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Removing Graffiti from Historic Masonry (Part H)

By The Old House Web

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Although rapid graffiti removal is the most effective weapon in eliminatinggraffiti and preventing its recurrence in the same location, hasty, untested removal attempts can disfigure and cause harm to historic masonry. Thus,it is important that the owner or manager of a historic masonry building or structure be prepared with a plan to ensure the prompt removal of graffiti when it occurs. Regularly scheduled maintenance and cleaning programs to eliminate graffiti from historic masonry properties may be assisted by the installation of physical barriers, security systems and lighting, aswell as increased community involvement. Successful graffiti removal from historic masonry requires knowledge of a variety of cleaning methods and materials, and an awareness that what works to remove graffiti from one kind of masonry surface may not remove it from another. By testing different cleaning methods in advance, treatment plans will be available, when needed, to provide guidance for safe and sensitive graffiti removal from historic masonry.

Selected Reading

American Geological Institute. AGI Glossary of Geology and RelatedSciences. Washington, D.C.: American Geological Institute, 1960.

Ashurst, Nicola. Cleaning Historic Buildings. Vol. I: Substrates,Soiling and Investigations; Vol. II: Cleaning Materials andProcesses. London: Donhead Publishing Ltd., 1994.

"Chemistry Leaves Its Mark on Graffiti." Chemical MarketingReporter. November 14, 1993.

Ehrenkrantz & Eckstut Architects, P.C. Technical Tips: RemovingGraffiti. New York: New York Landmarks Conservancy, n.d. (1994).

Graffiti Removal Manual. Providence, RI: Keep Providence Beautiful,September 1986.

Grimmer, Anne E. Keeping it Clean: Removing Exterior Dirt, Paint,Stains and Graffiti from Historic Masonry Buildings. Washington, D.C.:Preservation Assistance Division, National Park Service, U.S. Departmentof the Interior, 1988.

Lewis, Richard J. Hazardous Chemicals Desk Reference. SecondEdition. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1991.

NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards. Washington, D.C.: NationalInstitute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Controland Prevention, Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and HumanServices, June 1994.

Reisner, Robert. Graffiti: Two Thousand Years of Wall Writing. Chicago:Cowles Book Company, 1971.

Science for Conservators: Conservation Teaching Series. The ConservationUnit of the Museums and Galleries Commission. 3 volumes. New York: Routledge,A Division of Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc., 1992.

Torraca, Giorgio. Porous Building Materials. Rome: ICCROM, 1988.

Torraca, Giorgio. Solubility and Solvents for Conservation Problems.Rome: ICCROM, 1990.

Weaver, Martin E. Conserving Buildings: A Guide to Techniques andMaterials. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1993.

Whitford, Maurice J. Getting Rid of Graffiti: A practical guide to graffitiremoval and anti-graffiti protection. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold,Inc., 1992.

Wollbrinck, Thomas. "The Composition of Proprietary Paint Strippers."Journal of the American Institute for Conservation. Vol. 32 (1993), pp.43-57.

Young, Daniel J. How to Comply with the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard:A Guide to Compliance with OSHA Worker Right-to-Know Regulations. New York:Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1989.

Development of a Treatment Plan.

For managers or owners of historic masonry buildings, or agencies responsible for large inventories of graffiti-prone properties, including parks, highway and railroad bridges and viaducts, bus, train and subway stations, and cemeteries, the development of a treatment plan may be the first step toward an effective graffiti-removal program. It is becoming increasingly common for large or important historic properties to have regular maintenance and disaster plans that include graffiti removal.

When feasible, a separate treatment plan should be prepared for each structure. However, if this is not possible, it is advisable to prepare a variety of treatment plans for specific masonry types. Plans should be prepared to cover all types of masonry that fall under one jurisdiction, management or ownership that are potential targets for graffiti.

Guidance contained in treatment plans should be based on the results of carefully controlled testing to remove a wide variety of common graffiti materials safely, and without damaging the various types of masonry. Individual treatment plans should address all parts of the building or structure that could be disfigured by graffiti, and any features too fragile to be cleaned by anyone other than a conservator should be noted on the plan.

A treatment plan is essentially a cleaning specification, but it should also include information on the following:

  • the types and conditions of masonry likely to be targeted by graffiti;
  • methods, materials and techniques known to work most successfully inthe removal of specific types of graffiti from the surface of each typeof masonry;
  • sources for materials;
  • a list of contractors with expertise in graffiti removal, including names, telephone numbers, information on emergency access to the property, and storage location of materials;
  • graffiti-removal methods which may be harmful to the masonry surface;
  • contractors or consultants who are not acceptable and should not be considered for graffiti removal;
  • scaffolding, pumps, or safety equipment that might be required, whereit is available, and costs involved; and
  • health and safety concerns regarding specific removal treatments, productliterature and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).

Criteriato Consider Before Selecting a Barrier Coating as the Primary ProtectiveMeans of Combating Graffiti

What to look for in a Barrier Coating:

  • Water-vapor permeable, or "breathable".
  • "Invisible" without gloss or sheen, when applied to masonry.
  • No change in appearance from uncoated areas when masonry is wet.
  • Does not discolor or attract dirt.
  • Weathers evenly.

Questions to Ask:

  • Will the coating last long enough to offset its cost?
  • Will the application and reapplication of the coating be cost effective?
  • Will the coating be effective against more than one type of graffiti?
  • Can the coating be completely and thoroughly removed, so that, if necessary,paint, or another coating will adhere to the masonry surface?
  • Will the building ever need to be repointed or patched? A barrier coating may make this difficult or even impossible.

Before Application:

  • Seek advice of an architectural conservator.
  • Test coating on an inconspicuous area of masonry, or study the success/failure of the coating in other locations where it has been used.

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