Cracked! The main reasons a building will fail


When a building is forced to be demolished, or maybe even just falls down on its own accord, the general consensus is that it’s just due to old age.

However, if one were to analyze all of the buildings that have come down over the years, it would become clear that age is very rarely the reason behind their demise. Instead, there are a whole concoction of reasons and while age can cause some of these issues, it doesn’t directly cause failure.

In fact, diagnosing the reasons why a building might falter is one of the most important jobs for anyone who works in this field of engineering. It’s one of the reasons why the likes of Reddy Kancharla have proved to be so successful over the years – the ability to diagnose a possible failure avenue can save considerable resources in the future.

Taking the above into account, let’s highlight some of the principle reasons why a building will start to fail. To make things simpler, we’re only going to look at those buildings that are made out of concrete. However, a lot of the principles can be shared with other building materials.


To say that the engineer in charge of the initial drawings for a project has an important job would be an understatement. To put this into perspective, if his or her calculations prove to be incorrect in relation to the strength of the concrete or the number of reinforcing bars needed – it can have catastrophic consequences. Suffice to say, complete building failure is part of this.

Of course, the failure might not be due to poor calculations. Instead, it might be that the failure has occurred as too much load has been placed onto the concrete. However, as a lot of safety factors are taken into consideration during the initial phases, it’s rare for this to be the case if the calculations are correct.

Freeze/thaw theory

One of the more interesting forms of failure comes in the form of freeze/thaw theory. Fortunately, this only tends to occur if the concrete hasn’t been treated accordingly – which is seldom the case nowadays. As such, this is a problem which tends to occur in older developments.

When moisture finds its way inside the concrete, it can freeze in very cold weather. This causes expansion and naturally, the concrete will suffer damage. Cracks will start to appear and this tends to be when the engineer is sought.

Poor workmanship

Another reason, although one that fortunately doesn’t tend to be too common, is poor workmanship. The nature of concrete can mean that the margin for error is low. As such, there are a whole host of problems that can affect the material, ranging from a poor mixture (generally resulting from over watering), or the wrong position of the reinforcement bars.

An error in isolation doesn’t tend to have a huge impact on a building. However, if these mistakes are repeated through a development, it stands to reason that the problem suddenly escalates.

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