Subsidence or settlement?

21 Nov 2023
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United Kingdom
Hi guys, found a property in my area (Dorset) that ticks the boxes and we'd like to buy it. But on closer inspection of the walls around the property we found some suspicious looking stair-step cracking in the brickwork. See pictures attached.

The first picture should be the cracking on the front of the house, it's above the downstairs toilet window [near the right side of the house, to the right of the front door]. The cracking extends up towards an upstairs window, but not quite.

The second picture should be of the side wall of the house [right side wall, picture with horizontal wiring/cables in the brick] , the cracking extends up towards the roof, but not quite.

Question is, whether this is classic subsidence and not looking good, or whether this is settlement and pretty common given the dry summers.

I can't give much detail in terms of the mortar used. But the house particulars say it's a 1970/1980 house, link detached, in Ferndown, Dorset.
Best guess are that the cracks are between 2-4mm.

What do you think?


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From the photos it looks like horizontal-only movement, so is possibly just shrinkage as it dried out after building.

Is it quite a long wall, perhaps including adjoining houses?

Also check the inside walls in the same places for similar signs.

A photo from further away would be useful, even if the crack isn't visible. It's possible that this is just the weakest point in a long wall, i.e. where it's weakest vertically from the door and window openings. It may have needed a movement joint really, but if you don't put one in then it makes its own.
Great feedback, thanks for reply. I'll head over and snap some more shots from further back.

Internal walls have horrible textured wallpaper, so I couldn't see

The side wall [with the boiler flue] is a single wall from front to back. It's not attached to another property, but it is connected to the garage at the bottom. So the picture is from just above the garage. (The garage is connected to the next house).
Do any of the neighbouring properties have the same cracks?
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Good point Thomp1983, I'll add that to the list to double check when I'm there tomorrow. I didn't get too close to the neighbour's walls.
Look like shrinkage cracks. Possibly calcium silicate/sand lime bricks or similar.
We've instructed a surveyor (figured it was well worth the £500) to do a level-3 survey. I will feed back the details after the results (might be a couple of weeks)
This is beyond my ken...

Will shrinkage result in bricks snapping?
We've instructed a surveyor (figured it was well worth the £500) to do a level-3 survey. I will feed back the details after the results (might be a couple of weeks)
Have you specifically asked them to report on the cracking? Otherwise you will just get a generic tick box suggestion to appoint a structural engineer to investigate.
For £500 I doubt the survey will be very thorough or informative.
Good points. Yes, I asked him to focus on the external walls and cracking [I gave him some images too], the garage roof and the loft (as I couldn't go up there). He's confirmed he'll focus on those areas for comment and he's arranged with the estate agent to go round on Tuesday.

He said:
"I can confirm that I would be happy to carry out a Level 3 full building survey for £550 inclusive and that I am a fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and have over 40 years' experience in the construction and related industries.

For your information, my Building survey consists of three parts; the first contains the main report consisting of some circa 16-20 pages with photographs of any problematic areas and covers all aspects of the property structure(s) and grounds, to a fair level of detail and itemises and provides budget costs for any identifiable defects or potential areas of concern. The second report of circa 2/3 pages lists all external windows and doors individually and comments on their condition and again provides budget costs for all identifiable defects etc. The third report of circa 2/3 pages lists all rooms and reviews each floor, ceiling and wall finish; again, with a report on the condition thereof and with budget costs for any defects/remedial works.

I note your specific issues requiring comment"

So I was happy enough to punt £500ish for that
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Good luck, wait to see what you get but chances are you'll just get several paragraphs of disclaimers. Unable to check under wallpaper, needs someone else to look, might fall down or might not etc etc.

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