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Knowledge is key to problem solving; In the second of a short series of columns for homemaker, our former house doctor Peter Fall goes back to basics.

IT arrived today! It is book, a text book on traditional building construction.

I feel like the old guy in the Yellow Pages advert who searched all over for his book on angling. No I haven't written a book. But as a trainee building surveyor many years ago I was encouraged by my then boss to acquire a certain building construction book.

In those days it came in three separate volumes so it featured on three successive Christmas lists to suit my studies.

I treasured those books throughout my time as a student, practitioner and a lecturer.

They were referred to regularly during my early years running Peter Fall Cowie and were much referred to by colleagues and trainees.

Unfortunately they went missing just about the time my daughter went off to university to study surveying, although she swears blind that she never had them.

We must all have a similar story, I just wish that in my case the missing book it had been Principles and Practice of Town and Country Planning, I never referred to that once after leaving college!

The book, ah a simple title - Building Construction by WB McKay. I could find copies of odd volumes in the bigger libraries but that's not the same as having your own copy on the shelf next to your desk.

I searched through second-hand bookshops, not avidly but just if I happened to find myself in one, again odd copies but not all three volumes.

That is until someone said a company had started to sell facsimile copies of all three volumes bound together with a hard back. I had to have it and now I have.

So what's so good about it, it was first published in 1938 and its third and last edition was 1952.

That may seem a long time ago but just think, when was your home built? Indeed well over half of our buildings were built before 1952 and many of those built in the next 20 years used the same techniques.

So if as a builder, architect or a surveyor are working on the less modern buildings, this is the text you need to have or be able to refer to someone else's copy.

Let's think of an example, our older stone buildings are built with lime based mortar to stick the stones together but lime went out of fashion after the advent of Portland cement in the late 1930s and up until quite recently lime just wasn't available.

If you repoint a stone wall that has lime-based mortar with a cement based mortar then the cement will cause the softer stone to erode so the pointing falls out in chunks and after a few years the wall in a worse condition than when you started.

If you use a lime-based mortar to repoint, the stone stays sound and the pointing lasts an awful lot longer. This 'Book' explains all about lime, how to make it and how to use it to make lime mortars.

Window frames need to be carefully designed to prevent wind and rain leeching around the edges and into the house.

By careful cutting of capillary grooves into both the opening sash and the frame and a sunk weathered sill to shed any water run off clear of the wall beneath, you can achieve this.

Unfortunately, many modern timber window manufacturers didn't read the 'Book' and many windows have to have draught excluder stuffed into the joints to make them wind and waterproof.

The interesting bit is Mr McKay was born in Consett, trained as an architect but became a lecturer in Manchester.

His books were for training of the building industry as a whole not the elite few. What ever happened to the education of our present 'builders? I could go on and on, but for now let this sad old building surveyor simply go back to flicking through the pages and wander down memory lane.

Peter Fall is a chartered building surveyor and former resident of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, tel: 0191 284 3467,
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 13, 2014
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