If you’re looking to purchase a property in Sydney, it’s important to understand how the age and construction methods of the home can impact its structural integrity. Many older Sydney homes were built using brick pier (with questionable mortar) and shallow footing foundations, which were common construction techniques from the 1920s through to the 1970s. However, these outdated methods can lead to several problems that compromise the safety and value of a property.
What are Footings and Brick Piers?
Footings and piers form the base of a building’s foundation. Footings are continuous concrete strips that run around the perimeter of the home and support the outer walls or isolated . Piers are concrete columns built at regular intervals under the floor joists to provide additional support. Further detailed info here
In a brick pier foundation, the footings support a series of brick piers built at set intervals. The floor joists then rest upon these piers, transferring the weight of the structure down through the piers and into the footings below.
While these types of foundations were very common in the first half of the 20th century, they lack reinforcement and connectivity compared to modern foundation systems. This makes them more prone to problems over time.
Common Issues with Brick Pier Foundations
There are several ways that outdated brick pier foundations can compromise the integrity of a Sydney property:
- Uneven Settling – Without connectivity between the piers, sections of the home can settle at different rates. This leads to cracked walls, jamming doors and windows, and uneven floors.
- Weak Support – Brick piers have less concentrated support strength than a continuous wall or concrete slab foundation. Heavy loads can cause piers to crack and crumble.
- Moisture Damage – Rising damp from ground moisture can be absorbed into the brick piers and cause deterioration. Lack of damp proofing increases this risk.
- Pest Infestation – Old brickwork is vulnerable to termite damage. Termites can hollow out piers from the inside, severely compromising their strength.
- Poor Load Transfer – Load bearing walls must align correctly over piers. Improper construction can overload piers and cause structural failure.
- Lack of Reinforcement – Brick piers lack steel reinforcement, making them brittle and prone to cracking under pressure.
Signs of Trouble in Brick Pier Foundations
Some common signs that a brick pier foundation may be compromised include:
- Cracks in walls, ceilings, or floor slabs
- Doors and windows sticking or jamming
- Floors feeling uneven or sloped
- Cracked, crumbling brick piers
- Moisture damage or leaks under floor
- Evidence of termite infestation
If you spot these warning signs during a property inspection, it’s wise to consult a professional building inspector or engineer to evaluate the integrity of the brick piers.
Options for Repairing or Replacing Faulty Foundations
If your pre-purchase inspection does reveal foundation issues, there are several options to stabilize or reconstruct the footing and pier system:
- Selective pier repairs – Damaged piers can be repaired or replaced individually.
- Steel shoring – Steel beams added under floor around piers reinforce the structure.
- Underpinning – Concrete is poured around existing piers to form a new continuous footing.
- Full replacement – Severely compromised foundations may need complete demolition and rebuild.
- Raising/restumping – Lifting the home to rebuild footings and piers beneath.
The right solution will depend on the extent of damage and how much intervention is required to restore structural integrity. Seek advice from an engineer or builder.
The Cost of Foundation Repairs or Replacement
Fixing foundation issues ranges from several thousand dollars for minor repairs up to $50,000-$100,000 for a full replacement. The average cost to underpin and replace brick piers is around $20,000-30,000. Larger homes can be more expensive. Always obtain multiple quotes.
Since foundation problems can seriously impact the value of a property, it’s critical that any issues are identified and addressed before purchase. A pre-purchase building inspection can uncover defects before they turn into costly repairs down the track.
Protect Your Investment with a Pre-Purchase Inspection
Footing and brick pier foundations were an outdated construction method even decades ago. Today, any Sydney property still sitting on this compromised base needs careful evaluation. Don’t get stuck with expensive foundation repairs – make sure you get a comprehensive building inspection before purchasing any property with older brick pier construction.
This will reveal any issues with the footings and piers before you commit to buy. You can then negotiate the price, required repairs, or walk away if problems are too major. Protecting your investment starts with understanding how age and outdated construction techniques like brick piers can jeopardize the structural integrity of a property. By arranging a pre-purchase building inspection, you safeguard your future as a homeowner in Sydney.