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Problems with walls

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Walls, Windows and Doors: Performance, Diagnosis, Maintenance, Repair and the Avoidance of Defects* is the third volume in the bre's building element series, writes John Duell. It follows Roofs and Roofing (aj 19.9.96) and Floors and Flooring (aj 12.2.98). Two bre experts have written this book based on many years' experience of the performance and failures of construction materials and building elements.

The introduction states that nearly half of all defects in buildings relate to walls, windows and doors. The types of defects investigated by the bre are analysed in good clear graphics along with the cause of the defect, such as design or execution. It will cause no surprise that rain penetration is still the major type of defect reported.

With the weight of much research behind the book, interesting statistics are also included. For example, one in five dwellings in England are rendered, while in Scotland three-quarters are.

The first chapter describes the basic functions that affect all the vertical external elements of the envelope of a building. The following chapters concentrate on practical details and those aspects of construction that have caused problems and expense in the past. Many different types of external wall constructions are discussed, including traditional and post- war prefabricated systems, as well as windows and doors. Internal walls and internal doors are covered more briefly, possibly because the instances of defects are fewer.

As with the other volumes in this series, the book is well illustrated with photographs, diagrams and details. A graphic table matching external rendering systems to backgrounds is the best I have seen. The authors have kept the book up to date, for example including details of level access for people with disabilities (see illustration) and a warning of possible health risks to workmen installing some dpc materials.

A pretty good bibliography is linked to each section in the book, although it covers mainly official and scientific publications.

As indicated by the book's sub-title, it is directed more towards the repair of defects than towards the design of new buildings. But it is essential that designers are made more aware of past problems, as building defects have a high instance of recurrence.

It is obviously impossible in this slim volume to cover all aspects of external walls, windows and doors. Indeed, a ciria guide to wall technology, which covers a similar subject, runs to seven volumes. However, this book should be essential reading, and a frequent reference, for architects and other construction professionals.

John Duell was a partner in Hurley Porte and Duell

* Walls, Windows and Doors. H W Harrison and R C de Vekey. bre. From crc, tel: 0171 505 6622. 302pp. £45 (launch price £39.50)

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