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Factors Contributing To Building Defects

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Construction
Wordcount: 3360 words Published: 2nd Aug 2018

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Defects occur in building for a variety of reasons. This is perhaps not surprising when one considers the wide range of materials and techniques used in the construction of building, differences in condition on building sites and the varied occupational uses of the completed building. The defects in buildings occur because the inadequate or drawback of the original design, the building was constructed without according with the design or with appropriate practise, or the workmanship was below standard, or because the building has been accepted forces. The emergence of defects will affecting the comfort of occupants, such as noise interruption, solar gain and glare, have however been omitted as it is considered that they do not affect the fabric or the services and are not therefore building defects but purely defects of design.

Basically, most of the defects are created from:

  • The applications of forces – either from internally or externally, even whole of building, or the components or materials of the building.
  • The effects of materials – no matter in a gaseous, liquid or solid state which contribute with the external climatic conditions and caused by the occupancy of the building
  • The effects of biological agents
  • Changes in temperature

Those factors may lead to:

  • Changes in the composition or condition of the materials used in the construction of the building – such change may cause the materials more vulnerable to force
  • Changes in the construction, ranging from slight cracking not affecting stability to complete destruction
  • Changes in shape, size or weight
  • Changes in appearance, including colour

If slightly of changes from the original condition may not be considered as defects but this depends on the situation. As for major changes will generally be considered as defects, but may not if the changes do not affect the appearance.

In general,

Changes in composition can be result from:

  • Fire
  • The effects of gases, liquids and solids
  • Biological agents
  • Sunlight
  • Changes in the structure from:
  • Applied physical forces, including those from ground movements
  • Fire
  • Climatic condition

Changes in shape, size and weight from:

  • Applied physical forces
  • Effects of gases, liquids and solids
  • Effect of change of temperature

Changes in appearance from:

  • Wear
  • Fire
  • Effects of gases, liquids and solids
  • Effect of changes of temperature
  • Effect of sunlight

From the more practical aspects, most of the defects can be placed in one of the three major groups and those defects are no means to clear-cut and will often overlapping.

These groups are:

  • Defects cause by dampness
  • Defects cause by applied forces
  • Defects cause by changes in size

Besides, most of the defects can be occur due to the designer did not fully appreciate that the changes can befall in the construction or in the materials used, therefore the designer did not provided adequate safeguards in his design. If the chosen materials are unsuitable for the conditions, the materials will consider as defects. Most of the times, designer will take into account the cost to determine the choice of materials. It is important to understanding of the inherent properties of materials before select any materials. Before making the choices of materials for the construction, the designer must understand of the inherent properties of those materials. Greater use of the concept of “trouble-shooting in advance” can improved the designs and will undeniably lead to a reduction in the defects which occur in buildings.

On the other hand, poor workmanship, especially do not compliance with the instruction given in the specification is also responsible for the occurrence of defects. The lack of maintenance or incorrect maintenance can reduce the effective life of a material and far lower than it should be achieved (Eldridge, 1976).


Dampness is one of the defects which are most difficult to trace and diagnose. The dampness only can be perceived once it appears at the surface of the walls. There are countless ways in which water can exist in a building. Dampness may occur in the same building and at the same time even be responsible for the same damp patch. Buildings are assembled by a lot of different materials. All the materials have different inherent properties and many of them are water-absorbent. There are the major sources of water caused the dampness in building, such as construction water, intruding water, condensation and occupational (Eldridge, 1976).

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Construction Water

In the construction of a building, a great quantity of water is required. A great quantity of water is required in the construction of a building, even for an ordinary building at least several tons of water is necessary. As well as some of the water will be used in setting the materials such as Portland cement, gypsum plasters and etc. Some construction water may be dried up at the time before the buildings have been occupied, but some construction water will still be retained in the building’s structure. Even though heating will dry up the water inside the structure, but in some case the water inside the structure are failed to dry up due to the walls have been applied the impervious decorations such as paintwork. And finally, the construction water will kept accumulate inside the walls (Eldridge, 1976).

Intruding Water

Rainfall is one of the reasons to allow the water into a building. While rain falls by gravity but it can be blown by the wind in all directions against a building. The driving rain will find any weakness on the wall and into a building either directly through the defects of the walls or indirectly by absorption. The water may transfer through the defects on the walls such as cracks or hollow sections for some distance and wet the internal surface of walls. Therefore, this would be very difficult to find the points of water entry. Besides, dampness may be enter a building from ground even the properly constructed of damp-proof course or membrane have been carry out. The watertightness of the joints is very important in the prevention of rain penetration. Intruding dampness which wets insulating materials may seriously lower their effectiveness and lead to condensation. The intruding dampness can be divided into penetration damp and rising damp (Eldridge, 1976).

Penetration Damp

Penetrating damp is caused by the porous nature of the building and as a result of external water getting into a building through the external walls and ultimately affects the internal wall surfaces. Besides that, the buildings near coastal areas or areas facing the sea can also suffer from penetrating damp. The penetrating damp of the walls will caused serious deteriorating affects to the internal finishing like damp staining, salting, blown plaster, spoiling and peeling of the wall finishes.

Wall penetrating dampness occurs in a building are related with the somewhat faulty building work or the fault in the plumbing work which has allowed water to enter into the building. The common defects that can result in the transfer of water from the external façade of a building into its living accommodation such as the defective of roof coverings, poorly maintained walls, poorly guttering and down pipes, poorly fitting or rotten door and windows frames, broken render or damaged pointing. Even these defects can be cured, but the affects of residual moisture within the building can continue to create problems for months and sometimes years. On the other hand, a watermark may be appearing on the internal wall and it will grow if the water continues to enter thus penetrating damp walls. In addition, the watermark will grow rapidly and become worse especially after the heavy rainfall. (David Sutcliffe, n.d.)

“A damp wall will take one month for each inch of the wall thickness to dry out after the source of the penetrating damp is removed.” (David Sutcliffe, n.d.)

Some of the buildings have exceptionally thick external walls and thus the affect of penetrating damp will continue over a longer period of time if nothing protective is done.

The penetrating damp may be minimised, once the defect of the walls is correctly identified and the source of water ingress eliminated.

Rising Damp

Rising damp usually occurs in the older brickwork which the brickwork or the mortar between the brickwork is more porous. The mortar in the older buildings will losing its original adhesive properties, becomes soft and crumbles easily, almost reverting back to a sandy base, therefore the mortar will becomes absorbent and pass water through it. In other word, the rising damp is hardly occurs in the newer brickwork where the brick and cement mortar courses are in good condition. Besides that, the rising damp also may occur in the brickwork due to not providing the damp proof course or where the damp proof course has failed.

The rising damp can be occur in the brick walls due to the water upward movement through the porous mortar from the ground salt (Chloride & Nitrates), this action as known as Capillary Action. Once the rising moisture is above the floor level, the water evaporates and leaves the salt deposits behind. The evaporation often draws more water up and in turn leaves more salts behind. The longer the moisture is allowed to rise, the more salts will become evident.

The rising damp will as a result of deteriorating affecting to the external finishes and internal finishes of the walls such as:

  • Paint does not adhere to the wall.
  • Wall paper lifts and stains appear on the walls.
  • Plaster flakes away, feels soft and spongy, bubbles and white powder or crystals appear.
  • Skirting boards and floor boards rot.
  • Mortar frets and falls out between bricks and stonework.
  • Stains or white powder appear on walls.

There problems are mainly aesthetic problems only, however it is conceivable that the structural damage could result from extensive rising damp, and of course a damp mouldy environment could pose a health risk to people.

(Graham Drage, Causes and Remedies for the Three Main Causes of Damp in Dwellings)


Water vapour is normally present in the air. The quantity of water vapour contained depends on the temperature of the air. This ratio is called the ‘relative humidity’. Hot air is able to carry much more water vapour than cold air, so as the temperature of air increase, it is able to hole a greater volume of water vapour. Such water vapour comes from our breathing, bathing, cooking and other domestic activities. When the water vapour contact with cold surface it will converted into liquid water. The temperature of the surface at which the water vapours condensate is called the ‘dew point’. The condensed water may appear on any of the internal surfaces of the building or form within the construction and known as “interstitial condensation”. The condensed water may through a crack on the wall to appear possibly on the internal surface of wall even some distance from its points of origin. Therefore, this form of condensation can be very knotty due to the difficulty in identifying and its adverse effect on the insulation. Besides, it also damaging and give rise to other defects to the walls such as the materials used in the walls especially in cavities and voids. Moreover, the condensation is most lightly to occur especially in locations where the relative humidity of the internal air is high such as bathrooms and kitchens. Some of the materials have the property of absorbing moisture from the air. The amount of water condenses in walls is very considerable indeed, because it is not only damage the fabric of a wall and lead to more frequent redecorating, but it is also may leading the wall to a state of almost permanent dampness and providing suitable conditions for the growth of mould and mildew. The growth of mould and mildew will affect the health of the building’s occupants.


Besides the water vapour produced by the occupants of building (one adult produces half a litre of water in 9 hours simply from breathing), water may be present in a building by leaking pipes, tanks and cisterns. It will caused the problem of condensation become more worsen.


Cracks are occurred because the building or part of building has been withstanding the applied forces greater than it can be withstand. These applied forces may have applied externally to the building, internally within the building or have been built up in the materials of the building as a result of chemical changes. These may be a single force or a combination of forces, or having a single cause or several causes.

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Much of the cracking occurs in the early in the life of the building is inevitable since it is due to the internal forces built up in many materials when the water used in the construction process dries out. Such cracking is generally superficial but it is potential to cause little problem later on if the remedial measure is not taking.

Obviously every crack is a sign that the building is become instability. Some looked very serious cracks on the structural may have little or no effect on the stability either because the building has a high factor of safety or because the affected area does not influence to the stability of the structure. Rarely does a building collapse soon after the appearance of a crack, even if the crack is large.

The cracking of the brick walls may be caused by overloading in structural, foundation settlement, excessive floor loadings, temperature settlement, contraction in structural members, or poor materials and poor workmanship in the original construction. The types of crack include horizontal cracks, vertical and diagonal cracks, shrinkage cracks and step cracks (Integrated Publishing, n.d.).

Horizontal Cracks

Horizontal cracks are generally long, wide cracks in the mortar joints that occur along the line of lintels over the window or along the line of the roof slab or floor. Where the horizontal movement cracks turn the corner of a building, they often rack down. Racked-down corner occur where the horizontal cracks along the side and end of a building meet. Normally, the horizontal crack not only continue around the corner but forms part of a diagonal crack that takes a downward direction and meet a similar crack from the other side, forming a “V”. The bricks inside this “V” are loosened and must be reset.

Vertical and Diagonal Cracks

Vertical and diagonal movement cracks usually occur near the ends or offsets of buildings. These cracks may also found extending from a window sill to the lintel or a door or window on a lower floor. The cracks can be from ⅛ to ⅜ of an inch in width and follow the mortar joints. However, in some cases, they may break through the bricks or other masonry.

Shrinkage Cracks

Shrinkage cracks are the fine hairline cracks that are found in mortar and concrete walls. the most noticeable ones are those running vertically, but a close examination of a section of a wall that leaks may also show them in the horizontal or bed joints of brick or block walls.

Step cracks

Step cracks is also known as stairstep cracks or stepping cracks, which is refer to cracks that follow the mortar joints in a brick o block wall. The cracks may be step up or step down along the wall. Generally, the step cracks is caused by minor movement of the footing, shrinkage or wall movement and by itself is not a major cause for concern. However, wide cracks or step cracks combined with other cracks and movement indicate a problem.

Defect of External Finishes

are various sorts of finishes was applied to the external faces of walls for a better achievement of the protection and aesthetically. Those finishes vary from rendering applied to structural walls to paint applied to walls. To carry out the finish-treatments to the wall may be subject to aspects such as defects intrinsic to the particular material, defects in the backgrounds to which they are applied and the defects arising from incompatibility of the finish and its background.

Even though these various aspects are very important, but they are not considered fully enough to enable a correct diagnosis to be made. This is partly because the part played by the background is not appreciated. Generally it seems to be thought that if the background was in a satisfactory condition prior to the application of the finish any subsequent change in it must be due to the finish. On the other hand, the finishes also will be affected by the background.

Wide cracks will present no difficulty since it may be possible to see into them, but if the cracks are only hair-crack width it will often be necessary to take a part of the finish off to expose the background.

Sometimes the wrong type of finish has been used for the particular surfaces and condition and this possibility should be considered when deciding on the remedial work. It must also be considered at the design stage when buildings of similar type are to be erected in the same locality or where the exposure conditions are similar.

Defect of Internal Finishes

The internal finishes applied to the walls whether the sub-strate of such walls is an internal wall or the inner face of an external wall, the finishes are often identical and subject to the same occupancy conditions.

For a variety of reasons the maintenance of the internal decorations is carried out at reasonably short intervals and this often conceals the consequential effects caused by the defects and therefore the symptoms of defects in the underlying fabric or in other related parts of a building. However, this may cause to take more time to discovery of a defect or camouflage its seriousness if the defects were found.

Most of the defects concern either the plaster applied to the walls or the decorations. In addition the finishes such as timber paneling and decorative faced boards are unlikelihood to defects except the possible opening of the joints between the boards.

Most of the cracks in the plasterboard will usually have their origin in the sub-strate. By inserting a thin and stiffish piece of wire in to the crack in the plaster can make sure whether the crack have it origin in the sub-strate and it is also a efficient way to measuring the distance penetrated of the crack.

The decoration on the inner face of the external walls is likely to be damaged by the moisture. On the other word, moisture damage to the decoration on the partition walls is less probable because the surface of partitions will usually be warmer and therefore less vulnerable to condensation.

If the ground salts (Chloride & Nitrates) have accumulated in the wall over a long period and have been transferred into the plaster it will brought deteriorative effect for the finishes of the walls. This because the ground salts have the property of absorbing moisture from the air and influence the plasterwork damp.

One of the problems with internal walls is ascertaining the form of construction and the materials used. If they are of solid construction it may often be possible to drill a small hole at some convenient point to find out what material has been used, but this information is accurate only if it can be assured that the same material has been used for the whole wall.


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