Poor brickwork or overly high expectations?

When carrying out new build inspections you will inevitably venture into areas of subjectivity when it comes to judging whether building aesthetics meet a reasonable standard. 

With regard to brickwork it is reasonable to expect that  bricks are of a consistent batch, that brickwork is clean and free from major chips or cracks, that bed joints are level and perp joints are plumb. Mortar joints should be evenly spaced, neatly pointed and mortar should have been carefully gauged to ensure a consistent colour match. The physical damp proof course should also be visible where it overlaps the bed joint by around 5-10mm, if it is not then it has not been installed or it has been bridged.

Interestingly masonry walls are generally stronger when built with thin joints and as a general rule of thumb we expect to see mortar joints of around 10mm thickness in the UK and even less for thin joint construction. Overly wide mortar joints are susceptible to cracking and weaken the structure.

The title of this blog came from a conversation I overheard whilst I was inspecting the brickwork on a Bovis site in Long Buckby, Northamptonshire.  An employee of this particular large National developer was explaining to the resident how the problem with surveyors like me was that we often  had overly high expectations and these expectations needed to be tempered.  The brickwork on this particular property was possibly the worst new construction I’ve seen in 20 years and I’d describe the build standard as careless  and amateurish, but perhaps my expectations are too high, which is why I’ve posted a series of images detailing what I see as an unacceptable standard of construction.  I’d be interested to know if readers of this blog would accept this standard of construction on their new property?

Quality Construction?

Poor pointing to canted soldier course
overly wide mortar perps
Mortar stained masonry
Cracked brick
Mismatched mortar
Oversailing brickwork
Misaligned mortar perps
Poor pointing
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10 Comments

  • Christopher Finch

    If I was inspecting this brickwork in a contract administration role I would certainly not sign it off. This said, it is an awkward discussion if the builder has been left to comete their work and then the issue is raised. The issue of the non uniform bed and perp joints should have been picked up during construction and by now, would have most probably been paid for by means of interim payment and thereby accepted as a suitable standard. This would be the same for the poorly constructed hip tiling and again, I think that it may be too late in the game to fairly be asking them to change it. This is a different matter however if the issue was raised during construction and they have made no attemp to correct the defects or take steps to raise the quality of their work. In that instance, they should rectify the defects.

    • admin

      The problem is Chris that there was a typical poacher/gamekeeper situation. The developer is building these for the open market using their own bricklayers and they are in effect their own client. I doubt that anyone is really managing the site beyond the extent of driving down cost and increasing productivity. There is clearly no quality control on site at all.

  • Christopher Finch

    Hi,
    In which case if you are carrying out a pre purchase inspection, the defects should be noted and the purchaser be informed. That is all that can be done.
    The building has defects which are not acceptable.
    Good luck

  • Danny Fisher

    The sad thing here is that someone will always buy the property no matter how bad the workmanship so there is no incentive for the developers to keep standards up and giving the lack of training and skill we know have in the industry things are only set to get worse!

  • P.

    I know the site your talking about..
    Bovis used a Brickwork sub contractor. I know who this was as well. They changed site management on this site.. twice if I remember correctly. And most if not all plots were built on price work.
    The way bovis see things..
    We sell houses..
    We need them built a cheap as possible..
    Let’s put it out to tender.
    We have a point of contact with the price work gangs of bricklayers..
    Get them up..
    NHBC will attend check plots on dig, joists, pre plaster, final inspection The CML witch is basically house is good to go..

    The management..
    Not bricklayers.. not carpenters either..
    They have no trade.. Don’t know what they are looking at..
    Just a NVQ in man management. You go do that. Oh it’s wrong.. why is it wrong.. ok what are our options.. Do that then..
    We have a massive shortage in bricklayers. 40% on sites are Eastern European..
    Brickwork apprentice was 7 years, then 5, then 3, Now a 6 months course.
    We have gone from sand and cement to a silo filled with powder, just push button to add water. The face of the mortar flakes away.. when Brickwork is jointed..
    We are no longer using proper wood joists.. We use TDI mainly.. witch is basically 225 mm X 10mm wood chip board with roof batton glued top & bottom. We no longer use copper pipe. Just a few inches behind the wall is plastic push together pipe..
    All the builder is interested in is the CML..
    If anything is wrong after.. NHBC checked it. And signed it off..
    Guess what… They aren’t bricklayers either..
    Where did all these problems stem from..

    They cut down apprentice time to save money. As most were government backed.
    The government stopped giving a % or money/tax benefits to teach..
    Wasn’t worth teaching.. Tried YTS.. didn’t work.. As no experience.. Who wants a bricklayer who is not up to it.. We need it built fast..
    Now is collage.. pay for a course.. The course is 6 months. And you get NVQ level 2 award.. You can’t fail the course.. your a bricklayer. Loads of these on site too..
    Most.. who were time served got out. Because of the ressions we had. Or due to injury and being self employed have families and mortgages need to pay the bills. First thing with a ression they stop building houses.. So what can the man do..

    The real reason the Brickwork is of such poor quality.. There are no tradesmen left..
    The last time served apprentice would be around the age of 46 years old.. Or older.

    If younger.. He won’t have the Pitman Or the city in guild.
    Just the N.ot V.ery Q.uallified.

    Who’s fault.. Government..
    And they will never except responsibility..
    There are a lot of body’s on sites.. All think they are building.. Because NHBC signed it off.. The fact is.. No tradesmen due to previous 2 ressions. The blind leading the blind.. lol

    I just feel for the people buying.. As the builder, On this site was bovis would say it’s all checked by NHBC..
    Witch most don’t know it’s a structural warranty..
    Min depth concrete.. 225mm
    No holes in blockwork.
    Cavity wall ties spaced intermediate.. 150,225, 750, & 900 on party walls due to sound transfer..
    Insolation fixed Or blown it.
    Lintils, beded down, have dpc, turned up & weepholes 450 max apart..
    Beam filling on joists..
    50 N brick under any steel. 300 mm depth..
    Truss space 600 centres
    Air test results..
    Air vents below documents not obstructed.
    Reportable items rectified..
    That’s about it. Here’s your CMl sell it..

    So the builder sold the houses.. Thinking he did not do wrong..
    If you visited the builder. There would not be a bricklayer or carpenter in the office..

    You would find: servayors.. Accountants, land buyers, secretarys.. managers.. probably there own legal team too..

    It’s business.. And the Government is far from stupid. And knows the truth..

    • P.

      Your photos:
      Are the industry standard of today..
      And what is happening on sites all over the country..

      Now my personal opinion..
      I have looked at all the big contractor firms. I feel it’s a shame it’s all about money not delivering a quality product. They live for today. And put nothing back.
      The bricklayer of today knows no better. As he has no example been set by older generation.
      And the people checking are not really qualified.
      We had a saying.. Before you can tell me what I should be doing.. you need to be able to do this yourself..So you know what you are taking about. As I highlighted before.. It’s money.. Lack of training..
      Another thing is.. They don’t really listen today.. And too many do good people have opinions on what’s not really there consirn..
      I am writing this while in a van on site. Standing in front of the van is a site manager who has no trade.. And isn’t English.. talking to NHBC. The NHBC man is around the age of 25/30.. Fresh from college read a book.. looked at the diagrams of what it should look like in theory.. Issuing CML’s
      The blind leading the blind..
      Looks great on paper.. boxes ticked..
      Everyone happy..

      I am one of the last of George Wimpey Plc apprentice bricklayers.
      With City in Guild from London Institute.
      Holding a full advance Craft Certificate. Distinction Brickwork..
      I do still work on sites.. Unfortunately I can no longer lay bricks on a high quality scale due to injury, And got out in 2012..
      I would never buy a new house. Unless I over see all works myself.
      I would probably need to do the Brickwork myself. As they struggle to build the basic works of Brickwork today.. just laying to the line.. God forbid.. If there was an arch to build. And it didn’t come on a pallet already done in hardboard and brick venears and just need pointing.. The build would be at a standstill.. Because no one will know how..

      The bricklayer is extinct..

      • Joe Malone

        Really interesting comments P, all of which I wholeheartedly agree with. Thanks for posting!

        • P.

          Your photos:
          Are the industry standard of today..
          And what is happening on sites all over the country..

          Now my personal opinion..
          I have looked at all the big contractor firms. I feel it’s a shame it’s all about money not delivering a quality product. They live for today. And put nothing back.
          The bricklayer of today knows no better. As he has no example been set by older generation.
          And the people checking are not really qualified.
          We had a saying.. Before you can tell me what I should be doing.. you need to be able to do this yourself..So you know what you are taking about. As I highlighted before.. It’s money.. Lack of training..
          Another thing is.. They don’t really listen today.. And too many do good people have opinions on what’s not really there consirn..
          I am writing this while in a van on site. Standing in front of the van is a site manager who has no trade.. And isn’t English.. talking to NHBC. The NHBC man is around the age of 25/30.. Fresh from college read a book.. looked at the diagrams of what it should look like in theory.. Issuing CML’s
          The blind leading the blind..
          Looks great on paper.. boxes ticked..
          Everyone happy..

          I am one of the last of George Wimpey Plc apprentice bricklayers.
          With City in Guild from London Institute.
          Holding a full advance Craft Certificate. Distinction Brickwork..
          I do still work on sites.. Unfortunately I can no longer lay bricks on a high quanty scale due to injury, And got out in 2012..
          I would never buy a new house. Unless I over see all works myself.
          I would probably need to do the Brickwork myself. As they struggle to build the basic works of Brickwork today.. just laying to the line.. God forbid.. If there was an arch to build. And it didn’t come on a pallet already done in hardboard and brick venears and just need pointing.. The build would be at a standstill.. Because no one will know how..

          The bricklayer is extinct..

  • John

    All these comments are relavent to Australia aswell. No quality left.

  • Jonathan

    Hi Joe,

    Interesting article, I being a buyer in a similar situation I wouldn’t say that expectations are too high. I would say this is what people actually want. I’ve come across this article whilst researching what I can do about it now I am in the property. I was in a situation where we were only allowed to visit the property twice prior to moving in ‘due it it being a building site’ which didn’t arouse suspicion at the time (it obviously does now) when we did visit, both times we mentioned about the brick work being substandard and even mentioned it on email. We were verbally told that brick work would be tidied up before and during we were in the property, however now we are in, its worse than we thought and every hole, gap, over excessive mortar is visible, we have cracking of the mortar, large chunks of mortar (which is like your images) under the roof tiles, brick work that isn’t square to the wall and seems to warp out.
    I am really stumped how to proceed from here as the developers do not seem to be that bothered and are treating us like we are being particular. I was thinking about getting an independent report done on the property and then sending this to the NHBC and Developers (as well as press) but am I just wasting my time and made a huge mistake or is this the sort thing that given a battle could be sorted and just takes persistence and pressure?
    I appreciate your thoughts and thanks for the article, although I wish given some of the criticism on new builds wish I would have stumbled across it first.

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