Boundary Walls

Preventing and Repairing Cracks in Boundary Walls

Damaged boundary walls around your property can spoil the whole look and feel of your property. Furthermore, cracked and leaning walls can also pose a danger to passers-by should the wall fall over.

boundary wall
This was a wall that was butt jointed against the neighbour’s wall. The danger here is that when the wall falls over portions of the wall will be spread over the pavement and possibly into the road. If a pedestrian is close by serious injury could result!

This article explains the correct way to repair boundary walls and install expansion joints!

Firstly, if your walls have ugly cracks and broken plasterwork and brickwork at the expansion joints do not plaster them up as shown in the photos below!

boundary wall
This expansion joint was chopped open and plastered up. The joint will crack at the joint again. This is a waste of time and money and will cause more problems than before!

Furthermore, the work done on these boundary walls will result in more cracking in the walls!

Many boundary walls and retaining walls may fail prematurely due to the lack of provision for movement. However, this is usually not a fault in the materials used, but usually a lack of proper design. Even when the design is correct, the construction of the boundary wall and expansion joints are often faulty.

What is an expansion joint?

It is a separation between two portions of the same structure. A butt joint in a boundary wall is not an expansion joint!

Expansion joints in boundary walls

When building a boundary wall, an expansion joint is a separation designed to relieve stress on building materials caused by movement induced by thermal expansion and contraction. They are therefore specifically provided in boundary walls to avoid cracks occurring in the wall.

Temperature changes and seasonal changes mostly cause the movement in the boundary walls. However, expansion joints also permit movement due to ground settlement, seismic events and expansive soils.

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Damp In Freestanding Walls

Do Your Boundary Walls Look Like This?

damp in boundary and garden walls

This photo I took during a client’s comprehensive buyers inspection had rising damp, falling damp and penetrating damp in the boundary and garden walls. In addition, the white marks on the wall were caused by efflorescence.

Often the maintenance of the walls that are attached to or which do not form part of our houses is neglected. These are our boundary, garden and courtyard walls.

These walls are very important in that they protect our privacy and security and are our first line of defence against intruders. Unfortunately, we sometimes do not make enough effort to protect them!

The greatest enemy of these walls is damp which penetrates into the wall from below, above and from the sides of the walls.

Rising Damp

Rising damp occurs as a result of capillary action at and below ground level into porous building materials. These materials are mainly concrete, bricks and mortar. The moisture rises up the wall in this way. It usually occurs where there is no damp proof course (DPC). Freestanding walls such as boundary and garden walls do not normally have DPC built into the walls because it would make the wall unstable. A layer of DPC would break the bond between the wall and its foundation.

The height to which the moisture will rise is determined by the evaporation rate and the nature of the wall. However, the normal limit for rising damp is generally about one metre above ground level.

Rising damp may show as a stain on the plastered and painted wall, the blistering of paint and loss of plaster. A damp area may be evident at the base of walls and in extreme situations, may cause the structure of the wall to wear away and crumble.

Falling Damp

Falling damp is caused by downward water penetration from the top of porous masonry walls. This is as a result of the top of a boundary wall not being adequately waterproofed, if at all.

Walls should be:

  • properly sealed at vertical expansion joints;
  • repaired at copings that have cracked or deteriorating mortar joints;
  • cleaned to prevent the build-up of dirt and moss on upper surfaces of stone or brickwork.
  • Leaves, bird manure, moss and dirt on top of the walls contain weak acids and salts which can promote decay of the masonry and paint if absorbed.

Penetrating Damp

Penetrating damp is a common form of damp. It occurs as a result of the horizontal ingress of water through gaps, cracks and joints in the wall’s structure. Penetrating or horizontal damp can be due to your or your neighbour’s irrigation system spraying against the boundary wall. Moreover, foliage growing against the wall (bushes and trees)can also be the cause. Other causes are deteriorating paint finishes and inadequately ruled joints which allows moisture intrusion into faced brick or stone walls.

Penetrating damp tends to produce localised patches of dampness and decay, whereas rising damp may affect the base of the wall.

Efflorescence

Efflorescence occurs where an appreciable quantity of soluble salts and moisture is present in the masonry. It routinely occurs in masonry construction, particularly in brick and concrete. It typically occurs during the initial curing of the cementitious product. Moisture carries these salts to the face of the masonry or concrete where the moisture evaporates.

As the water evaporates, it leaves the salts behind as a white fluffy deposit. Therefore, to remove it, brush the deposit off when the wall is dry. It usually disappears with time after rains or washing with water.

Efflorescence is generally an aesthetic concern and not a structural one. However, where there is excessive efflorescence, the crystallizing salts within the pores of the masonry can disrupt even the strongest material. As a result, this can lead to the breaking up and crumbling of the structure.

How to prevent damp damage in your freestanding walls

Rising Damp

Rising damp is not easy to resolve in any freestanding, boundary or garden walls because of the lack of DPC.  However, you can do the following:

  1. Make sure that there is no pooling of water against the wall. Good drainage away from the walls is essential. If you have a low point in your garden against your boundary walls you will need to create a hole in the wall at the lowest point for the stormwater to drain away. Your neighbours have to accept a certain amount of your stormwater by law.
  2. Try not to overwater your gardens against boundary and garden walls. overwatering will result in sodden earth around the walls and, as a result, rising damp in the wall.
  3. Keep leaves and other debris on the ground which may retain water away from the walls.

Falling Damp

  1. You should waterproof the tops of all freestanding walls with a layer of an acrylic waterproofing system or any other system to prevent moisture intrusion into the top of your boundary and yard walls.
  2. If there is a concrete or brick coping on top of the wall you must ensure that the joints form a water-resistant seal. You should seal all deteriorated joints or porous joints between the bricks and copings.
  3. Seal the top of expansion joints to prevent water from entering the joint with a silicone sealer.

Penetrating Damp

  1. If your freestanding walls are plastered, check the paint finish regularly. It may be time to repaint if the finish is chalky.
  2. If you have a sprinkler system make sure that you are not watering your boundary walls. Sprinklers heads are normally adjustable. If yours are not, change them.
  3. Trim bushes and shrubs so that there is a gap between the foliage, branches and the walls.
  4. If it appears that the moisture is from your neighbours’ sides, you will need to talk to them about the problem.
  5. Clean out and seal vertical expansion joints with a good silicone sealer. Any cracks should be sealed as well. Furthermore, if your plastered walls are covered in crazing cracking wash the wall down. Thereafter, when the wall is dry, seal the wall with a sealer and repaint the wall.

Efflorescence is a sign of damp

Efflorescence is caused by moisture absorbed in the wall evaporating and leaving behind salts as a white powder. Therefore, if you repair and maintain your walls as suggested above, very little efflorescence should appear on your walls.

I am not specifically promoting Prominent Paints as all the well-known paint manufacturers produce the same required paints and sealers. You can use most of them to repair and maintain your freestanding walls.

However, Prominent’s video provides very good advice on how to repair moisture damage to boundary and garden walls!

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THE HOME DETECTIVE » Boundary walls

What I Inspect

inspections of properties

I Inspect All Of The Following Components

inspections of properties
Some of the components inspected in your inspection report

My Comprehensive, Snag (New Home) and Maintenance Inspections include all of the above. Also included is the stand condition, property boundary and courtyard walls, swimming pools, garages, decks and so on. To clarify, an itemised list is provided below.

Your home inspection

Firstly, I am a trained and skilled InterNACHI Certified Home Inspector. Therefore, you will receive a thorough and professional, non-intrusive, visual home inspection and report of the property.

Moreover, I inspect the property you wish me to report on, inside and out, from the boundary walls to the top of the roof. Following that, I draw up a detailed comprehensive report of all the components inspected.

All my inspections are in full accordance with InterNACHI’s Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics.

My inspection process

Outside the home, I will inspect the property boundary walls, the garden, the building’s walls and roof, driveway, deck etc. Moreover, if you request it I will inspect your swimming pool. Then I will move inside to inspect the walls, ceilings, floors, doors, and windows. In addition, I also inspect the heating, air-conditioning, plumbing, and electrical systems to ensure that they work as intended. Likewise, bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms also receive a thorough check. Following on, I will check the roof (ceiling) space and basement, if any.

Following that, I will prepare a detailed home inspection report of all the items inspected, including photographs. Furthermore, the report will be clear and easy to read.

Moreover, as The Home Detective, I strive to ensure my home inspection services and reports are the best. I value customer service above everything else.

Items inspected:

  • Air Conditioning systems
  • Boundary walls
  • Ceilings
  • Cupboards and kitchen tops and units
  • Damp in walls, floors and ceilings
  • Decks (all types)
  • Electric fencing
  • Electrical boards & components (DB, plugs, light switches and lights)
  • External finishes (faced, plastered and timber and steel framed)
  • Fireplaces and braais
  • Floors finishes (tiling, carpets, timber, laminated etc.)
  • Foundation, floor, wall and roof structure
  • Garages, carports and external buildings
  • Garden sheds
  • Geyser installations 
  • Gutters & downspouts
  • Heating systems
  • Insulation
  • Interior finishes (faced, plastered and timber and steel framed)
  • Leaks and damp (rising, falling and penetrating damp)
  • Maintenance issues
  • Mould and mildew
  • Paving (driveways, courtyards, walkways)
  • Plumbing system & fixtures (baths, basins, showers, sinks, toilets etc)
  • Problem vegetation and foliage
  • Roof space (area above the ceiling)
  • Roof systems (tiled, sheeted, concrete and composite roofs)
  • Safety aspects
  • Steps and stairs
  • Stoves and hobs
  • Surface drainage
  • Swimming pools
  • Ventilation
  • Walkways and driveways
  • Waterproofing systems
  • Windows & doors
  • Wood destroying organisms and pests (termites, rodents etc.)
  • Yard and courtyard walls
  • and much more!

In addition, I invite you to come along and watch as I inspect your home. Furthermore, you are free to ask questions at any time during your home inspection

Finally, for more information on home inspections and your property, please browse the rest of my website.

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THE HOME DETECTIVE » Boundary walls