The history of lime as a building material

The history of lime as a building material

Lime has been used as a building material for thousands of years. Its versatility and durability have made it a popular choice for construction projects throughout history, from ancient times to modern-day. The use of lime as a building material has evolved over time, with different techniques and applications emerging as construction technology advanced. In this article, we will explore the rich history of lime as a building material, from its earliest uses in ancient times to the modern-day applications of lime-based materials.


Lime is a key component of traditional building materials such as mortar, plaster, and stucco. It is also used in modern construction techniques, including eco-friendly building designs.

One of the primary uses of lime in building construction is as a binding agent in mortar. Lime mortar is made by mixing lime, sand, and water. This mixture creates a strong adhesive that is capable of binding bricks and stones together. The use of lime in mortar allows for greater flexibility and breathability than traditional cement-based mortars. This makes it an ideal choice for older, historic buildings that require a more flexible and breathable mortar.

Lime is also used in the production of plaster which works to create a smooth and workable paste. This paste is then applied to walls and ceilings in multiple layers, creating a smooth, durable, and attractive finish. Lime plaster is particularly useful in buildings with high levels of moisture, as it allows for greater breathability and helps to prevent the build-up of damp and mould.

Another application of lime in building construction is in the production of stucco. Stucco is a type of exterior finish that is applied to walls and ceilings. It is made by mixing lime, sand, and water, along with other materials such as animal hair or fibres, to create a thick, textured finish. Stucco is highly durable and can withstand harsh weather conditions, making it an ideal choice for homes and buildings in areas with extreme temperatures or high levels of precipitation.


As mentioned above, lime has been used as a building material for thousands of years. Its use dates back to ancient times when it was discovered that limestone could be burnt to create quicklime, which could then be mixed with water to create a versatile construction material.

One of the earliest examples of lime mortar usage can be found in the construction of the Great Pyramids in Egypt, where it was used to bond the stones of the pyramid together. The Romans also made extensive use of lime in their construction, using it to build aqueducts, roads, and buildings such as the Colosseum and the Pantheon.

In ancient times, lime was used not only for its bonding properties but also for its ability to resist water damage and fire. The Greeks, for example, used a mixture of lime and volcanic ash to create a waterproof cement for their buildings. Lime was also used in the construction of hearths and furnaces, as it could withstand high temperatures without cracking.

Today, lime continues to be used in construction, although its use has evolved over time. Modern applications of lime include its use in mortar, plaster, and stucco, as well as in the production of limecrete, a type of concrete that uses lime as a binding agent. Lime is also used as a natural alternative to synthetic insulation materials, as it has excellent insulating properties and can regulate moisture levels within buildings.


The use of lime as a building material continued to rise in popularity during the medieval period in Europe. During this time, the construction of impressive stone cathedrals and castles was at its peak, and lime mortar played a crucial role in their creation.

Lime was readily available and relatively cheap, making it a practical choice for builders. It was also versatile and easy to work with, allowing for intricate designs and details to be incorporated into buildings.

One of the most significant benefits of lime mortar was its ability to bond well with stone, creating a strong and durable structure. Lime mortar was also able to flex and expand with changes in temperature and humidity, preventing cracking and water damage.

The medieval period also saw advancements in the production and processing of lime. Lime kilns were developed, allowing for more efficient and consistent production of lime. Additionally, the discovery of hydraulic lime in the 12th century provided even greater strength and durability to lime mortar.

Overall, the medieval period saw lime mortar become a cornerstone of European architecture, and its popularity and usage continued well into the Renaissance period and beyond.


During the Industrial Revolution, the use of lime in construction increased significantly. The production of lime became more efficient and affordable due to the invention of new technologies. Lime mortar was widely used in the construction of public buildings, such as churches, banks, and schools, as well as private residences.

One notable example of the use of lime during this time period is the construction of the Houses of Parliament in London, England. The building’s intricate carvings and decorative features were made possible by the use of lime mortar. Additionally, many of the buildings constructed during this time period still stand today, a testament to the durability and strength of lime as a building material.

Beyond the Industrial Revolution, lime continued to be an important building material in the construction industry. In the 20th century, the use of lime began to decline as more modern materials, such as cement, became readily available and affordable. However, in recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in using lime as a sustainable and eco-friendly building material.

Today, lime is still used in the construction of historic buildings and restoration projects, as well as in the construction of new buildings that prioritise sustainability and environmental responsibility. Its unique properties, including breathability and flexibility, make it an attractive choice for builders and architects who are looking for alternative, eco-friendly building materials.


Lime continues to be a popular building material today, particularly in conservation and restoration projects. Here are some advantages of using lime:

Sustainable: Lime is a natural, abundant material that can be locally sourced, reducing transportation emissions and costs.

Breathable: Lime is a porous material that allows buildings to “breathe,” meaning it can absorb and release moisture, which reduces the risk of damp and mould growth.

Flexible: Lime is a flexible material that can adapt to changes in temperature and humidity without cracking, which helps to prevent structural damage.

Aesthetic: Lime has a unique texture and appearance that can add character and charm to a building.

Historical Value: For historic buildings, the use of lime mortar and plaster is essential to maintain the integrity and authenticity of the structure.

Overall, the use of lime as a building material can contribute to the sustainability, functionality, and aesthetic appeal of a building.

However, there are also some challenges associated with using lime, such as the need for skilled workers to properly mix and apply the material, and the potential for higher costs compared to other building materials. Nevertheless, many architects, builders, and conservationists continue to recognise the value of using lime in construction.


In modern times, the use of lime as a building material has seen a revival, especially for the restoration and preservation of historic buildings. The properties of lime make it an ideal material for these purposes as it is compatible with traditional building materials like stone and brick, and it allows the building to “breathe,” allowing moisture to escape and reducing the risk of structural damage.

Lime restoration involves the repair and replacement of lime mortar joints, which deteriorate over time due to weathering and other factors. The process involves removing the deteriorated mortar and replacing it with fresh lime mortar, which is formulated to match the original mortar in terms of strength and colour.

Lime preservation involves the application of a lime-based coating to the exterior of a building to protect it from weathering and other forms of damage. This coating is typically made from a mixture of lime, sand, and other natural materials and is applied in thin layers to provide a protective barrier while allowing the building to “breathe.”


In conclusion, the history of lime as a building material is long and rich, spanning thousands of years and many different cultures. Lime has played a crucial role in the construction of some of the world’s most impressive buildings and structures, from the Great Pyramids of Egypt to the Houses of Parliament in London. Throughout history, lime has been valued for its versatility, durability, and ability to resist water damage and fire.

Lime is continually used in the restoration and preservation of historic buildings, as well as in modern eco-friendly construction projects. As people become more concerned about sustainability and the environment, the use of lime as a building material may continue to grow in popularity in the future.


Ecoright have been working with architects, housebuilders and specialist brickwork contractors for many years, so their knowledge of lime and its uses is extensive. If you have any questions about how to use lime or its suitability to a particular project, please get in touch, they will be pleased to advise. You can read more about Lime Renders here:

Lime Renders are available through Ecoright’s sister companies:

Lime Render – the natural choice for exterior and interior work Lime Render – the natural choice for exterior and interior work

Lime mortar is highly aesthetic and can be exact colour-matched to bricks or other adjacent materials making it a good choice for conservation or new build.