for your period home, it makes sense to carefully consider the type of paint used too.

What type of paint is best for a period property?

Before deciding which colour to go for, make sure you consider the breathability of the paint first and whether it is suitable for your project.

At Earthborn we have been fortunate to work with a number of heritage building specialists including architects, specifiers and building contractors on a variety of projects, each with their own unique requirements. What they all have in common however, is the need for an appropriately breathable paint to work in harmony with the other materials and techniques used.

Our breathable Claypaint is ideal for interior surfaces and our Ecopro Silicate Masonry Paint is perfect for exterior mineral-based walls. Both products have extremely high levels of breathability and are compatible with lime based plasters. In fact, both types of paint offer a viable, long-term alternative to lime wash because they are so breathable.

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Above all, older buildings are unique so it’s important to seek advice from professionals who have experience of working on historic projects.