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Old 10-21-2008, 07:39 AM   #1
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How to diagnose problems with wall


Hi, I'm a total newb to this - so would appreciate any simple advice.
I live in a house which is about 150 yrs old and is on the short end of an L shape. This means that I share a party wall with two properties, since the depth of my house is equal to the width of two on the long part of the L.

The house adjacent to the front part of mine has recently undergone extensive renovations, including demolition of the chimney on the party wall and replacement of the roof.
I don't know what else was done, but the banging on the party wall was constant for several months. (the owners never lived there so I couldnt ask - they did it up and it is now rented out).

Subsequent to this several cracks appeared in our house, running vertically from ceiling to floor, adjacent to the party wall and also down the corners of walls opposite the party wall. (across the landing so only about 5ft away). There is also a crack downstairs running down the corner adjacent to the party wall though not as big as those upstairs.

I contacted our local building regs to ask about this as I thought I should have had some notification about work on the party wall. He said if they had removed the whole chimney there was no problem and it would just be settlement and was pretty dismissive about it all.

I have been watching and waiting and don't think the cracks are worsening but not sure yet.

Now I have another problem. My bathroom shares a party wall with a second house. This house is owned by the local council (for some reason they bought 2 of the properties in the past). I think the council have been doing some work on that property, though not as extensive. The tenant is an elderly gentleman with special needs so I don't want to approach him about it as I think it would distess him. I now have a bulge running across the whole bathroom wall. There is a tiled area the length of the bath and the grouting cracked in a straight line across the whole length and now the tiles are starting to lift. Beyond that the area is plastered and painted and the plaster is bulging in a line extending from that in the tiling.

There are two other houses on the long part of the L. Thier rear walls face into my back garden. These walls are therefore an extension of the party wall I have mentioned. They have visible wall ties which suggests previous problems with the wall although we had no problems prior to the building work and surveys when we moved in (a good few years ago) revealed no problems with our property.

My thoughts atm: Best case scenario - the cracks are just settlement and if they don't get bigger I fill them in and redecorate. The problems in the bathroom may be caused by moisture getting behind the tiles and the bulging is just plaster coming away from the wall. Worst case scenario - the adjacent renovations have destabilised the party wall and caused both sets of problems. I then have a situation where I have to negotiate with one (absent) private owner and with the local council to sort out who pays what for rectifying the problem. (?)

So where do I start? Get the plaster off the bathroom and see what the underlying wall looks like? Talk to the council and ask what work they did on their property? Talk to the building regs guy again? Get a structural engineer? Insurance company?

Very worried, please help.

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Old 10-21-2008, 08:29 AM   #2
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How to diagnose problems with wall


The vertical crack doesn't concern me too much unless it keeps growing. Construction work in the adjacent unit could have easily stressed the wall. If it does keep growing, you need to consult with an engineer (before calling a foundation company).

Your insurance company won't help you, or at least I don't imagine they will. Never hurts to call and ask if they have someone that can advocate for you in this situation.

If you suspect that the adjacent renovations are the cause of the cracking and the bulging, you'd need to be able to prove it. You'd need to document the issue to their contractor's insurance company, and give them an opportunity to look at it before you do any demolition.

I don't know what could cause the tiled wall to bow inward. It very well may be a wallboard or plaster failure on your side. What might be causing it? There are a lot of things, but water is where I'd focus my efforts first. It is unlikely that the studs would get all out of whack once they're installed in the wall.

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Old 10-21-2008, 10:36 AM   #3
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How to diagnose problems with wall


So start by getting the tiles and plaster off in the bathroom and see what I find? Just continue monitoring the cracks in the other part of the house?
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Old 10-21-2008, 12:47 PM   #4
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How to diagnose problems with wall


Very much NOT an expert here, but in your shoes I think my first calls would be to my homeowners insurance and the council. Find out who did the work, and if it could have caused the problems. Finding out what permits were filed might help.

Again, not an expert, but if the lifting tiles and cracked grout are in the shower they are going to need to be repaired sooner rather than later. If there is not already water damage, there will be.

I would make the phone calls first, but if you want to start repairs I would suggest taking plenty of pictures before pulling anything down. Actually, it wouldn't be a bad idea to take plenty of pictures (before, during, and after repairs) no matter what decisions are made or who does the work.

You might also consider keeping a little notebook. Jot down any conversations or phone calls on the matter. Who you talked to, when, and what was said. It's a good idea to document everything unless you're OK with paying for all of the repairs yourself.
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Old 10-22-2008, 04:52 AM   #5
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How to diagnose problems with wall


Thanks for that advice - hadn't thought about taking pictures etc but makes total sense. The lifting tiles relate to a bath with shower so guess I'll rule showering out of bounds for now and suggest sedate bathing! I managed to catch a couple of council workmen who were out attending the adjoining house this morning. Apparently the tenants bedroom - which backs onto my bathroom - has been suffering from water leaking down the wall from the roof for six years! It has been repaired several times but the problem not fixed. I'm guessing my problems could be related to this and can't see there's much I can do to rectify it until we get to the bottom of exactly what is going on. It does indeed seem time to make some phone calls in light of what the workmen have said. There's a council roofer coming out this afternooon so I will pick his brains as well if I manage to catch him. Will start that notebook now! Ty again.

Last edited by kahlan; 10-22-2008 at 05:04 AM. Reason: correction
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Old 10-22-2008, 09:18 AM   #6
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How to diagnose problems with wall


Having phoned the council they sent an inspector out a couple of hours later. Rather impressed with that! The roofers came and repaired lead flashing in the valley between our 2 roofs. This is something that we previously also repaired. On that occasion it was caused by slates sliding down the council roof and cracking it - so it wasn't really our responsibility but we wanted to sort it fast. The roofers say that the council roof is shot. We have actually had slates fall into our garden so I pointed out how dangerous this could be to the inspector. He came and looked at my bulging bathroom wall but said it was just the plaster becoming unkeyed due to age and not caused by water damage. Should I accept this or is he likely to be trying to avoid accepting responsibility for the council? He said he would organise a surveyor to check out the council property and probably look at replacing the roof and suggested I hold off on my repairs until I hear back from them.
Thoughts anyone?

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