An Introduction to 'Paula's Papers'

Over the next few weeks, PCA’s Dr Paula Lopez-Arce will be releasing a set of short papers focussing on salts in porous construction and building materials. This information will serve to clarify and simplify some of the queries arising from such a complex topic that involves different salt crystallisation processes and mechanisms of decay. These papers aim to provide a better understanding of the problems which affect the durability of many types of buildings, materials and structures in all kind of climates and weather conditions.

More resources needed for problems with salts in residential buildings

A lot of resources have been applied to the field of conservation and restoration of architectural heritage to deal with salt problems and there is loads of scientific literature out there focussing on this topic. Whilst there is generic knowledge that can be applied to both historic and residentials buildings, there are some issues that might be addressed differently.

Historic buildings and monuments require special care involving costly high-tech diagnosis, sophisticated analytical equipment and expensive remediation actions to avoid putting historic records and high valuable goods in danger. Residential buildings however, do not require the same level of protection. Simple, accessible techniques and measurements could be applied to get quicker assessments using less expensive solutions, without risking the value of these buildings.

What will these ‘salts’ papers focus on?

The series of papers will address a number of generic questions, such as:

  • Type and sources of salts / Decay of building materials: Why are salts important? Where are they coming from? How do they interact and behave with the environment and the building materials?
  • Concentration, distribution and measurement techniques: Where are the salts localised? How can we identify and measure them?
  • Remediation solutions: Which remediation actions can be taken? Are these effective?

By understanding the answers to these questions, we can determine how applicable they will be to residential buildings. We’ll aim to identify the common aspects of dealing with salts in building materials and then identify those that should be applied to historic buildings, but not necessarily to normal dwellings. For non-historic buildings, we’ll try to answer questions including:

  • Do we need to know the type and concentration of salts?
  • Why is it important to determine the source of salts?
  • What analysis or techniques can be used onsite?
  • Which are the best remediation measures?

Get involved – your knowledge & experience is welcomed

The answers to these questions are based on laboratory, on-site expertise and scientific literature knowledge. Having said that, we’d also appreciate the interaction and collaboration of PCA members. There is a distinct lack of well documented, applicable and published case studies dealing with problems of salts in non-historic buildings. The experiences of PCA members dealing with salt problems in residential buildings will be invaluable, raising questions including:

  • What are the most frequent salt problems members find in residential buildings?
  • Do you know what type of salts you are dealing with? Do you need to know this?
  • How do you usually treat materials affected by salts? Are these solutions effective?

This collaborative approach will generate useful and practical knowledge (based on real case studies) and provide the most effective way of dealing with salts within the built environment/common UK dwellings.

The first ‘chapter’ in this series of papers will follow shortly, so keep an eye out! To get involved and share your knowledge and experience, please contact Paula on paula@property-care.org

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