Signs of structural damage to look out for in your house

signs of structural defects
Whether your home is a new build or pre-owned, there’s the possibility of latent structural defects in every building. A structural defect is a fault that compromises the integrity of the structure – such as a damaged roof or foundation.

The majority of structural defects stem from negligent or deliberately poor quality construction work, but they often aren’t obvious. A latent defect can take a long time to develop, only becoming a serious problem, months or years down the line.

From cracks in walls to leaking roofs, it’s important to nip these defects in the bud before they get any worse. The longer you leave them to deteriorate, the more difficult and costly they’ll be to fix – and it could even cause parts of your house to collapse.

While the extent of structural faults may not be obvious or even visible straight away, there are still some tell-tale signs you can keep an eye out for. Here’s our quick guide to the causes and types of common structural defects, and how a building warranty can help you to avoid expensive home repairs.

What causes structural defects?

There are many possible causes of structural flaws, but they often start with defective design and workmanship. For example, an architect could make a mistake in their building plans, an engineer could make a miscalculation, or a contractor could purchase the wrong materials for the project.

Whether the plans are accurate or not, the construction workers can also be careless, either on purpose or by accident. Failing to follow proper procedures and installing things incorrectly can lead to countless issues, such as weak spots in the walls, uneven flooring, and unstable foundations.

Of course, all homes need to comply with building regulations for residences and local planning permissions, but any person or even several people can overlook an error at any point in the process. It’s also possible for this to happen later if you make further structural alterations.

This is just one reason why diligent structural inspections are important. When your property has a structural building warranty, part of the package involves a chartered surveyor inspecting the site at regular intervals during the build, which makes it more likely for mistakes to be discovered earlier.

Other frequent causes of latent structural defects include the following:

  • Subsidence – sinking movement due to loss of foundational support (e.g. dry soil shrinking)
  • Heave – shifting due to increased pressure from underneath (e.g. wet soil swelling)
  • Slope creep – slow and uneven downhill movement due to gradual landslips
  • Settlement – natural sinking as the structure compacts soil underneath (can be uniform, tipping at an angle, or differential with only part of the foundation dropping)
  • Water ingress – weakening from damp, mould, and rot caused by gaps in waterproofing

Improper ventilation and insulation can cause structural materials, like the mortar between bricks, to expand and contract with changing temperatures and airflow. This causes cracking and eventual destabilisation – as can climbing plants and invasive weeds, if they get a foothold in the masonry.

Signs of structural damage to your house

When you see your home every single day, you may not pay close attention to small changes. On the other hand, since you know what it’s supposed to be like, you might notice a defect right away when there’s a crack in the wall that shouldn’t be there or your windows won’t open properly anymore.

No matter if you’re a particularly observant person or not, you should periodically check both the inside and outside of your house for signs of structural damage. At least once a month or so, do a thorough visual inspection of the exterior and interiors to look out for the following problems:

  • Cracks in walls, around windows or door frames, or in masonry
  • Gaps where walls and floors should join due to warping/sagging
  • Tilting chimney stack or cracks in any part of the chimney
  • Slumping or buckling roof (weak or rotting beams/rafters)
  • Bowing walls that bulge or curve inwards, with or without cracks
  • Nails popping out of plaster/drywall from too much pressure
  • Windows and doors sticking in their frames from low settlement
  • Sloping floors and/or doors swinging open due to uneven subfloors
  • Migrating porch/front steps due to soil shrinking away from foundations 

These are just some of the most frequent visible signs of structural failure. While it’s normal to see small hairline cracks as a house settles over the years, large and long horizontal cracks and vertical cracks that follow a ‘staircase’ pattern are an urgent warning, as they’re signs of structural erosion.

If you notice the first hints of any of the above, don’t just ignore them or try to work around them. Filling in gaps, painting over cracks, and adjusting hinges won’t fix the underlying defects, which will only continue to get worse. It’s crucial to identify the source and tackle it promptly and completely.

What to do if you find a structural defect

The last thing any property owner wants is to discover a latent defect that requires expensive repair work. Even if the damage isn’t your fault, you’ll still have to foot the bill yourself if you don’t have a contract that holds the responsible parties liable – unless you have a structural warranty to rely on.

If you begin to notice signs that something is wrong with your structure, don’t brush them off. You could be putting yourself or others in danger – both physically and financially. The steps you’ll need to take depend on how long it’s been since the completion certificate was issued for the property.

When it’s been less than 2 years from the date of completion, you’re still in the defects insurance period. This means you should be able to report defects directly to the builder/contractor, who is obligated to conduct the necessary repairs during this time and recoup costs via their own insurance.

If it’s been more than 2 years, but less than 10 years, you’ll be in the remaining structural insurance period. During these 8 years, the policy only covers serious latent structural defects, and you must submit a claim through the provider – like ourselves at Architects Certificate – instead of contacting the builder. The terms of your warranty will specify which defects you can claim for and the amount.

What to do about defects if you don’t have a structural warranty

Unfortunately, without a structural building warranty in place, your options are limited and likely to be pricey. You can either pay for assessments and repairs yourself, or take the party you believe to be responsible to court (e.g. a builder or architect) – in which case, you’ll have to supply evidence proving their liability and negligence, and arrange legal representation, none of which will be cheap.

If you don’t have a building warranty to fall back on, you can still hire an expert to conduct a one-off structural inspection. They should be able to identify the defects and their probable causes, explain what must be done to fix them, and provide a report that can help you with organising repair work.

The sooner you uncover a defect and take action, the less money, time, and stress it should involve to put it right. If you are buying or selling a new property and need a structural warranty, or you already have a policy with us, you can get in touch with the ABC+ Warranty team on 0161 928 8804.

Published Date: 13th April 2022
Category: building warranty, structural warranty



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