The worst brickwork?: A new contender.

The worst brickwork we’ve ever seen.

Norwich New Build
Norwich New Build

Back in July we were called to carry out a snagging inspection to a David Wilson Homes site in Norwich, which had the worst brickwork we’ve ever seen. Our clients had signed up to buy a new build ‘off plan’ but started to have grave concerns relating to the quality of their potential new home as they watched the build progress. Our initial discussion related to the fact that the brickwork colour was mismatched and that the developer had employed someone to tint the bricks to match; when I arrived on site to carry out the snagging inspection the specialist was at work  painting individual bricks with a pot of red tint solution and a paint brush, a quite laborious task as you can imagine.

We’d agreed to inspect before the build was complete because our discussions with the client, and indeed pictures sent to us, gave enough cause for concern that this was necessary.  The following image slider will give you a feel for the quality of the work and the sheer volume of defects we encountered. Please view the slider on full screen to fully appreciate the illustrated defects.

  • The worst brickwork
    Poorly batched mortar

Significant Defects

As you can see the defects were significant and we commented in our report that we found it difficult to believe that this brickwork was completed by a fully qualified brick layer. Of particular concern was the incredibly poor setting out, failed mortar bed joints, inconsistency in width and depth of mortar joints and last but not least, walls that were significantly out of plumb, well beyond the 8mm maximum allowable NHBC tolerance. As often happens in these cases it was relayed back to us from our client that the developer didn’t agree with our report and that a site manager of 20 years experience knows more than us and his view is that the brickwork was perfectly acceptable. I thought it may be useful to balance the Chartered professionals view with a second opinion  from a master bricklayer and obtained the following commentary from an acquaintance who is also a master bricklayer…

The master bricklayers view

“My name is Bill XXXXXX and I have been a brick layer for the last 30 years.  I have City and Guilds  NVQ level 3 in brick laying  and NVQ level  6  in site management. I’ve been asked by Joe Malone  for my opinion  about the workmanship of Plot XXX in Norwich.

There seems to be wide and inconsistent perpendiculars and significant variation in bed joints.

The pointing is of a very low and poor standard i.e. holes and not perps not ’top and tailed correctly’

Weep holes are protruding out of the brick work and should be flush.

Also bricks have been laid upside down allowing moisture to catch on the face leading to premature failure through ‘spalling’ aka frost damage.

The walls are significantly out of plumb. Variation in plumb should on good brick work be a maximum of 4l mm out of plumb one way or another. Brick courses seem to wander. Chipped bricks have been used rather than discarded. The Brick work is over sailing be 10mm in places below the DPC

There are large gaps around some windows which implies poor setting out.

Some bricks are cracked and should have been discarded. Two failed bed joints are apparent.

The brick work has not been washed or cleaned down.

The mortar colour varies implying it has not been ‘gauged’ and makes the building look patchy.

The damp course is protruding through the mortar.

Back straps for the garage have been missed. Roof ridge work is poorly finished and there appears to be no mechanical fixings

The brick work does not appear to be ‘fair faced’

In all a very poor standard of work has been delivered with a significant amount of snagging already required.

On a site managed by our company this work would be condemned and the brick layers replaced or forced to do the work again to our own companies’ standard.”

The only point on which we don’t agree with on this second opinion is with regard to the DPC being pointed over. DPC’s should not be pointed over, they should be exposed and clearly visible and if they are not then they are bridged.

The worst Brickwork

Our clients reached something of stalemate with their developer, because they were insisting that sections of the building were taken down and rebuilt, whilst the developer was offering minor remedial works that fell well short of dealing with the significant defects in this build. Their complaint was ultimately elevated to the managing director of David Wilson Homes and our client eventually informed us of the following outcome, “We have decided not to proceed with the purchase of the house. I think we always knew this was the outcome deep down. I have received a reply letter from the MD of David Wilson East division offering to rescind the contract and contribute towards ‘reasonable’ conveyance costs.”

When we last spoke our clients were looking to purchase an old traditional property and we completely understand why, moreover, we believe that they made absolutely the right decision to withdraw from this contract. A brave and sensible decision, especially when you consider that many clients purchase with their heart rather than their head.

23 responses to “The worst brickwork?: A new contender.”

  1. Nigel Morgan avatar
    Nigel Morgan

    I had a similar case 15 years or so ago – which came to light on re-inspection for release of mortgage funds to allow completion a few days later. I refused to ok the building as satisfactorily complete which unsurprisingly caused a furore. I took the view that, over and beyond performance, the poor visible appearance also impacted on value.
    But after initial denials, the developer sent someone from head office (Wilcon I think) who rang me when he got back to say they had terminated the contract of the bricklayers and that he had given instruction for the outer cladding to be taken down and rebuilt. I don’t remember anything after that so do not know if the buyer went ahead. What, I wonder, would the inner skin have looked like??

    1. Joe Malone avatar
      Joe Malone

      The buyer was brave enough to pull out of the contract and as I said, their MD offered to refund their costs but I did hear that they subsequently sold the property for circa £20k more, though I can’t confirm this. What interests me in particular about your comment Nigel is the point you make about the property value because its one I completely agree with. On the last two properties I have inspected that were built this poorly (both blogged here), I commented in both cases that I believed property values would be significantly reduced as a result of the poor quality masonry work.

  2. Raymond Golding avatar
    Raymond Golding

    Very few trade bricklayers these days and the good ones are hard to find.

  3. John Belk avatar
    John Belk

    That is such a shame!

  4. ibrick avatar

    Just came across your article.

    I totally agree with your observations on the quality of the brickwork, i suspect there would be many other quality issues throughout the entire house build.

    I work as a project manager in the construction industry and am very sad to say that i have seen alot worse.
    Companies are just accepting this poor standard of workmanship.

    Many of the managers responsible for controlling quality on a day to day basis have no clue what is an acceptable standard and this is true of other trades on most sites.

  5. Wayne B Kerr avatar
    Wayne B Kerr

    The arse was ripped out of our industry, from the late 50`s and early 1960`s.When piece work and the lump came in.

    Gradually, over time people became less concerned with quality and more about the number of bricks people could lay per day.
    Trades foreman, and supervisors disappeared, self employment became the norm……………..and suddenly everyone is a “Subie” and its all Bish-Bosh-Bang….I`m a subie now and I`m going to earn a shed-load.

    Running parallel to that apprenticeships and proper craft training went down the swanee……The Bean-counters took over, price became the key indicator over-ruling quality and decent workmanship.
    And now our industry is flooded with European clowns, most of whom wouldn`t know good work if it bit them on the ankle.

    There are craftsmen, and quality around….but its damn difficult to find in amongst the clowns, buffoons and dross that populate our industry.

    1. Joe Malone avatar
      Joe Malone

      Thanks Wayne, always interesting to hear the experience of guys experiencing this at the front end.

    2. Bernie avatar

      Totally agree with that. No one does proper apprenticeships anymore. Now they do a crash course and declare to be bricklayer with their so called NVQs. The standard has gone.

  6. Max avatar

    I’m a fully trained bricklayer working for XXXXXX homes, I have two apprentices I’ve had for four months and our construction director wants them to team up with another two lads and build their own plots unsupervised! That’s the attitude of higher management to the skill of bricklaying and the respect they have to customers. There’s no wonder people are unhappy with their new house!

    1. Misbah rauf avatar
      Misbah rauf

      I have just moved into a new built in darwen Kier living
      My back garden is not level and the garden wall looks a mess with broken bricks I am so dispointed what can I do

      1. Joe Malone avatar
        Joe Malone


        You’ll need to exhaust Kier’s complaints process first, and I suggest that you put all your issues in writing. and be persistent.

        If there’s an NHBC warranty involved, Kier may call in the NHBC for an opinion, but in my experience, that usually just support the developer in these cases, especially when it comes to the major issues.

        If you have no success, then you’ll need to call in your own expert to write a report, and possibly consider legal action, if they fail to respond to issues outlined in your experts report.



  7. Bob avatar

    Looking at the brickwork I would say he/her is a good bricklayer bricks look flat and to the line taking into consideration this will be price work, the type of brick used vary in length some times up to 7mm if you lay four bricks that are 5mm short and you want to keep straight perps you will have three 15mm joints. my personal and professional opinion to the bricklayer would be to avoid price work or except a price that is suitable for you to be able to make a wage and produce a quality job.
    If construction company’s wanted quality and care they would pay an hourly rate or offer a price that allows most bricklayers to take pride in there job and produce quality work.

    1. Adrian lles avatar
      Adrian lles

      Your right there Rob,those are wire cut or rustic bricks,and they do vary in length and depth,saying that the pointing is of a poor quality (probably price work) and there can be no excuses for work so far out of plumb .

  8. Malcolm avatar

    It looks like these houses are crumbling!

    News of weak mortars and issues has hit the headlines!

    Can only mean good news for setting the big builders right!

  9. David Pope avatar
    David Pope

    The work shown is extremely rough!

    Unfortunately, poor workmanship in bricklaying is not new as a lot of the new towns, built in the 1960’s where poor, Stevenage as an example.

    As a bricklayer of almost 40 years experience, the situation currently in the Construction Industry regarding brickwork is in chaos! Big subbies seem to throw blokes at sites who can pick up a trowel! There is very little discipline on sites:
    i) Once upon a time only the experienced tradesmen would be placed face brickwork. Nowadays the Improvers (yesterday’s labourer), seems to jump on the facework, quite often on the corners (buggering up the gauge, plumbness)
    ii) I recently worked on a site that 95% of the Brickwork crew where drugged up all day – skunk and coke! You can imagine the standard of their work, especially when you consider the majority of them had no brickwork training and they seemed to learn off each other! They were building 1/2 million pound flats for the country’s top house builder.

    It is a shame how bricklaying has gone, but when most of the supervisors haven’t a clue, unless the industry drastically changes, work like the above will be commonplace!

  10. Jon ayres avatar
    Jon ayres

    I bought a Harron home in April last year, probably on par if not worse than the pics here, perps 30mm and varying in size out, garage 10mm out of plumb, brickwork looks like it’s been hit with a mortar cannon in places, had the site manager out who agreed it was poor and that was that!

  11. Paul Collyer avatar
    Paul Collyer

    I have been a qualified bricklayer for nearly 40 years , I did a Proper apprenticeship where you learned your trade nowadays young lads think they can do it in a couple of months and want top dollar simply there not good enough. It’s now all about house bashing siteforman not doing there job properly employing rubbish and not checking if they are qualified , I had two polish turn up on a job said they were bricklayers with pointing trowels so I told them to bugger off

    1. Joe Malone avatar
      Joe Malone

      Thanks for your comments Paul. AS has been said many times before, you can often tell a good tradesmen by his tools and the condition he keeps them in.

  12. Nick Jephcott avatar
    Nick Jephcott

    Hi Joe

    I bought a David Wilson Home 6 months ago and I can see a lot of the above issues present in our house.

    It would be good to attach some photos as an example as I think it could be a new contender for worst brickwork !

    1. Will Austin avatar
      Will Austin

      There abouts in the UK is your house, did you get the matter resolved?

  13. Amy Clarke avatar
    Amy Clarke

    Moved in to a Charles church home 7 weeks ago , mortar crumbling and bricks cracking when they try to put good. Any ideas of what I can do to have some clout behind me ? Customer service manager is involved and we are waiting for the contract manager , site officer, customer service manager and brick Barron to inspect . I don’t want to be fobbed off , I feel the house not only has unsatisfactory mortar, it’s also been built with persimmons own concrete bricks that are cracking in half when the lads try to remove other chipped bricks.

  14. John avatar

    That’s nothing compared to the new build I have been renting since 2020.

    The developer has sold it now, £1.25m with far worse brickwork than that. If I could post a photo you’d be shocked.

    I really feel for the poor lady who is buying it – sadly, I’m unable to get in contact with her to advise getting a full survey and snagging done.

  15. Naresh Poonia avatar
    Naresh Poonia

    this article is very useful, thank you for making a good article

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