You’ve found a property you love, but you’ve noticed some cracks in brickwork walls. Cracks in brick walls don’t necessarily mean something serious is going on. However, it does pay to have a pre-purchase building inspection to determine if it is a structural or cosmetic issue. So don’t get your hopes up just yet. Instead, arm yourself with information on the causes of cracks in brickwork and make your decision from there.
What causes cracks in brickwork?
Several factors can cause cracks in brickwork, and they are rarely anything significant. However, the following are some of the most common causes of cracks in brickwork:
· Removal of mortar, bricks, stones or bricks from the brickwork
· Cuts from bricks or mortar on the brickwork surface
· Damage to the mortar joints
· Unprotected tools near the brickwork
· An improperly insulated brickwork surface
· Areas where the brickwork is out of mortar
· Doorways with glass insertions
For larger cracks in brickwork, the cause is almost always a structural issue. Structural cracks can be due to:
· Foundations or windows not adequately spaced to avoid the brickwork interfering with the structure
· Subsidence due to poor property drainage and extreme ground movement
· Settlement of the soil where it becomes compacted and settled, causing the house to move
· Reactive soils like clay, sand and gravel
· Climate changes. Going from one extreme to another causes soil to expand and contract, a common issue here in Brisbane, Australia.
· Poor design and construction of footings and walls
· Water damage from leaking pipes, garden hoses, sprinklers and flooding
· Neighbouring construction and excavation work.
What’s the difference between cosmetic and structural cracks?
When the wall is a single mass of stone, cracks in brickwork don’t indicate a structural issue. However, when the cracks run through brickwork — especially when multiple crack segments radiate from one centre point — an engineer should evaluate the structural problems.
What do I do if I find cracks in the brickwork?
First, take note of the appearance of your cracks. Does one appear at a time and then progress into a crack, or are they unrelated? Is it widespread across the brickwork? Be wary of more than one crack, as these may indicate structural cracks. Next, you want to assess the wall’s structure to determine if it is in danger of failing or is solid enough to fix. If you’re not sure what type of cracks you’re looking at, take a photo, measure them, and then take them with you. Next, Google a local building inspector simply by typing ‘Building Inspector’ followed by your city. For example, Building Inspector Brisbane. And don’t forget to consider their Google rating.
Australia has strict regulations on the building and construction of properties, and what you do if you find cracks needs to conform to these. For example, according to the Building Code of Australia, small cracks in walls that measure less than 5mm in width and can be filled do not require repair. This is deemed as acceptable and compliant with the Standard. Meanwhile, large cracks in walls wider than 5mm require a whole or partial wall replacement.
Should I buy the house if I find cracks in my brickwork?
The simple answer is, it depends. Of course, if you learn the cracks are cosmetic after a building inspection and the rest of the inspection went well, then yes, you should. But suppose a building inspection identifies the cracks as structural cracks. In that case, you’ll want to do your research to find out what the repair involves, factor the repair into your purchase price or pull out of the house purchase altogether.
If you’re buying a property, cracking in brickwork walls is something to be hypervigilant about. However, avoid jumping into an expensive remediation project because of cracks in the wall. Rather, let a reputable professional inspect and determine the cause of the cracks.