It can be pleasing to have a house with well-established plants and shrubs around it, wisteria climbing up the walls and a soft, heritage look to the exterior. However, there are definite downsides to this, particularly if you’re living in a period property.
Older buildings aren’t as watertight as new houses and they’re usually made from much softer materials. If your house was built before around 1920, its bricks and/or stonework will be far more porous and your house will need to breathe to expel all the water from it.
One analogy that I quite like is that a new house is built like it’s wearing a raincoat to keep the weather out, whereas an older building is built as if it’s wearing a big old overcoat as protection against the weather. Lean against a wet lamppost in a raincoat and its water repellant nature will keep you dry. Do the same thing in an overcoat and that spot on the coat where you’re leaning is going to get very wet very quickly. And it’s going to take a long time for you to dry.
It’s the same with old buildings. All that lovely foliage may look quaint, but it’ll be attracting water into the fabric of the building.
And that’s not the worst of it. The softer stonework, bricks and lime mortar associated with Victorian, Georgian and even older buildings, will be great fodder for climbing plants, particularly climbers that use adhesive pads (like Boston ivy and Virginia creeper) or clinging stem roots (like climbing hydrangea and English ivy). Once these get into the nooks and crevices around the exterior of your property they are going to do damage: rotting wood, damaging paintwork, destroying brick and stone, and removing your mortar.
For the sake of your building, all that vegetation has got to go.
When we moved into our Georgian cottage, the vegetation had been encouraged to clamber around the walls for some time. In addition, shrubs had been planted close to the walls, encouraging damp to penetrate.
As you can see from the photos below, one of our priority jobs was to strip back the climbers and shrubs in order to evaluate the full extent of the damage.
In the picture above, take a look at how much water has been collecting on the brickwork due to action of all the foliage. Within a few days the water had dissipated and the moisture levels in the house had reduced as well.
One of the things that I had overlooked as a symptom of wall climbers, was how much they had also impeded the drainage system. One of the climbers had managed to wrap itself around a piece of guttering and was encouraging rainwater to flow down the wall of the property, rather than into the drain. In addition, it had grown across a drain cover, completely hiding it from view and stopping any necessary inspections being carried out. When the drain cover was finally cleared again, I was able to open it to see a small blockage that needed to be cleared before it got any worse.
The pictures above show the extent of the ivy growth over the garage. This had completely destroyed the wood fascia and the supporting wooden beam that held the roof in place.
Luckily I caught it before the roof collapsed and I was able to put a new roof beam in before any major roof cracking occurred. This could have been very dangerous, not only because of the potential damage caused by collapse, but also because the roof is constructed from old asbestos reinforce concrete sheeting, which would have released harmful asbestos fibres into the air.
So if you’re living in an old property, particularly if it’s listed, and you have nice looking foliage growing up your walls, I’d really recommend you remove it and take a look at all the damage that it could be doing. The longer you leave it, the worse the state that your property will be in.
Hiring a wood chipper is a great way to get rid of all those logs, branches and leaves. You can spread the chippings on your garden too!
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So that’s it for today, stay wary of that lovely looking foliage that is hugging your home. It’s not doing you any good at all.
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