Ever wondered how the present day’s highly effective methods of waterproofing buildings and other structures came to be? The UK has actually had some form of waterproofing for centuries, although modern systems are a far cry from the primitive solutions used in centuries past. Here’s a quick look at how technologies and techniques have changed, each of which paved the way to the sophisticated types that we use today. 

Ancient times 

As a process, waterproofing in the UK dates back to ancient times when early builders used natural materials such as clay, lime and bitumen to seal structures against moisture penetration. Examples include the use of lime mortar in Roman aqueducts and the application of bitumen-based coatings in medieval castles and cathedrals. 

Waterproofing advances over the centuries 

During the medieval and Tudor periods, timber-framed buildings became commonplace across the country, which presented new challenges in waterproofing. Builders employed techniques such as wattle and daub infill, thatch roofing and lime plaster to provide rudimentary waterproofing measures. However, these methods often proved insufficient against the damp climate that we all know so well, leading to issues such as rot and decay. 

The Industrial Revolution 

The Industrial Revolution (around 1760 to 1840) brought significant advancements in construction materials and techniques, laying the basic foundations for modern waterproofing practices. The widespread adoption of brick and stone masonry, coupled with the development of hydraulic lime and Portland cement, enabled builders to construct more durable and watertight structures. 

Victorian ingenuity 

In the 19th century, the advent of iron and steel framing revolutionised building design, allowing for the construction of larger and taller buildings. Waterproofing techniques evolved to meet the demands of these new structures, with innovations such as asphalt coatings, lead flashings and cementitious waterproofing membranes becoming common in construction. 

The 20th century 

The early 20th century saw further advancements in waterproofing technology, driven by the rise of reinforced concrete construction. Engineers developed specialised waterproofing admixtures and membranes to protect concrete structures from water ingress and corrosion, particularly in below-ground applications such as basements and tunnels. 
 
The mid-20th century witnessed the emergence of synthetic waterproofing materials such as bituminous membranes, PVC membranes and EPDM rubber membranes. These flexible and durable materials offered enhanced resistance to water penetration and UV degradation, leading to their widespread adoption in roofing and underground waterproofing systems. 
 
As environmental and sustainability awareness grew in the last decades of the 20th century, the development of eco-friendly waterproofing solutions was given a lot more focus. Green roofs, permeable paving systems and rainwater harvesting technologies gained popularity as ways to manage stormwater runoff and reduce the urban heat island effect. 

Modern waterproofing systems 

Today, waterproofing is an essential aspect of building design and construction, encompassing a wide range of materials, techniques and systems tailored to meet the diverse needs of different applications. From historic landmarks to people’s homes, effective waterproofing ensures the durability, safety and sustainability of the UK’s built environment. 

Ask us about waterproofing 

If you require advice, a site visit or a free quotation for a waterproofing project, please fill in our contact form to book a callback from a National Waterproofing Group member in your local area. 
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