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December 6, 2007

Finding cracks in a new build home

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by Brian Turner

Finding cracks in a new build home

I hadn’t noticed until a joiner – brought in to finish our new shed – pointed it out.

Cracks in the mortar around the top of a window of our Grantown-design Barratts property.

Further examination showed cracking of some kind around the top corner of all of the windows at the back of the property.

The joiner suggested the absence of a stone/concrete lintel – Barratts having used metal ones – may be providing insufficient support for the stonework and roof above.

That would certainly explain a nasty situation with the double glazing throughout the property – not least that the window frames around all of the downstairs windows are bowing out both ways.

So I wrote a letter to Barratts suggesting there may be a problem for them to look at, and mentioned the fact that the property is still well within its 10 year NHBC period, and this appeared to be a structural issue.

The representative from Barratts turned up a week later and had a look.

All the time, he suggested that cracks in the mortar simply indicated a weak point in the structure, and liable to small movement. He pointed out that because it wasn’t cracking the stones themselves, then it was probably minor.

He also didn’t appear concerned by the double glazing bowing out – he suggested that correction of a small catch halfway down should help the windows close.

Then we went to the front of the property and had a look.

No cracks above the corners of the windows.

Instead, bloody big cracks from the bottom of the windows to the ground level – and yes, at least one of the stones was visibly cracked in half.

Still, the man from Barratts continued to suggest it was due to small and normal movements, and that we should expect a written reply within a week.

At present, I’m not hopeful of a quick resolution. The cynic in me suggests that Barratts, as a large company in a sector where customer care is rarely a high priority*, will look first to reduce its liabilities. That means deny a problem for as long as they can legally get away with it.

Of course, if I receive such a response from Barratts, then I’ll ensure I hire an independent surveyor to look at the property to ascertain whether there really is a problem.

Perhaps if I do bring in a surveyor, they will even agree with Barratts assessment.

Then again, Barratts could surprise me by agreeing that there is a problem, and seek to address it as soon as possible.

Somehow I find it difficult to believe a quick and positive outcome will happen.

In the meantime, I’ll ensure that I report on how this situation develops, and then write up a guide based on my own experience for other home owners to reference, who may find themselves in a similar situation.

* If I buy electrical goods, they’re guaranteed for a couple of years. If I buy a car, it’s guaranteed for a couple of years. As a house is the biggest single purchase anyone is likely to make, it therefore seems rather against customer interests to force only a 2 year guarantee on finishings for new builds under NHBC.

UPDATE 12/12/2007:

Barratt’s sent a written reply confirming that they perceived the issue of cracking as due to normal thermal movement.

I sought a second opinion from a local structural engineer, who agreed with the Barratt’s representative that it was almost certainly an issue due to thermal movement and shrinkage.

While I didn’t have a full report done, the surveyor suggested such issues were not uncommon with new build properties.

He also suggested that on modern new build houses – following a standard timber-frame kit design – cracks in the stone work would not represent any significant structural problem.

The structural surveyor did suggest that perhaps there may be an issue with bedjoint reinforcement, which is used in properties to help avoid the issue of cracking due to thermal movement.

The representative from Barratt’s just called to ensure I received their written reply, and have offered to repoint the brickwork to remove the cracks and remortar the affected areas.

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