Does your home speak to you?

When you are doctor, friends normally point to their back alleging throbbing pains and requesting an immediate diagnosis. However when you are an Architect, your friends normally show you their cracks.


Please don't get me wrong!! I am talking about those cracks that they have on partition walls, facades etc and pitifully beg for a compassionate verdict.



I have to declare that in my case they don’t have to ask. I cannot help offering free diagnosis whether they ask for it or not. I am sure that this passionate need to translate into words what buildings tell me, have been the cause of having lost more than one invitation to promising social gatherings.


I cannot help seeing a dump patch on a wall and not investigating the matter further. Is it rising damp, a water leakage, a blocked gutter? Obviously the further I enquire the more nervous my friends get.

Sometimes building failures does not amount to a simple crack or damp patch but to an irredeemable building wreck as we shall see later.

However to keep it simple we can go through a process that you may well employ at home.

We should first identify the failure, then the cause and finally propose a cure.

Alike doctors, we normally should first carry out a diagnosis of the problem i.e. identify the building failure, then the cause, and finally propose a cure or prevention.

It is best that this first part is not done in a hurry. Secondly it is best not to have predetermined ideas as what the root of the problem may be. We have to find concrete evidence, sometimes we may have to open a hole, disassemble a building element etc.

To begin with, we must make a list of the symptoms. Let us suppose that we have a damp patch on a wall. Is the damp situated at the bottom of the wall? Or is it located only on the middle part only?  Can we see diffused patches of dampness on the entire wall with perhaps mould on the corners? 

Damp situated at the bottom of the wall is telling us that we may be dealing with rising damp. If it is on the middle may well be a water leakage. If the dump is all over the wall with mould it may well be condensation.

Sometimes there is more than one cause; in that case we have to identify which is the main one. For example we might find damp, but there is also a crack due possibly to a difference in foundations settlement and because of this crack water gets in. Obviously if we repair the crack the chances will be that we will stop the water coming in, but if we do not repair the foundation problem, soon the crack will appear again.

There are only three fundamental causes for construction defects.

To say the truth it is relatively simple to identify the causes of a defect in construction as there are only three fundamental causes.

  • Movement of any construction element.
  • Dampness.
  • Biological or Chemical reaction.

What it may represent some difficulties are the origins of these causes. For instance let’s take our firs example “dampness”.

The starting point could be: Rain, a building element in contact with the ground, a burst water pipe, condensation, bad maintenance or usage or a faulty construction process.

The same can apply to the other two causes.

Once we have identified our cause we have to propose a remedy.

It is quite difficult to offer here a complete guide as to all the remedies as it will depend of the failure itself and also it will depend in the context that have been produced.

When buildings have to be declared as a ruin?

There are cases when a failure is of such magnitude that is no viable to repair it.

Obviously in these cases it is advisable to obtain professional advice.

When building failure is so extensive that the building has practically to be pulled down, then we classify it as “Technical Ruin”. This expression is used when the part of the structural elements of the building could collapse imminently, for example columns, beams or foundations.

When the situation makes it non-viable economically to proceed with a solution is called “Economic Ruin” The terminology is used when the cost of repairing it is estimated excessive. It is considered “excessive” by law when the cost of the repair is higher than 50% of the actual cost of the building.

There are other expressions called “Planning Ruin” This case is applied to buildings which do not comply with the approved planning conditions and no building licences are granted by local authorities, hoping that the building will disappear with time.

Finally there is “Imminent Ruin”. In this case local authorities normally act very quickly evacuating occupiers of the building, shoring  up the building while preparation are made to proceed with demolition. Provisional shelters are normally provided to the occupants by the local authorities.

So let us not wait for this to occur. Let us look after our buildings. Good continuous maintenance could double the live and preserve the good appearance of our homes.

In next issues of CBN, I will propose a list of essential maintenance that is not expensive or difficult to carry out and it will extend the life of your home for a good number of years.

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As it is impossible to know in detail every case asked in this blog, all our replies are given in good faith but we strongly suggest that you obtain private advice from a solicitor /and /or  architect who will be able to study in depth your own particular case.

Al ser imposible conocer en profundidad cada caso, todos los consejos y contestaciones a la preguntas realizadas en este blog, los consejos dados son propiciado en términos generales por lo que se deberá contrastar con el asesoramiento privado de un abogado  y/o un arquitecto para estudiar en profundidad su caso.