Structural Cracking in Buildings
The words ”structural movement”, “structural cracking” or indeed anything that mentions the potential for structural issues at a property are enough to strike the fear of god into any potential home buyer, seller, and/or estate agent. It can make or break a transaction, but our role is not to put a spanner in the works, but merely to highlight the condition of a property and to provide clear advice on the next steps to ensure the most suitable repair method is found.
We have done our damp mini series (Part 1 - HERE) and now we are going to do a series on cracking in buildings with part 1 being about structural cracking. I have plans for part 2, 3 and maybe a part 4 and 5, where I plan to talk about other forms of structural movement such as subsidence, collapsed drains, historic coal mining, tree damage etc. And I have plans to go into detail on other forms of cracking which on initial view, may seem to be structural but are actually relatively simple (more on that later - especially stone buildings). Keep your eyes peeled!
I must pre-face this blog post by saying that we are not structural engineers and the scope of our work does not involve designing structural repair solutions. We are skilled at identifying structural issues and their possible methods of failure but to be conclusive, often a period of monitoring is required to identify if any structural movement is progressive. This needs to be completed by a structural engineer.
Symptoms - What to look out for?
Well, this is a simple one. Cracks. Whenever a crack first appears, it is always good to get a professional opinion.
On a recent Building Survey, we were alerted to cracks in the walls on the ground floor hallway, either side of the main entrance door.
Now, ask any trained surveyor and they will tell you that looking at these cracks in isolation means absolutely nothing. But, to the trained eye, the crack pattern and location can tell you a lot of things.
Unfortunately in this case, the crack pattern didn’t tell us much initially as the opposite side of the wall is covered in a PVC cladding.
But, notice the location of the stone canopy in relation to the internal cracks. One potential cause of the cracking is downward movement/rotation in the stone canopy which puts pressure on the wall surface. As this is part of a pre purchase survey, we were unable to remove the PVC cladding and so further investigations are required to remove this cladding to inspect the wall surface in more detail.
If cracks are noted to the external face of the wall around the stone canopy, it is reasonable to suspect that rotation is the cause of much of the cracking.
Or is it…? The crack pattern on other areas of the building can tell us more information about which direction movement is happening and what is actually moving. There is no cracking evident to the external face of the wall above the canopy, which leads us to believe that rotation may not be contributing to the cracks as much as what we first thought.
Other Checks - Subtle Clues
Floors, doors and skirting boards. These building elements can hold subtle clues to indicate structural movement.
In this particular property, we inspected the floor directly above the hallway which showed a gap between the original floorboards and the external wall.
This gap was consistent between the floorboards and front external wall above the cracks in the hallway.
Consistent with the gaps between floorboards and the external wall, movement was also noted at the skirting between the front external wall and the internal wall that runs perpendicular.
One very subtle clue to indicate building movement lies in a very simple check. Closing internal doors.
We noted that internal doors located directly above the initial cracks fell foul of their frames and the gap between the top of the door and the door head was inconsistent; indicating downward building movement in the same location as the cracks.
In isolation, each of these findings don’t necessarily mean anything, but looking at the building holistically and as an entire unit, each of these findings combine to justify the theory of downward structural building movement.
Inspecting the building further, our survey continued into the basement. The basement inspection is vital to help us understand what is potentially causing the building movement.
Directly below the internal wall that is showing the cracks, we noted slight deflection in the timber beam that appears to be supporting the wall above. The deflection in the joist is enough to cause movement in the above wall which could result in the cracks.
we didn’t observe cracking in the basement walls and so we believe that the movement is occurring at the ground floor rather than the building’s foundations.
As this is part of a pre-purchase survey, it is beyond the scope of our services for us to design a repair solution or to carry out monitoring therefore we have advised our client to consult a structural engineer for conclusive diagnosis and accurate repair costs.
All of this information will potentially delay the transaction however, knowing this information upfront allows our client to re-assess whether the property is a suitable purchase for their current and future family circumstances and financial situations.
As always, if you would like to get in touch about how we can assist you on a property you’re purchasing. Our details are below and we would be more than happy to help.
Building Surveyor | Managing Director
MCIOB | MRPSA
My Property Surveyors ltd
☎️ 0113 887 1941