Common brickwork defects and what they mean

When it comes to surveying older houses and homes, one of the most common defects we come across is with the brickwork.

Defective brickwork can be caused by many things, from poor workmanship or design to the materials they’re made from and general wear and tear.

The conditions they’re subjected to, including heat, wind and rain, can also cause problems.

While brickwork problems aren’t always a major cause for concern, there are a few issues that may require further investigation by an expert, as they could affect the structural integrity of the home in question.

Here, we take a close look at some of the most common causes of brickwork defects that a home survey can help uncover.

Cracking brickwork

Cracking is, arguably, the most common form of brickwork defect.

It can take many forms, including large cracks appearing from edge to edge of a brick, or smaller cracks to the surface.

Cracking brickwork can be down to several things. It could indicate subsidence or movement to party walls, although this is usually accompanied by loose cement or pointing around the bricks themselves.

However, cracking is predominantly down to the way the bricks were dried. If they were dried rapidly, this could lead to the formation of small cracks which grow over time. And if aggregate grains or pebbles were used in the cement mix, these can expand in heat and cause bricks to crack.

Cracking bricks is usually only a significant cause for concern if it’s widespread or covers a large area, as it could indicate a structural problem. If the cracked bricks are isolated, it’s usually nothing to worry about.


The drying grey or white patches that form on brickwork on the outer face of a property is called efflorescence.

While it can be visually unappealing, it does not usually represent any significant structural risk or damage. It’s down to the presence of alkaline.

Efflorescence is easy to scrub away. Its appearance can be minimised by renewing damp-proof coursing, or repointing the offending area with water-repellent mortar, to help prevent excessive moisture from building up.

Brick spalling

Spalling is another moisture-related brick defect, which causes the surface of the brickwork to become brittle and flaky. It’s caused when excessive moisture gets into the brick and is accelerated in cold or freezing weather, which causes the water to expand and contract inside the brick, causing it to break down.

Replacing spalled bricks before they become too damaged will help prevent any long-term structural issues with the property.

Over-sized bricks

While most bricks are of uniform size, the way they are manufactured can cause variances to their length, width or thickness. Once laid, this can cause problems with the alignment and structural integrity of a wall, although this shouldn’t be a major cause for concern unless it’s widespread.

Penetrating damp

As our previous blog highlighted, damp can cause many problems within the home, and defective brickwork is one of them.

Too much moisture within the brickwork can cause it to break down, become soft or, in a worst-case scenario, start to spall. Long-term, this can affect the structural integrity of a wall or property.

So, keeping an eye out for the tell-tale signs of penetrating damp, and acting accordingly can solve many problems in the long run.

How can a home survey help

If you’re buying – or selling – a property with defective brickwork, then getting a home survey is essential.

It can help you identify any potential problems or underlying causes of the brick defects so that you can proceed with confidence.

While most common brick defects aren’t usually a significant cause for concern, it’s always worth getting them checked out for your peace of mind.

A home survey by a RICS registered surveyor will also help you discover any other significant defects a property might have, from damp, rot and subsidence to woodworm or major structural problems.

At GB Home Surveys, we can help you avoid any surprises that might come with buying a property. We offer a different approach to getting a home survey that’s thorough, convenient and hassle-free. It will provide you with all the information you need to make the right choices. 

We’re an independent, RICS regulated chartered surveyors and have provided trusted services for almost 30 years. Our surveyors are all RICS registered valuers and have vast local expertise and knowledge, so you can be sure you’re getting the best advice to help you buy with confidence.

For a free initial consultation to discuss how we can help, email us or phone us on 03333 600 685.

Looking for a quote, or maybe you have a question? Get in touch today.

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