Contributors: Engr. Micheal Adeagbo, Engr. Ebube Okongwu
Just as the horn of a train warns you of its arrival, there are signs that indicate defects in a building which may be very serious or minor. Not all structural defects are visible to the eyes and the visible signs could indicate something more serious. This article sets out to help you identify primary and secondary (structural) defects in that dream home you have been longing to purchase to help you make an informed decision.
Defects in construction are simply aspects of the work done that are not in line with the original plan. A structure is anything that is constructed or built from different interrelated parts with a fixed location on the ground and used for a certain purpose, for example, a dam is a structure. Therefore, structural defects are simply a deviation from the originally intended result.
Now, structural defects are categorized into these groups, the major and the minor.
Minor Structural defects are majorly caused by the quality of the products used. These defects have no serious effect on the structural integrity of the building. Minor structural problems frequently include wall dents, corrosion, blemishes, and hairline cracks. Minor defects can be repaired, and these faults may not discourage the homebuyer from investing in the house.
Major structural defects occur from faulty structural designs and (this means that these defects happen from the planning of the construction before the actual construction begins) and construction errors. A major structural defect can cause a complete or partial deterioration of the property in time. In any building there are structural and non-structural members, a major structural defect comes into play when there is a flaw in the structural member of the building. You are probably thinking, what are these structural members? The structural members are any element supporting much of the weight like foundations, beams, columns, slabs, roofs, and walls, to name a few.
Unfortunately, pinpointing major structural defects happens during the construction phase because after everything is covered up the defects are also covered up. While a professional inspection is likely to cover all aspects of verifying structural strength, the following are some of the top ways you can identify a poorly constructed property at the point of inspection.
A WEAK FOUNDATION
We like to compare a building to a human being; for a human being to stand properly and for an extended period, they must stand on two legs in a decent position. A person cannot stand on one leg for long without collapsing, and structures are no exception. Don’t get me wrong, we are not saying buildings have legs, but buildings have footings, the foundation is supported by the footings and the foundation of a building is its core.
How do you know if the foundation is weak? Exterior cracks indicate a weak foundation. Other symptoms include inadequate foundation drainage, concrete flaking, ruptures or breaches, and foundation floors or walls tilting, sagging, or buckling.
How can a weak foundation be solved? When existing structures begin to exhibit certain changes due to settlement or other types of distress you know the solution is underpinning. Underpinning is one of the ways of strengthening the foundation of an existing building or other infrastructure. These entail the addition of permanent or temporary support to an existing foundation to gain increased depth and bearing capacity.
There are various underpinning methods, and the method used is determined by the underlying conditions and the required foundation depth. It is critical to obtain professional assistance while deciding which to employ.
The moist walls can either be a construction defect or a man-made issue and there are several causes of moist walls.
Seepage: This is the worst source of moisture ingress in a building. This is the movement of water in soil upwards.
Seepage occurs as a result of poor construction quality and a lack of waterproofing measures during house construction. It can cause wall moisture, efflorescence, and paint flaking.
Cause: Defective Damp Proof Course (DPC): This is the failure of the damp proof course to arrest the rising of moisture from below causing dampness in the wall.
- Roof leaking is a major source of water entering the wall and making it moist,
- Porous bricks attract moisture, and they are a permanent source of dampness in walls.
- Poor construction material
- Cavities, holes left in the wall owing to neglect, and dab-holes used for scaffolding but not correctly filled with concrete are potential sources of attracting and storing moisture.
- Mortar joints that are not correctly and consistently laid are moisture traps.
The mixture of two homogeneous or non-homogeneous materials, such as concrete and wood, bricks and concrete, rubber and concrete, metal and concrete, bricks and bricks, concrete and concretes, causes this. When different materials with differing surface finishes are used together without an appropriate binder between them, this visible gap occurs.
The solution is as simple as getting a suitable binder!
CRACKED WALLS AND CEILINGS
Major cracks that are cause for concern are mostly because of differential settlement. They are very often diagonal, vertical, and horizontal in nature.
There are plastering cracks which are also called hairline cracks, it looks like a map or multiple cracks, and this is caused by bad sand or bad plasters, this type of crack is usually unharmful.
However, if the hairline crack worsens over time and causes damage to the internal wall, it may be a cause for concern. Multiple cracks in multiple rooms indicate a severe structural problem that should be treated by a professional.
Cracks in walls and roof frames are not always severe but nevertheless, necessitate an expert structural inspection. If you see wall cracks, keep an eye on them to see if they worsen over time. You can also have the cracks repaired to prevent further damage to your building.
Rainwater resting on the ceiling wall causes several cracks, warped and sagging ceilings, and damaged cornices. This can result in a leaking roof or gutter. To avoid additional deterioration, you must immediately address this type of structural damage.
There are several reasons why this could happen, but we will be focusing on two in this post.
The first is ground shifting, the ground beneath every construction will settle gradually over time. This is totally normal. As the air and water leave the soil, the solid particles are rearranged and ‘settle’ into a new compact position.
However, the soil underlying a structure can be quite unstable and shift enough to cause foundation movement on occasion. This could happen when the soil erodes as a result of inadequate compaction during construction or other more natural causes. In certain cases, large chunks of earth may be disturbed, leaving massive holes. This is not a quick process. You’ll likely notice early warning signals, such as uneven floors, which will allow you to spot it early and prevent further damage to your construction.
The second is worn out materials; we all know there are a lot of substandard materials out there. Sometimes the materials used to build your home, especially if it’s an older property, just wear out, resulting in uneven flooring. It will be wise to ensure only quality products are used in the home to avoid this. Always look out for architectural materials that are designed to last for a long time.
You will require the assistance of a qualified contractor to resolve the issue. Keep a watch out for concerns like the grout not holding the tile to the floor, water leaking through the foundation and worsening of the tile fracture, as these are all symptoms of a damaged floor framework.
Defective structures in the plumbing system happen as a result of old or inappropriate piping material used, malfunctioning fittings, and waste lines. Clogged drains, shower pan leaks, and toilet leaks may develop because of faulty fixture installation. Mould contamination is also a result of these practices. You can ask your engineer to search for degradation in the pipe and evaluate water leaks.
How can this affect your lifestyle? One of the most common, yet most unfavorable, consequences of a faulty plumbing system is the unavoidable spread of illness. Because most wastewater contains bacteria and other pathogens, defective plumbing can enable these dangerous elements to drain out, releasing thousands of pathogens into the environment that can cause sickness. It could also contaminate drinking water which could also cause illnesses such as hepatitis, serious allergies and respiratory illnesses caused by molds.
The first thing you are told to do to avoid most of these structural defects is to buy from a reliable source, just like in the pharmaceutical industry when you want to purchase drugs, they tell you to buy from a reliable company that will never want to taint its name, same for the real estate industry. If you find yourself with these defects, consult a specialist to determine the severity.
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