We are experiencing poor quality bricklaying, despite procuring good quality bricks. The walls are not yet a metre high, but they are not straight and the brick courses appear to be sagging in places. What can we do to make sure this does not continue?
This is a question that I've been asked in the field so I wanted to share it with everyone on KnowledgePoint
Thank you for your question. The quality of the brickwork is important, especially where walls are loadbearing, because poor quality affects their structural integrity.
The first thing to do is check your construction contract for a “defective works” clause. This clause should permit you to request removal and replacement of any defective work at the contractor’s expense. Often you only need to call on this clause once because it clarifies the expected standard of work. If your contract does not include a “defective works” clause then you may need to negotiate. For example, you can make it clear that the contractor will not be considered for future work unless the brickwork is fixed.
Secondly, investigate the cause of the poor work. The brickwork should be built on a level foundation and set out using brick lines set up using a spirit level and plumb line. If this is not the local practice some basic training may be required. If setting out has indeed been completed correctly then the frequency of supervision may need to be increased once the bricklayers start laying to ensure these lines are carefully followed.
However, the bricklayers may be genuinely struggling with the materials, and if your bricks are sound then mortar could be the problem. Check that they are using the correct mix. 1:3, cement: sand is advisable. Make sure they are not mixing the mortar directly onto the ground, where it could be contaminated, but onto a metal plate or wooden deck.
Check that the water and sand they are using is free of oils and salts. Check the date on the cement bags to make sure that it was manufactured recently. Put on a glove and place your hand in the bags to feel for warmth and lumps. This could indicate that the cement has started to react with moisture because the storage facilities are too damp.
Once you are clear on the probable cause and where you stand contractually, make sure the work is halted, so no more materials are wasted, and speak directly to your contractor.
Ultimately, if good quality bricks are available in your area and local buildings are constructed from masonry, skilled labour should not be difficult to find should the works fail to improve after you have tried everything above.
It sounds like you may have an issue with technical supervision. If I were in your position I would consider contracting the site/techhnical supervion to an established contractor. This approach would allow you to ensure local employment while accessing experienced foremen who are familiar with local work practices and standards. It would also allow you to build a practical training element into your project quickly and safely, while retaining direct control of procurement, logistics and payment rates.
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