Horizontal Mortar Joint Cracking

How to Identify Structural Defects in a House

14 December 2021

Owning a property is a lot of work, as many will tell you. It involves a lot of maintenance, and owners will have to keep an eye out for signs of problems before they fully manifest just to keep costs (and stress down).

Not only that, but if you are in the market for a new property then its more important than ever to understand what you need to look out for when it comes to structural defects in a property to make sure that your investment isn’t wasted.

So, to help you understand and identify structural defects in a house you own (or are considering purchasing) here are some things to look out for.

Exterior Problems

Before you even walk into a property there is often a lot to see that gives an indication that a property has long-suffering, or even brand new, structural problems. Here are a few examples to keep an eye out for

Small Cracks in Your Properties Walls

Surveyor conducting a cavity wall tie survey


Any crack in your properties walls is going to be cause for concern. Horizontal and vertical cracks in the walls of a house are common, and can mean a number of different things for the house itself.

Commonly, cracks in a properties walls are down to something called settlement. Settlement is a term for when a new house’s foundations move soon after the house itself has been built. This could mean that vibrations from a road have caused the house to shift, that further construction work could have caused a shift – or even just the property settling into the foundations themselves could have caused a shift and settlement to occur.

Any way that it happens, the end result is that the house itself develops small cracks on its exterior. Settlement isn’t the only reason that cracks might appear on the exterior of your home either.

Temperature and humidity can also have a serious effect on your properties walls, with serious temperature fluctuations being responsible for causing the swelling and shrinking of a properties walls. Think of it this way: moisture within a properties walls will cause its mass to expand, and a warmer temperature that allows that same moisture to evaporate will cause those walls to shrink down again.

All of this movement means that smaller cracks can easily develop in a properties exterior – but just because they are small doesn’t mean they should be ignored. The biggest issue is obviously that over time these small cracks can develop into larger ones, and obviously, that can be catastrophic for a property.

The other issue is that any crack means that moisture and other water will easily be able to work its way inside a property, which will cause rapid development of damp in the house itself – and that will lead to all kinds of problems including the deterioration of building materials, black mould and the overall degradation of the living space itself.

Large Cracks in a Properties Walls

As we just mentioned, larger cracks in a properties walls can mean that there are some serious issues in play.

First and foremost, large cracks in your properties walls could mean that your property is in the throes of a damp infestation – often from the likes of penetrating damp. In this instance, heavy rainfall is always going to make the problem worse, potentially leading to larger cracks, more damp being able to set in, and the cycle of problems continues.

One consequence of larger cracks in your properties walls is that if left untreated it can lead to issues with your cavity wall ties. If the cavity wall ties fail it could mean that your walls mortar joints separate, meaning more cracks, bowed walls, insulation failure, and other defects in your homes construction that could be catastrophic.

Cracks or Leaning Chimney

Houses with chimneys

The chimney on a property is always going to be constructed to allow gases to rise easily, completely vertically and safely. So, if you find that your chimney is leaning one way or another, or that cracks have begun to develop in the chimney itself, it’s a sign that the property itself could well be sat on unstable or slanted foundations.

Foundation failure is a serious problem, and can be brought about from the likes of water damage, to subsidence, to the failure of crucial materials used in the construction of the property itself. Any way that it has happened, foundation repair is a property care issue that needs immediate attention before the issue of a cracked or leaning chimney can be tackled.

Interior Problems

Sometimes a property will appear completely fine on the outside, yet on walking in you might find that there is a lot more to the properties health than you may have expected. Here is what to look out for on a properties exterior when you are looking for signs of structural defects.

Gaps Between the Floors and the Walls

Removed skirting boards to expose damage to brickwork

Any properties walls and floors should be entirely flush with each other – the floor running completely flat and in parallel with the bottom of the wall itself.

So, if you enter a property and notice that the floor and walls are not entirely in line, and that there are either gaps between the flooring and the walls – or that there are serious bumps where the floor goes higher than the walls bottom, then you could have an issue with your properties foundations.

This is because a properties foundations should allow the house to sit square and flat – whereas if a properties foundations have shifted its entirely possible that the floor may have dropped, or that it could have risen if the foundations were pushed upwards, or fell victim to subsidence.

In this situation you will want to contact a structural surveyor so that the real reason for the floors not lining up with the walls themselves can be uncovered. If you are in the process of inspecting a property to see if it might be worth an investment, then this is a crucial element to look into before you commit to any sale.

The same advice applies to the flooring if you find it to be uneven, or if spaces have formed in the actual floor itself. All of these defects are elements that should not be ignored, and warrant immediate investigation.

Cracks in Interior Walls

Cracks within a properties walls can sometimes be entirely benign. It might be where some plasterboard has been knocked, or where paint has chipped after it’s been on the walls a few years. There are plenty of reasons why there could well be a crack in the walls – but sometimes its something much more.

Cracks in a properties interior walls are sometimes a sign that the property has become a victim to damaged foundations, and just like on exterior walls the two most common culprits are subsidence and settling.

Though, this is not always the case. Sometimes you may find that a lintel failure has caused the crack to appear. This happens around doorways and windows, and alongside the issue of cracks property owners will usually notice a decreased temperature around the window or doorway in question, as well as the opening and closing of the window or door not functioning well either.

Failed lintels are a big issue, but they are yet another reason that a crack could appear and should be identified before a purchase is finalised on any property, or rectified immediately for any property owner.

Cracks in your walls are always a concern, and if discovered they should be investigated immediately. Remember, if you have cracks in your walls and the root cause of the cracks aren’t treated, then any attempt to redecorate and cover the crack itself is only going to fail, and the actual underlying issue will get worse and worse.

If you notice that your home, or a house you are potentially buying has cracks in its walls then get in touch with a property care expert immediately to secure a comprehensive survey to identify not only the cause of the issue, but also the steps that have to be taken to rectify the issue.

Doorways and Window sills Displaying Damage

A doorway or a window is often taken for granted in a property, and its presence won’t be questioned. However, as mentioned before a lintel failure can be a serious cause of concern. Not only can a lintel failure be indicative of a wider problem to do with your foundations, but you may also find that the failure has come about because of shoddy installation, woodworm, or even too much pressure being mounted on the top of the window or doorway itself.

Along with the wider problem to do with your house’s structure, you may find that a lintel failure can allow for more failures in the property itself. A failed lintel is an easy way for penetrating damp to set in a property and damage the surrounding structure of any window, with damp being a fast track to black mould and other forms of degradation within a property.

If you notice that there is a draft coming from a closed window or door, that above the opening looks bowed, or that the window or door isn’t closing correctly then you really need to engage in the services of a property care specialist who can survey the property and tell you precisely whether a lintel has failed, and if so, what needs to be done to restore it.

Damp on Walls

rising damp stain on wall

Damp is always a cause for concern. In certain situations, it could be that rising damp is present, which indicates that the DPC at the property has failed. You will be able to tell when rising damp is present in a property because the damp tends to rise no higher than a metre off of the floor, and the actual level of damp gets better or worse with the amount of rain or moisture in the atmosphere (and in the properties walls).

Major damp found in the walls in other areas could easily be the product of penetrating damp. Penetrating damp is a process in which a defect in the building itself has allowed water ingress, which has built up into a damp infestation.

So, in this instance you can learn two things from a damp infestation: One, the property has damp and on its own that’s a defect to note, but also that the damp has been brought about by a further defect in the property itself.

The only way to truly ascertain the reason behind damp’s appearance in a property is by engaging the services of a damp survey. Not only will a damp survey be able to tell you the kind of damp that you are dealing with, but also let you know what defect will need amending before the property will stop suffering from damp altogether.

In some situations, you may find that damp is nothing more than a product of condensation. This is still to be considered a defect in a property though, as condensation build up can still lead to damp and black mould in a property. If following a damp survey you find that condensation is the leading cause of damp in your property, then you will need to consider different ways to reduce your condensation levels in the future.

Professionally Identifying Property Defects

If you want to get a professional view of potential structural defects within a property, then consider engaging the services of a property care expert. Our team are well trained and experienced in property care, and our surveying services can be used to give a professional look into potential issues that might be plaguing a property.

Call 0800 288 8660 or contact us online to learn more.