Are the cracks to your walls a structural problem?
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Cracks in buildings can cause panic and distress to almost everyone
Whether you have lived in the building for years, or have just moved into the building or are in fact just about to buy a new home, cracks in the walls can be a real cause for concern. We don’t know whether it is more concerning when you have lived in a house for years and cracks suddenly appear, or whether you are about to buy a building and you notice some cracks because we haven’t experienced either phenomena.
We have however, as a Chartered Building Surveyor and Engineer, advised on lots of cracks in properties, so here are a few thoughts to help you move on from the distress and panic stage.
Walls may look the same but they are not
Walls come in a variety of finishes such as brickwork, stonework, render, timber and plastic cladding. As a wall in a house you would think that they have the same purpose however we would divide walls into non-structural and structural walls, that is structural walls that take the weight of the building and non-structural walls that form partitions and divide the building.
Probably the easiest way to find out generally whether you have structural walls or non-structural walls (other than asking a Chartered Building Surveyor or Engineer) is to understand how old your property is and how it has been built. We can give you the basics here, but there are always variations and anomalies to these thoughts and rules. We have over the years seen various changes in construction which have have led to using specialist/different/unusual materials for example after the war when we have had a need to build a lot of houses.
Also there have been various booms in construction where we have re-thought how to build and we have also moved to more energy efficient buildings (whatever that truly means), which have led to further changes.
If you are experiencing cracking in your present property or in a property you are considering purchasing
please free phone 0800 298 5424 for a friendly chat with one of our surveyors.
Can you find out if your building was built before or after the great Wars – World War I and World War II
This is a relatively simple way of establishing if your external walls are structural or not, as most properties before the war had structural external walls. After the war we start to change how we build properties ultimately moving to where the exterior brickwork, stonework or render is just a cladding with the structural element being the internal side of the external wall only.
Where are the cracks?
Another important fact to look at is where are the cracks? There are acceptable cracks and what we would even term as good cracks and bad cracks in walls. The first great decider with cracks is are the cracks following the joint in the wall (if there is a joint in the wall such as in brickwork and stonework), or is it cracking through the brickwork or stonework. As you will appreciate from reading the above paragraph this is important if the building is built before the great wars and semi-important if built after the great wars.
For example, if we notice that the cracks were going through the bricks or the bricks have been re-pointed to hide cracking, indicating a lot of cracking in the joints, further investigation is needed.
If the house is post war then you need to look in the roof to see if there is any cracking to the internal wall, as this is normally the only place you can see it unless you open up the structure completely to see if there are any cracks and if so, what do the cracks look like.
Type of cracking
You need to look very closely at the cracks and see if there is a constant gap in the cracks or whether it is wider at the top or the bottom. The more obvious ones are whether the cracks are horizontal which can be caused by such things as wall tie failure or damp insulation, or vertical where it could be a subsidence or heave problem.
The gradual sinking or caving in of an area of ground.
Heave is an upward movement caused by activity in the ground.
Is the crack progressive or has it finished in settlement?
If at all possible cracks should be monitored. We appreciate this is often not possible in the house buying process when everything is often carried out as quickly as possible.
However, monitoring is often the only way to see whether the cracking is progressive. You can of course look to see if the cracks appear to be fresh, by that we mean no accumulation of dirt or dust on them, or establish how long there have been cracks by talking to the owner, assuming they have noticed them and assuming they are remembering correctly (or have decided to remember correctly).
Often it is said there is initial settlement when a building is built, however we would always strongly recommend monitoring as newer buildings in particular are built with less of a safety factor than older buildings, which we would say simply were often over-designed and sometimes simply cannot cope with the conditions that they are built.
The more modern buildings are built where we would never have historically built such as areas that are susceptible to high ground water levels or changing ground water levels. As perhaps the surrounding estate development adds more and more tarmac areas rather than grassland areas which can absorb the water, trees and plants can grow particularly if not maintained, and extensions and alterations can be added to the property which affect and amend how the property works. Equally, things can be taken away from a property such as internal walls to make through lounges and open-plan kitchens, without an understanding of how they affect the building as a whole.
Cracking – seek professional advice
Here, we have just touched upon things that an experienced and knowledgeable Chartered Building Surveyor or Engineer would consider when looking at cracks to a property. If you are experiencing cracking in your present property or a potential property you are considering purchasing please free phone 0800 298 5424 for a friendly chat with one of our surveyors.
Other articles that may be of interest
We have written many articles on cracking which may be of interest to you:
Why have an independent building survey?
Always have an independent building survey as this will highlight any property problems. Caveat emptor means buyer beware and is why you need to have a building survey to find out if there are any problems within the property; the estate agent certainly will not advise you of any.
Remember the building Surveyor that you employ will be the only person working for you with your interests at heart. We are unique in that we always like to meet you at the property during the survey and are more than happy to talk about the report and discuss any concerns you may have.
We can send you an example survey
We feel that we have surveyed nearly every type of building, please phone us on 0800 298 5424 for an example survey of the type of property you are looking to buy.
If you are looking for commercial property, whether it is freehold or leasehold, we would recommend a survey as this will prevent dilapidations claims in the long run. You may wish to look at our Dilapidations Website at www.DilapsHelp.com and for Disputes go to our Disputes Help site www.DisputesHelp.com, both of which we have been advised are very helpful!
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