Investigating salt decay of stone materials related to the environment, a case study in the St. James church in Liège, Belgium

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Sebastiaan Godts; Roald Hayen; Hilde De Clercq;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 62, Number 6, p.329-342 (2017)


Salt crystallization is recognized as a major cause of damage to porous building materials, threatening the sustainable preservation of our valuable built heritage. Unfortunately, the crystallization behavior of the detected salt mixtures is complex and not fully understood. While the deliquescence points of single salts are well documented, this is not the case for salts in a mixture where one is confronted with the presence of different cations and anions. In this paper the salt content of the murals and the limestone tracery of the main entrance porch from the sixteenth century church of St. James in Liège, Belgium is investigated and related to the climatic conditions of its environment. Concerning the salt load, the research consists of hygroscopic moisture content measurements, quantitative ion analyses, and the prediction of phase equilibria using the thermodynamic model ECOS/RUNSALT. This model can predict the salt crystallization sequences of a particular ion mixture. The output is mathematically evaluated with collected temperature and relative humidity data, which enables the calculation of the number of salt crystallization–deliquescence cycles. The results show that even small amounts of salts can cause damage over a long period of time when the environment causes frequent cycles of crystallization–deliquescence over time. It is shown how a mixture of small amounts of (double) salts, including hygroscopic ones, can have a significant effect on the decay of historic building materials in the case of daily changing climatic conditions and periods of extreme drought. As a result, the crystallization of double salts and hygroscopic salts such as calcium nitrate cannot be ignored. The scientific method and the results are described.