Case Study 1 – Brickwork



Our case study home is now nearing completion of brickwork, and internal rooms and layouts are starting to take shape.

You will often hear this stage called “Plate High” which in building terms means that the wall plate (the piece of timber which goes on top of the brickwork and holds the rafters and ceiling joists) is the next item to go on.

This exciting time is one of the most important stages from a building perspective. The bricklayers’ work affects many of the following trades, and errors here can mean delays and expense in fixing errors down the track.

If you are on site enough, expect to see your supervisor (or preferably your registered builder) walking the site armed with tape measure and spirit level. If you don’t see this happening, then ask them if everything has been checked.

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There are lots of items to look out for at this stage. The ability to recognise a wall that is out of plumb, or a window head that is out of level, is a skill developed over years of practise. Here the experienced builder starts to show their prowess, and it is here that the experienced builder really starts to exert his influence on your home.

However even for the layman there are some obvious items to look out for:

  1. Parging: you probably hear this word occasionally, and really it just applies to any place where a waterproof barrier is applied to a vertical surface, in this case the edge of the concrete slab. Make sure it’s there, without it any water that collects in the cavity will seep directly into your slab and potentially give you rising damp. The black edge in the photo below is the parging.
  2. Holding down straps: these are pgi straps which run from various depths of brickwork and over the rafters in order to correctly strap down the roof. With a colorbond roof, it makes sure you don’t wake up one evening seeing stars because your roof has blown off. Every 1.2m or so, and make sure they have strapped to the lintels over long openings as well.
  3. Wall insulation: did you pay your builder to put wall insulation into your home? Most builders don’t automatically use wall insulation (see the silver sheet poking up through the cavity brickwork at the top). If you have been asked to pay additional money to ensure the house meets the minimum energy standard, then it is likely you should have this insulation somewhere in your home.
  4. Window and door opening positions: whilst you should use some flexibility here (sometimes a bricklayer has to move a window slightly) they should be in the position shown on the plan within reason. You can count bricks around the openings to ensure they are the correct size if you don’t have a tape measure with you.
  5. Plumb and level: The earmark of good bricklayers. Window frames, door frames, walls and piers should look plumb and level to the eye. If you can get a sight line on the corner of a door frame against the corner of another wall, you should see them line up. A lot of the time, to the untrained eye, something seems wrong but you cant quite put your finger on what it is.
  6. Square rooms: there are a lot of floor finishes which rely on the brickwork, and subsequent plastering to make the rooms square to look right. Any patterned vinyl, floor boards, or ceramic tiles will look out of place if they are running out against one wall. Small rooms you can check for square by measuring corner to corner, and passages, you can measure wall to wall at both ends and in the middle.
  7. Perpend and bed joints: these are how we refer to the vertical, and the horizontal joints in the brickwork. These should be reasonable consistent in thickness and colour. Bear in mind some variation in the bricks always occurs and some variation in joint thickness is likely with some bricks.
  8. A clean site: doesn’t sound like a big deal, but trust me it is. The best trades like to work in a clean and manageable environment. If the site is dirty, and there are broken bricks, packing straps, and cement dags laying everywhere, then start looking for where else that trade likes to cut corners.
  9. Structural cavity steel: in most homes these days, there will need to be structural columns in the cavity brickwork. A lot of the time these are light weight wind posts made of thin galvanised steel, and these are mostly providing specific anchor points to the slab. On longer runs of brickwork, or higher walls, these will be heaver guage square or rectangular galvanised posts. You should have a full set of engineering documents, and they will be clearly labelled so you can ensure the builder has installed them.

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Parged Slab                                                               .Holding Down Straps                                                      .Wall Insulation                                                                .Cavity structural steel

If you have concerns about anything above, you should pass these concerns to your supervisor, but beware, stand your ground and ask to be shown the wall is plumb, or shown that the window head is level, because changing it can seem like hard difficult work to some builders. Also beware the comment “oh you will never see it down this side of the home” an error is an error after all, try asking him if he would accept it if it was his home.