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Are you the owner of an old house or want to buy or will inherit one? Or are you in the construction and real estate industry, work
for governmental building authorities or even in a historical building / monument preservation office? Then you know
one thing for sure: Repairing and remodeling of old buildings and monuments involves a large number of economic and technical
problems. When adapting old buildings for modern use often it is not sufficient to simply paint the walls and facades
and renew worn floor coverings. Previous faulty maintenance may have caused major damage to the roof, ceilings and
walls. New use requires the building's electrical wiring, heating, water pipes and other technical equipment to be
modernized and expanded. Sometimes the building structure is in need of modification, remodeling or design changes,
perhaps also additions to expand the floor space.
Planning and implementing all of the necessary construction work costs money. And money is always scarce for public and
private building owners. Not only in today's times of economic recession. Even historically significant buildings such
as castles and palaces, mansions and villas, ancient citizen's and farm houses, churches and monasteries, industrial
and public buildings such as town halls and other administrative buildings do not always receive the desired amount of
Perhaps it may be useful also what concerns the future of the post-war seized, confiscated and nationalised private property in the
former communistic regions of Eastern Europe and the restitution of jewish property claims to Jewish Holocaust survivors and their heirs
in Poland, Czech Republik, Slovakia, Hungary, the Baltic states like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania etc. to learn from the problems
experienced in Eastern Germany after the reunification, even:
The reunification offered the East German monument care authorities and owners of protected cultural heritage many new
opportunities of preservation activities. The limited financial resources during the socialist era limited preservation
to urgent interventions on historical buildings in poor state of repair and a potpourri of mainly the medieval castles
devastating building-archeology. With the sudden injection of money from the West post-reunification, neglected
historic buildings - many intended for demolition - received an unanticipated chance at survival. Based on the
experience with monument subsidies in Western Germany, new support programs were developed for the preservation and
repair of heritage properties. During the decade that followed reunification (1990-2000), extensive subsidies and
workers from the collapsed state enterprises were made available for preservation. Unfortunately, in many instances,
much of the historic fabric was damaged or destroyed in the process. This was due in large part to an ineffective
project organization that could not always ensure appropriate implementation. In analyzing a series of projects from this period, five
primary issues were identified:
1st The safety technology applied by the project participants led to further destruction of the buildings.
For example, under the 1,000-Roofs program, endangered buildings were sealed with temporary plastic tarpaulins. This
solution often promoted infestation of dry rot (wood rot) in the moist parts of the buildings.
2nd To address the severe unemployment, especially in large cities, inexperienced workers were used for
gutting and clearing valuable historic buildings. The lack of a careful building preparation program from this period
is still a point of regret.
3rd Many of the building-archaeological investigations initiated or approved by the monument authority led
to expensive reconstructions of a mostly falsified "original state," especially for larger monuments like castles,
palaces and town houses.The building archeology did not hesitate to devastate even still habitable buildings and
transfered them into ruined masonry using hammers, pickaxes, and shovels. This destructive "monument care" created
great losses among the newer and still usable parts, as well as significant increases in construction costs. What did
not afflict the motivation of the building archeologists.
4th The govermental subsidies managed by municipalities preferably were spent mostly in the paving of city
centers or over-restoring municipal buildings than in the elaborate house-by-house repair of private or denationalised
valuable old town buildings.
5th A planning and construction with traditional techniques and materials truly compatible with the historic
structure was not always the standard of the involved planners and craftsmen. Often there was too little experience in
the building restoration neglected during GDR times. Result: the planners preferred the services offered by the
building industries and producers of construction chemicals.
These problems persist in many monument care and restoration projects today. However, the overall preservation
activities for East German monuments have decreased some due to reduced funding. Now, a sixth issue threatens many East
German historic monuments and buildings, including private houses, worthy of protection:
6th The historic urban cores are losing their economic viability and population due to new shopping centers
outside and a continual exodus of residents to new, more affordable developments outside cities. Many old houses are
increasingly vacant, as more people choose to occupy more cost-effective flats in housing blocks erected in the 1960s
and 1970s. Further, millions in state funds are used for the demolition of residential buildings, including the razing
of nineteenth-century districts.
Konrad Fischer: Fassaden energetisch richtig und kostensparend sanieren und trockenlegen 1
The repair and remodeling of historic buildings and districts is impacted by many economic and technical issues as potential pitfalls.
The adaptation of historic structures for new uses often involves more than merely painting the walls and fa&ccdil;ades and
renewing worn floor finishes. Inappropriate, prior maintenance or lack of stewardship may have resulted in major
structural damage to roofs, walls, and foundations. The building costs for such bigger projects are often much more than 2.000 to
3.000 EUR per sq meter (square meter). To accommodate new uses, building systems and other technologies
must be augmented, if not replaced. Often, additions are called for to provide more floor area.
Planning and implementing all of the necessary design and construction work requires funding from public agencies and
private individuals or entities. The economic climate today means resources to support preservation work is scarce.
Even highly significant civic buildings like castles and palaces, mansions and villas, ancient citizen's and farm
houses, churches and monasteries, industrial and public buildings such as town halls and other administrative use do
not always receive the necessary funds. Research and development of sound financial strategies are perhaps the most
critical actions for securing the future of the built heritage. But how does the conservation and long-term
preservation of protected properties succeed financially? There is no one model that can be applied in all contexts.
However, there are some important principles that have proven successful.
What are the key strategies for major investments in monuments and other important old buildings? The following is a
summary of the some of the principal issues to be understood and addressed in conserving and sustaining built heritage.
The identification and articulation of these issues is the result of experience gained from planning and implementing
work on some 400 restoration projects since 1979 and developing hundreds of building survey reports, many of them in
East Germany. Without any guarantee of success, but as an inspiration for similar cases.
2. The Real Estate Purchase for the Prospective Home Buyer
2.1 Why are Old Houses sold?
The survival of historic buildings is fundamentally threatened, if the owners have lost their economic foundation of
forest and agriculture, the duties of subjects, from the profits of a marketing company or a public or religious use.
On the one hand historical and political reasons by social and / or economic restructuring are responsible for such
results. The dispossession of land owners caused by secularization, revolution, war and other political shifts has
resulted in much damage to the historic buildings. Or the owners of these houses had just financial misfortune by
speculation, bankruptcy, divorce, excessive building luxury and life style or otherwise caused lack of revenue. Perhaps
the owner just did underestimate the costs to repair and maintenance the building. The death of the recent owner and
the lack of interest of the heirs regarding a further use can cause the same result.
Only very rarely the self-interest of the public institutions, of directly affected neighbours or descendants of
former owners will offer the neglected buildings a chance of survival. The result: Many more or less valuable old
buildings are on the real estate market. And if the sales price is too high, after some time it is declining to a more
2.2 Important Project Costs
The purchase price of old buildings, perhaps even with furniture and large land is often difficult to estimate. There
are litany of factors to be taken into consideration: building age and construction, contamination and inherited sites
(eg ruined or useless building parts to be demolished, useless inventory, household waste, mortgage debt, tenancy
rights, burdening neighbouring rights), the advantages and drawbacks of the location of the building, possibilities
and limits of building regulations, claims by fire and monument protection, pending public demands for sewer and road
construction) and the situation of the market are the most important factors. Due to the complexity of evaluating and
assessing all these factors, there is often large discrepancies in the estimated prices per square meter.
A homebuyer has to possess the necessary funds not only for the purchase, but also for the repair, potential
adaptation for a new use, and on-going maintenance. Thus, the conservation status of the building, the use-dependent
and operating costs, and also the above mentioned factors need to be identifi ed and roughly estimated by the quality
inspection of an experienced home inspector before property negotiations and purchase. Only in this way a particularly
private buyers threatening failed investment can be avoided: About 50 percent of private buyers and builders of homes
fail in total financing.
So don't be aware too much what the inspection fee costs: The money you spent for a serious inspection is worth every
penny and could ultimately save you money. If defects are discovered, your position to negotiate with the seller will
be quite better if the defects are documented in a written report. Even if the sellers won't pay to correct defects or
reduce the price, you'll benefit by knowing what needs repair.
3. Funding Sources for Preservation Projects
3.1 Who supports?
In the absence of a private owner or investor who has the necessary resources to undertake conservation work and to
provide continual, cyclical maintenance, public fi nancing, often in the form of grants, is one of the few alternative
funding sources. There are direct and indirect subsidies, sometimes linked to future use. If tax benefits are used to
finance a project, then a consultant should be involved to help navigate the complex system. Private institutions such
as foundations or wealthy donors can occasionally provide help. However, the external grants cover very few buildings
and they do not always benefit the monument or justify the effort. Basically, however: External grants for buildings
can be given from 0 to 100 percent of the necessary costs, depending from the individual case.
Major construction projects may also attract money spending commercial sponsors which are interested in the "Image
Transfer" from a project funding or at least gaining recognition by placing highly visible advertising on scaffolding.
Important: Branch exclusivity for the major sponsors! However, it is important to recognize that accepting funding
from sponsors creates obligations and dependencies, perhaps even contradictions. Creating a "Friends" association and
developing personal connections to supporting media and relief organizations such as Rotary, Lions and other
foundations can also be effective tools for public and private fund raising. There are professionals who can help with
marketing and fundraising for projects. They can evaluate the expectations of sponsors regarding media presence, on
internal and external communications, and monitor the success. The creation of an economic strategy and plan should
begin prior to the building purchase and complex planning. What are some of the critical elements that need to be
3.2 Building Significance and Use
The first prerequisite for the project promotion is the articulation of the significance - historical, social,
cultural, architectural, etc. - of the monument. In addition, if the property is threatened, this status should be
promoted as it typically increases the level of public interest and funding support. It also helps if the proposed use
accommodates public and community functions. To increase the own resources for larger objects further investors must
be won with a use concept in line with the market.
3.3 Organizing funding
Planning projects which are heavily dependent on grants not only depend on the wishes of investors and the official
building permit, but also on the support program. Only an early negotiation can avoid costly mistakes. Also, the
funding should have been negotiated prior to submitting the written application. This should be managed from a strong
position: Prior to signing the purchase agreement and investing in costly planning.
Many regulations and the owner's DIY contribution to the project have be financially coordinated in the case of a
subsidized building. This is a matter of organizing the construction financing, the application status, the
construction procurement and invoicing. If this fails then the financing may fail and subsidies may have to be repaid.
Often negotiations need to be held on several levels. The authorities responsible for public funding and approval of
the building permit take priority. However, local representatives from the municipality, the county, and other policy
makers are also important. If such people are identifying themselves with the project by official, private or
electoral reasons, this will support the public project confirmation. Well-meaning combatants with public importance
can open doors and ensure the building permit in often necessary exceptional cases.
4. Repair as Destruction
Not always the old buildings can be repaired and remodeled by low-costs. In the conflict of interests and by wrong
planning methods the building loses even substance, which might be used furtherwards. Senseless losses at monuments
arise whenever an exaggerated archeological building research is followed by devasting the newer parts and
'reconstruction' of an estimated former status. And an ultra-radical design from a selfish architect, trapped in the
Bauhaus style or simply inexperienced with preservation work, ignoring the coherence of the original structure, can
exaggerate the repair and remodeling planning to senseless measures and excessive standards.
For the repair of old buildings more and more chemical analysis of the materials until the crystal lattice are used.
But this doesn't guarantee likewise finely graded conservation methods. Too often threaten, damage or destroy the
'scientific' methods recommended to "repair" the old components. Many 'scientific' established chemical products - even if
strongly recommended by chartered surveyor during the mortgage valuation! - will
not work as promised and contain toxic substances which are endangering the health of craftsmen and residents. Also
the modern Building Physics makes 'scientifically' use of instruments and software with absurd calculation hypotheses
to force their false and also harmful concepts of hermetically sealed buildings and energy savings into the market.
Does this justify the expensive, partly even publicly funded investigative effort?
Famous and highly recommended home repair and advice books from one of the best British authors and the UK's
top (and only?) building expert, my dear colleague: Jeff Howell, webmaster of AskJeff.co.uk:
In many instances, it would be more economical and cost-effective to omit the expenses of such needless investigations.
Instead, the approach could be to preserve all building materials and components that are technically and functionally
sound, even if they are partially damaged, only represent very recent history or partially or completely fail to
satisfy the very best new building standards.
5. Model Strategy - Determining the Preservation Approach and Scope of Work
The traces of age or patina often help lend the monument its character. A snobbish architecture theory can not combat
the loss of usable parts and exploding construction costs. For the required new parts the draft can also be based on
the original structure or humble respect. Very cost-expensive design inspired by the the luxurious buildings of
architecture magazines offers certainly not an economically optimized solution.
No changes! - should be the principle of the cost-conscious designer for a monument restoration. More important is an
appropriate, simple repair strategy and respectful, modest design coupled with a well-organized construction are more
important. A solid knowledge of the historical construction and repair technology, of the building's history, art
history, of the building laws and jurisprudence and of economics provide the appropriate foundation for this.
In former times the professional investors had been used to prescribe the building materials, the construction cost
and the design. Even today, a modern owner may, no should examine the dictates of the experts, choose alteratives and
decide later. In the conflicts between free of charge expected preliminary planning and fee claims - but also demands
of the investor without an adequate compensation - an economic planning is not self-evident.
A good planning result requires good quality assurance methods. These must meet the needs of the investor - as much as
economically and technically appropriate - and are certainly worth good money. What should the investor take into his
consideration belonging the planning?
6. The First Step of Planning
6.1 Securing Ruinous Structure and Job Design
The protection and exploring of ancient ruins at castles and clerical buildings will be granted very gladly for
patriotic reasons. There are fundamental risks: senseless destruction of reusable components, expensive
'reconstruction' of a faked 'original state' instead of modest use of the structure with all its original and modified
components. Old building parts, although reusable, are quickly eliminated by exaggerated 'cleaning up'. Design of the
architectural conservation program, which is required as part of protection, should also occur in stages from the
initial assessment through the various design phases and construction support. This avoids disappointment if the
project can not be realized as desired.
6.2 Short Appraisal, Preliminary Planning and Economics
In most instances, a short appraisal including a technical inspection and economical analysis report is sufficient to
help the building owner or buyers make initial decisions. During a site visit, the house inspector or surveyor should
evaluate the condition of the building to identify any damage and its severity and preliminaryily determine the repair
needs. The client's needs and resources should also be discussed and recorded.
Old building drawings, if they exist, can be updated with little effort to record existing conditions and draft
schematic design plans upon which an initial cost estimate can be prepared. Larger projects must be divided into
realistic phases. A preliminary economic calculation should include a cost benefi t analysis that compares projected
construction costs with potential revenues from the use of the building.
With assessments undertaken on houses being considered for purchase, the preliminary rough cost estimates and
cost-benefit analyses should be made on a quantitative determination of the main construction parts without further
This planning step creates a low-cost feasibility study. It provides a cost overview for building and
planning and also calculates the external financing needs and subsequent operating costs. This strategy avoids
senseless planning efforts and an implementation phase which ends unhappily in a financial disaster. Only a financed
project phase should be prepared in greater detail.
6.3 Preliminary Negotiations for Building Permit and Financing
With the preliminary plan and cost estimate, the owner can negotiate with banks and authorities. This step involves
the building permit, overall financing, and project preparation, including the inventory, detailed planning of
construction works, and exact calculation. This will help reduce unforeseen issues impacting cost and schedule during
7. Inventory System
The detailed and cost-precise planning requires as basis an exact measurement of the old building structure. The often
used plans on a scale of 1:100 can not always fulfill the given needs. Better is a measurement on the bigger scale of
the implementation planning, also documenting the structural deformation. After this step the structural state, the
damages and the necessary measures must be registered in a suitable and consistent 'room book system' technically
terse, clear and with effective technical descriptions, sketches, and photographs This data is evaluated later in the
detailed design and performance specifications. The precise cost planning with a high level of budget-security and the
subsequent awarding of building contracts will only succeed after sufficient study of the construction along with
selective probes and tests, as required. This investigation occasionally involves the excavation of rotten beams in
the roof and ceilings, uncovering the typically damaged points of wooden construction, the detection of moisture
sources with an inspection of sewers onto sufficient repair samples of the damaged surface of the facade and rooms.
8. Functional Design
Low-cost modernization respects the building's history and eliminates potentially questionable, destructive, and
exaggerated use of the given structure. The draft for a monument rehabilitaion can also conserve partly damaged and
deformed building components and makes use of free space in the building structure instead of demolishing. Also the
engineers for statics and building services (HVAC) should be subordinate to this strategy, if a really low-cost and
tender repair is the aim. And if original building parts must unavoidably be harmed or totally demolished for
operational reasons, already damaged or less valuable areas should be choosed. In an museum a damaged original
building surface may even be a worthful part of the exhibition. Of course, this strict policy of a predominat
preservation will not always offer the very best solution in a technical and / or functional sense, but very often
aesthetically exciting and suitable results for an astonishing low-budget.
The frugal building owner and his cost-conscious architect should verify the economic efficiency of various planning
alternatives along with their different results with regard to construction costs, maintenance and income. What is the
use of an expensive rehabilitation of an attic or a damp basement if the costs are not in any meaningful relationship
to the later benefits gained by using the modernized rooms? Such bad investments may also be dispensed with. This draft
strategy will not only reduce the cost of the construction but also of the future use and maintenance.
9. Repair-Planning and Engineering Design
Where possible, any required new building components or systems should be integrated into either existing, un- or
under-used spaces or added to the original. The new parts must be adapted to the structure, not the other way around.
Necessary penetrations of the original building need to use the path of least resistance, preferably employing less
important or previously modified areas. The new pipes and the connections between old and new require design attention
to detail, not rushed instructions of the construction supervisor in the field. The mounting of pipes for water,
heating and electricity visible on the plaster is allowed, they can be disguised behind boards etc. Often old shafts
and chimneys can be reused for the line management.
Some of the laws and regulations mandating construction can also serve the interests of certain industries, which
corrupt the legislators by subtile means. Mostly significant is this in the laws supposed to protect the climate by so
called energy saving. The thermal insulation and hermetically sealing of our buildings with products of the chemical
industry provides the participating companies huge profits, but damages the old building structures. The
R-value-optimized fibers and foams are quickly moistured and a little bit later overgrown with algae and / or
mold-infested. On the facade the sun, the rain, condensation and frost destroys the lightweight insulation.
Furthermore, the external insulation obstructs the energy savings by solar energy. Inside the damp insulation
threatens the health of residents and the wood components in the wall, ceiling and roof. With expensive ventilation
systems - a must for the modern building sealing - are our homes finally 'modernized' to 'sick buildings'. Despite
subsidies, the savings gained from insulation, ventilation systems, and new windows remains far too small to guaranty
the refinancing and amortization of additional costs. There is no guarantee that these upgrades will off-set
construction costs or reduce energy use over time.
Note: A solid building construction saves in its lifetime enough energy and must not be insulated.
In a constructive and economic sense the traditionally established building materials and humble repair techniques are
often better than 'modern' and arrogant solutions for our old buildings. A house should therefore not be degraded as a
guinea pig to test new calculation laws and constructions without any sufficiently proven performance in durability,
reversibility and harmlessness for the building and its user.
The ideology of preservation, however, can not solve all the tasks. Contemporary building technology offers better
comfort and protection of the building in terms of fire and security. But, it is always important to integrate the new
technology, design, construction and materials with proper respect for the old building.
To prevent structural damage from the selection of harmful new building materials and construction techniques, the
historically proven building methods must be identified and understood. Such consolidated knowledge we don't gain in
universities -consider the disastrous flat roof ideology proliferating there - but only in practice. So we should not
use new materials for our old buildings without full declaration and proven performance. The many proposals from the
industry for fighting non existing rising damp or for the sealing or strengthening of surfaces on plastered walls and natural stone
- and this is the bitter truth worldwide - cause more harm than good.
Ascending moisture respectively rising damp does not exist in masonry work, because there is
no capillarity between the small pores of the stones and the rough pores of the mortar. And 1000:1 is the ratio of
capillary fluid transport to vapor diffusion in moist building materials. Therefore all synthetic water-repellent
coatings prevent - in contrast to limewash - the parts from drying beneath the soon micro-cracking polymer matrix,
which actually sucks up moisture from rain and / or the inevitable condensation. The use of hydraulic mortars on the
base of cement, trass or hydraulic lime is very risky for the old building: They contain damaging salts, cause
swelling minerals and cracks resulting from temperature stress and retained water. Therefore the traditional lime
mortars can offer the better solution. Even regarding wood protection there are non-toxic solutions via better
construction and heating methods and protective coatings using mineralizing to mask the wooden surface instead of
toxic chemicals without lasting prevention but which hold terrible risks for the craftsmen and the building user.
Why should we turn the old building into a hazardous waste dump? Because these are the technical standards and forced
by crazy laws?
The sensational marketing for new products, rich bonuses as often hidden persuasion for the responsible planners and
new computing models should not replace our critical hesitance as trustees of the investor and the historic monument.
Of course, this is also relevant for the building physics, static and building services engineering.
False calculated - but meeting the standards! -- a lot of old houses would have to be torn down or waste much
more energy than they really consume. The deformed and damaged building structures can often be repaired without tons
of steel and concrete. Old windows do not waste energy, but can always be repaired at less cost than the planners and
craftsmen say. Likewise there are also useful strategies for the heating, which are better than normal 'standards' and
more cost-efficient. A room envelope heating system with infrared radiant heat, without night-time
reduction and the risk of condensation is always better for the residents, the building structure and also for saving
energy saving than the dusty air storms resulting from convection heaters. Radiant heating will also
prevent mold and mildew in the corners between walls, floors and ceiling. These corners are not thermal
bridges - the common error - but are not sufficiently reached by the heat transporting convectional air streams and
thus they absorb and store condensation. So a better heating system protects the building and the wooden parts against
dry rot, mold fungus and insect attack.
Properly understood and rehabilitated a massive old building will be a 'Green Building' without damp sucking and
storing insulation materials at the wall, floor, ceiling and roof, without health endangering
mold by hermetic windows and risky convectional heating and will so fulfill the slogan:
'Cool in summer, warm in winter, healthy the whole year.'
10. Specifications, Statements of Work (SOW), Construction Costs and Progress
In contrast to the design of new buildings, and scarcely teached at chairs of architecture departments, architectural
conservation design relies on the comprehensive assessment of existing building structures - their design, changes
over time, and condition. This information must be systematically utilized during the preliminary design and cost
estimating phase and the particular technical specifi cations of repairs. If any existing conditions are missed and
not addressed in the scope of work, the tendering process will be negatively impacted and subsequently the schedule
and budget. Because the repairs are more difficult to plan and to describe as the complete exchange against new
products, many planners prefer the expensive renovation and not the low-cost restoration.
Mostly the technical specifications contain the naming of certain products and sources of supply. This can increase
the costs in comparison to neutral descriptions. Many producers, but also craftsmen provide the engineering design to
responsible planners for free. If the investor is sleeping or believes, there is no alternative , he must pay the
additional costs. And then the planners earns more fees, maybe also some more kickbacks. To find an planner for
low-budget repair the investor should first call for technical specifications as reference and examine their
performance on precision, neutrality and repair techniques. Everything else is rather a minor matter. There is not a
real need for reborn Corbusiers in building repair and preservation of monuments.
11. Investment Goal
False savings in the inventory and planning phase are destroying the building and ultimately costs more, following the
motto 'Penny wise and Pound foolish - Saving the Penny and losing the Pound'. Sound project planning that takes into consideration all factors may
amount to as much as 20% to 35% of the construction costs, but will result in many more savings resulting from
unanticipated, additional work. But too often the expensive destruction of the old structure gets rewarded with
planning fee (and gratuities from companies?): the more expensive, the more planning income. The economics of the
project as the essential investment goal require appropriate methods of planning. Low fees are misleading or even
forcing the planners to building destruction, luxurious extravagancy and last, but not least to corruption. Very
unfamiliar, but as a matter of fact, there are alternatives.
Cost-effective preservation of old buildings requires the maximum use of external sources for financing and customized
planning. Comprehensive survey, highly detailed planning, and testing are essential. If the investor and planner
accept the true needs of the use, technology, and economics, this will reduce negative impacts on schedule and
financing. It is critical that those developing and implementing the project understand, record, and consider the construction, function, and character of the historic building using contemporary, well-tested technologies and best-practice methodologies.
Konrad Fischer, Architect BYAK
Hauptstr. 50, 96272 Hochstadt a. Main, Germany
Tel.: ++49-9574-3011 / ++49-170-7351557 www. konrad-fischer-info.de / info@konrad-fischer-info