Strength and Stability

    Up to the middle of the twentieth century the design and construction of small buildings, such as houses, was based on tried, traditional forms of construction. There were generally accepted rule of thumb methods for determining the necessary thickness for the walls of small buildings. By and large, the acceptance of tried and tested methods of construction, allied to the experience of local builders using traditional materials in traditional forms of construction, worked well. The advantage was that from a simple set of drawings an experienced builder could give a reasonable estimate of cost and build and complete small buildings, such as houses, without delay.
    With the increasing use of unfamiliar materials, such as steel and concrete, in hitherto unused forms, it became necessary to make calculations to determine the least size of elements of structure for strength and stability in use. The practicability of constructing large multi-storey buildings provoked the need for standards of safety in case of fire and rising expectations of comfort and the need for the control of insulation, ventilation, daylight and hygiene.
    During the last 50 years there has been a considerable increase in building control, that initially was the province of local authorities through building bylaws, later replaced by national building regula¬tions. The Building Regulations 1985 set out functional requirements for buildings and health and safety requirements that may be met through the practical guidance given in 11 Approved Documents that in turn refer to British Standards and Codes of Practice.
    In theory it is only necessary to satisfy the requirements of the Building Regulations, which are short and include no technical details of means of satisfying the requirements. The 11 Approved
    Documents give practical guidance to meeting the requirements, but there is no obligation to adopt any particular solution in the documents if the requirements can be met in some other way.
    The stated aim of the current Building Regulations is to allow freedom of choice of building form and construction so long as the stated requirements are satisfied. In practice the likelihood is that the practical guidance given in the Approved Documents will be accepted as if the guidance were statutory as the easier approach to building, rather than proposing some other form of building that would involve calculation and reference to a bewildering array of British Standards and Codes and Agrement Certificates.
    In Approved Document A there is practical guidance to meeting the requirements of the Building Regulations for the walls of small buildings of the following three types:
    (1) residential buildings of not more than three storeys
    (2) small single storey non-residential buildings, and
    (3) small buildings forming annexes to residential buildings (including garages and outbuildings).
    Limitations as to the size of the building types included in the guidance are given in a disjointed and often confusing manner.


    The maximum height of residential buildings is given as 15 m from the lowest ground level to the highest point of any wall or roof, whereas the maximum allowable thickness of wall is limited to walls not more than 12 m. Height is separately defined, for example, as from the base of a gable and external wall to half the height of the gable. The height of single storey, non-residential buildings is given as 3 m from the ground to the top of the roof, which limits the guidance to very small buildings. The maximum height of an annexe is similarly given as 3 m, yet there is no definition of what is meant by annexe except that it includes garages and outbuildings.


    The least width of residential buildings is limited to not less than half

    the height. A diagram limits the dimensions of the wing of a residential building without defining the meaning of the term ‘wing’, which in the diagram looks more like an annexe than a wing. Whether the arms of a building which is ‘L’ or ‘LP shaped on plan are wings or not is entirely a matter of conjecture. How the dimensions apply to semi-detached buildings or terraces of houses is open to speculation. In seeking to give practical guidance to meeting functional requirements for strength and stability and at the same time impose limiting dimensions, the Approved Document has caused confusion. One further limitation is that no floor enclosed by structural walls on all sides should exceed 70 m2 and a floor without a structural wall on one side, 30 m2. The floor referred to is presumably a suspended floor, though it does not say so. As the maximum allowable length of wall between buttressing walls, piers or chimneys is given as 12 m and the maximum span for floors as 6 m, the limitation is in effect a floor some 12 x 6 m on plan. It is difficult to understand the need for the limitation of floor area for certain ‘small’ buildings.


  • Walls Resistance to airborne and impact sound Security

    Sound is transmitted as airborne sound and impact sound. Airborne sound is generated as cyclical disturbances of air from, for example, a
    radio, that radiate from the source of the sound with diminishing intensity. The vibrations in the air caused by the sound source will set up vibrations in enclosing walls and floors which will cause vibrations of air on the opposite side of walls and floors.

    Impact sound is caused by contact with a surface, as for example the slamming of a door or footsteps on a floor which set up vibrations in walls and floors that in turn cause vibrations of air around them that are heard as sound.

    The most effective insulation against airborne sound is a dense barrier such as a solid wall which absorbs the energy of the airborne sound waves. The heavier and more dense the material of the wall the more effective it is in reducing sound. The Building Regulations require walls and floors to provide reasonable resistance to airborne sound between dwellings and between machine rooms, tank rooms, refuse chutes and habitable rooms. A solid wall, one brick thick, or a solid cavity wall plastered on both sides is generally considered to provide reasonable sound reduction between dwellings at a reasonable cost. The small reduction in sound transmission obtained by doubling the thickness of a wall is considered prohibitive in relation to cost.
    For reasonable reduction of airborne sound between dwellings one above the other, a concrete floor is advisable.

    The more dense the material the more readily it will transmit impact sound. A knock on a part of a rigid concrete frame may be heard some considerable distance away. Insulation against impact sound will therefore consist of some absorbent material that will act to cushion the impact, such as a carpet on a floor, or serve to interrupt the path of the sound, as for example the absorbent pads under a floating floor.

    Noise generated in a room may be reflected from the walls and ceilings and build up to an uncomfortable intensity inside the room, particularly where the wall and ceiling surfaces are hard and smooth. To prevent the build-up of reflected sound some absorbent material should be applied to walls and ceilings, such as acoustic tiles or curtains, to absorb the energy of the sound waves.

  • Walls Resistance to the passage of heat

    The traditional method of heating buildings was by burning wood or coal in open fireplaces in England and in freestanding stoves in much
    of northern Europe. The ready availability of wood and coal was adequate to the then modest demands for heating of the comparatively small population of those times. The highly inefficient open fire had the advantage of being a cosy focus for social life and the disadvantage of generating draughts of cold air necessary for combustion. The more efficient freestanding stove, which lacked the obvious cheery blaze of the open fire, was more suited to burning wood, the fuel most readily available in many parts of Europe.

    The considerable increase in population that followed the Industrial Revolution and the accelerating move from country to town and city increased demand for the dwindling supplies of wood for burning. Coal became the principal fuel for open fires and freestanding stoves.
    During the eighteenth century town gas became the principal source for lighting and by the nineteenth century had largely replaced solid fuels as the heat source for cooking. From about the middle of the twentieth century oil was used as the heat source for heating. Following the steep increase in the price of oil, town gas and later on natural gas was adopted as the fuel most used for heating.

    Before the advent of oil and then gas as fuels for heating, it was possible to heat individual rooms by means of solid fuel burning open fires or stoves and people accepted the need for comparatively thick clothing for warmth indoors in winter.

    With the adoption of oil and gas as fuels for heating it was possible to dispense with the considerable labour of keeping open fires and stoves alight and the considerable area required to store an adequate supply of solid fuels. With the adoption of oil and gas as fuel for heating it was practical to heat whole buildings and there was no longer the inconvenience of cold corridors, toilets and bathrooms and the draughts of cold air associated with open fireplaces. The population increasingly worked in heated buildings, many in sedentary occupations, so that tolerance of cold diminished and the expectation of thermal comfort increased.

    For a description of the history of the development of heating appliances over the centuries and the increased use of thermal insulation, see Volume 2, Fires and Stoves.

    Of recent years the expectation of improved thermal comfort in buildings, the need to conserve natural resources and the increasing cost of fuels have led to the necessity for improved insulation against transfer of heat. To maintain reasonable and economical conditions of thermal comfort in buildings, walls should provide adequate insulation against excessive loss or gain of heat, have adequate thermal storage capacity and the internal face of walls should be at a reasonable temperature.
    For insulation against loss of heat, lightweight materials with low conductivity are more effective than dense materials with high conductivity, whereas dense materials have better thermal storage capacity than lightweight materials.

    Where a building is continuously heated it is of advantage to use the thermal storage capacity of a dense material on the inside face of the wall with the insulating properties of a lightweight material behind it. Here the combination of a brick or dense block inner leaf, a cavity filled with some lightweight insulating material and an outer leaf of brick against penetration of rain is of advantage.

    Where buildings are intermittently heated it is important that inside faces of walls warm rapidly, otherwise if the inside face were to remain cold, the radiation of heat from the body to the cold wall face would make people feel cold. The rate of heating of smooth wall surfaces is improved by the use of low density, lightweight materials on or immediately behind the inside face of walls.

    The interior of buildings is heated by the transfer of heat from heaters and radiators to air (conduction), the circulation of heated air (convection) and the radiation of energy from heaters and radiators to surrounding colder surfaces (radiation). This internal heat is transferred through colder enclosing walls, roofs and floors by conduction, convection and radiation to colder outside air.


    The rate at which heat is conducted through a material depends
    mainly on the density of the material. Dense metals conduct heat more rapidly than less dense gases. Metals have high conductivity and gases low conductivity. Conductivity is the amount of heat per unit area, conducted in unit time through a material of unit thickness, per degree of temperature difference. Conductivity is expressed in watts per metre of thickness of material per degree kelvin (W/mK) and usually denoted by the Greek letter X, (lambda).


    he density of air that is heated falls, the heated air rises and is replaced by cooler air. This in turn is heated and rises so that there is a continuing movement of air as heated air loses heat to surrounding cooler air and cooler surfaces of ceilings, walls and floors. Because the rate of transfer of heat to cooler surfaces varies from rapid transfer through thin sheet glass in windows to an appreciably slower rate of transfer through insulated walls, and because of the variability of the rate of exchange of cold outside air with warm inside air by ventilation, it is not possible to quantify heat transfer by convection. Usual practice is to make an assumption of likely total air changes per hour or volume (litres) per second and then calculate the heat required to raise the temperature of the incoming cooler air introduced by ventilation.


    Radiant energy from a body, radiating equally in all directions, is
    partly reflected and partly absorbed by another body and converted to heat. The rate of emission and absorption of radiant energy depends on the temperature and the nature of the surface of the radiating and receiving bodies. The heat transfer by low temperature radiation from heaters and radiators is small, whereas the very considerable radiant energy from the sun that may penetrate glass and that from high levels of artificial illumination is converted to appreciable heat inside buildings. An estimate of the solar heat gain and heat gain from artificial illumination may be assumed as part of the heat input to buildings.

    Transmission of heat

    Because of the complexity of the combined modes of heat transfer
    through the fabric of buildings it is convenient to use a coefficient of heat transmission as a comparative measure of transfer through the external fabric of buildings. This air-to-air heat transmittance coefficient, the U value, takes account of the transfer of heat by conduction through the solid materials and gases, convection of air in cavities and across inside and outside surfaces, and radiation to and from surfaces. The U value, which is expressed as W/m2K, is the rate of heat transfer in watts through one square metre of a material or structure when the combined radiant and air temperatures on each side of the material or structure differ by 1 degree kelvin (1°C). A high rate of heat transfer is indicated by a high U value, such as that for single glazing of 5.3 (W/m2K), and a low rate of heat transfer by a low U value, such as that for PIR insulation of 0.022 W/m2K.

    The U value may be used as a measure of the rate of transfer of heat through single materials or through a combination of materials such as those used in cavity wall construction.

    Conservation of fuel and power
    Standard assessment procedure (SAP) rating

    The requirement in the Building Regulations for the conservation of fuel and power for dwellings alone is that the person carrying out building work of creating a new dwelling shall calculate the energy rating of the dwelling by a standard assessment procedure (SAP) and give notice of that rating to the local authority.

    The SAP rating is based on an energy cost factor on a scale of 1 to 100,1 being a maximum and 100 a minimum energy use to maintain a comfortable internal temperature and use of energy in water heating. While there is no obligation to achieve a particular rating, a rating of 60 or less indicates that there is inadequate insulation or inefficient heating systems or both, and the dwelling does not comply with the regulations.
    Details of the notification of the SAP rating for new dwellings are held by the local authority. A prospective purchaser of the dwelling may well be put off where the rating is 60 or less and the local authority has not issued a Certificate of Compliance with the Regulations, whereas the purchaser will be encouraged by a rating of say 85, which shows compliance with the Regulations.

    The SAP rating is calculated by the completion of a four page worksheet by reference to 14 tables. The sequential completion of up to 99 entries by reference to the 14 tables is so tedious and difficult to follow as to confound all but those initiated in their use, and is hardly calculated to inform householders in a way that is simple and easy to understand as claimed by the authors of Approval Document L.

    Calculation methods

    Three methods of calculating the figures necessary for the SAP for
    dwellings are proposed in Approved Document L. They are:
    (1) an elemental method
    (2) a target U value method
    (3) an energy rating method.
    In the elemental method standard U values for the exposed elements of the fabric of buildings are shown under two headings: (a) for dwellings with SAP ratings of 60 or less and (b) for those with SAP ratings over 60. The standard U values are 0.2 and 0.25W/m2K for roofs, 0.45 W/m2K for exposed walls, 0.35 and 0.45W/m2K for exposed floors and ground floors, 0.6 W/m2K for semi-exposed walls and floors and 3.0 and 3.3 W/m2K for windows, doors and rooflights, the two values being for headings (a) and (b), respectively. The basic allowance for the area of windows, doors and rooflights together is 22.5% of the total floor area. The area of windows, doors and rooflights, larger than those indicated by the percentage value, may be used providing there is a compensating improvement in the average U value by the use of glazing with a lower U value.

    As it is unlikely that the SAP rating of the majority of new dwellings, complying with standard U values, will fall below 60, the over 60 rating values are the relevant ones.

    The target U value method for dwellings is used to meet the requirement for conservation of fuel and power by relating a calculated average U value to a target U value, which it should not exceed. The average U value is the ratio of:

    total rate of heat loss per degree total external surface area
    The target U value is:
    total floor area x 0.57 + 0.36 for dwellings with SAP ratings total area of exposed elements 60 or less, and
    total floor area x 0.64 + 0.40 for dwellings with SAP ratings total area of exposed elements of more than 60
    The total area of exposed floors, windows, doors, walls and roof and the standard U values in the elemental method are used to calculate the heat loss per degree. Where the calculated average U value exceeds the target U value it is necessary to improve the thermal resistance of walls, windows or roof either separately or together so that the average U value does not exceed the target U value. As an option, account may be taken of solar heat gains other than those allowed for in the equation on which the method is based. This method is based on the assumption of a boiler with an efficiency of at least 72%. Where a boiler with an efficiency of 85% is used the target U value may be increased by 10%. The use of the elemental or target U value methods of showing compliance does not give exemption from the requirement to give notice of an SAP rating.

    The energy rating method is a calculation based on SAP which allows the use of any valid conservation measures. The calculation takes account of ventilation rate, fabric losses, water heating requirements and internal and solar heat gains.

    The requirement for conservation of fuel and power will be met if the SAP energy rating for the dwelling, or each dwelling in a block of flats or converted building, is related to the floor area of the dwelling and ranges from 80 for dwellings with a floor area of 80 m2 or less to 85 for dwellings with a floor area of more than 120 m2.

    As there is a requirement to complete the SAP worksheet to determine an SAP rating, which has to be notified to the local authority, whichever method of showing compliance is used the most practical and economic method of approach is to use the standard U values for SAP ratings over 60 set out in the elemental method in the initial stages of design, and then to complete the SAP worksheet at a later stage and make adjustments to the envelope insulation, windows and boiler efficiency as is thought sensible to achieve a high SAP rating.
    For a description of the requirements for conservation of fuel and power for all buildings other than dwellings see Volume 4.


    The sensation of comfort is highly subjective and depends on the age,
    activity and to a large extent on the expectations of the subject. The young ‘feel’ cold less than the old and someone engaged in heavy manual work has less need of heating than another engaged in sedentary work. It is possible to provide conditions of thermal comfort that suit the general expectations of those living or working in a building. None the less, some may ‘feel’ cold and others ‘feel’ hot. For comfort and good health in buildings it is necessary to provide means of ventilation through air changes through windows or ventilators, that can be controlled, depending on wind speed and direction and outside air temperature, to avoid the sensation of’stuffiness’ or cold associated with too infrequent or too frequent air changes respectively. As with heating, the sensation of stuffiness is highly subjective.

    Air changes

    For general guidance a number of air changes per hour is recom-
    mended, depending on the activity common to rooms or spaces. One air change each hour for dwellings and three for kitchens and sanitary accommodation is recommended. The more frequent air changes for kitchen and sanitary accommodation is recommended to minimise condensation of moisture-laden, warm air on cold internal surfaces in those rooms.


    Condensation is the effect of moisture from air collecting on a surface
    colder than the air, for example in a bathroom or kitchen where water from warm moisture-laden air condenses on to the cold surfaces of walls and glass. To minimise condensation, ventilation of the room to exchange moisture-laden air with drier outside air and good insulation of the inner face of the wall are required.

    A consequence of the need for internal air change in buildings is that the heat source must be capable of warming the incoming air to maintain conditions of thermal comfort, and the more frequent the air change the greater the heat input needed. The major source of heat loss through walls is by window glass which is highly conductive to heat transfer. This heat loss can be reduced to some small extent by the use of double glazing. Most of the suppliers of double glazed windows provide one of the very effective air seals around all of the opening parts of their windows. These air seals are very effective in excluding the draughts of cold air that otherwise would penetrate the necessary gaps around opening windows and so serve to a large extent to reduce the heat loss associated with opening windows to an extent that they may reduce air changes to an uncomfortable level.

    There is a fine balance between the need for air change and the expectations of thermal comfort that receives too little consideration in the design of windows.

  • Walls Fire safety

    Fires in buildings generally start from a small source of ignition, the
    ‘outbreak of fire’, which leads to the ‘spread of fire’ followed by a steady state during which all combustible material burns steadily up to the final ‘decay stage’. It is in the early stages of a fire that there is most danger to the occupants of buildings from smoke and noxious fumes. The Building Regulations set standards for means of escape, limitation of spread of fire and containment of fire.

    Fire safety regulations are concerned to assure a reasonable standard of safety in case of fire. The application of the regulations, as set out in the practical guidance given in Approved Document B, is directed to the safe escape of people from buildings in case of fire rather than the protection of the building and its contents.

    The requirements of Part B of Schedule 1 to the Building Regulations are concerned to:

    (1) provide adequate means of escape
    (2) limit internal fire spread (linings)
    (3) limit internal fire spread (structure)
    (4) limit external fire spread
    (5) provide access and facilities for the fire services

    Means of escape

    The requirements for means of escape from one and two storey houses are that each habitable room either opens directly on to a hallway or stair leading to the entrance, or that it has a window or door through which escape could be made and that means are provided for giving early warning in the case of fire. With increased height and size, where floors are more than 4.5 m above ground, it is necessary to protect internal stairways or provide alternative means of escape. Where windows and doors may be used as a means of escape their minimum size and the minimum and maximum height of window cills are defined.

    Smoke alarms

    To ensure the minimum level of safety it is recommended that all new
    houses should be fitted with self-contained smoke alarms permanently wired to a separately fused circuit at the distribution board. Battery-operated alarms are not acceptable. Where more than one smoke alarm is fitted they should be interconnected so that the detection of smoke by any one unit operates in all of them.

    Internal fire spread (linings)

    Fire may spread within a building over the surface of materials that encourage spread of flame across their surfaces, when subject to intense radiant heat, and those which give off appreciable heat when burning.
    In Approved Document B is a classification of the performance of linings relative to surface spread of flame over wall and ceiling linings and limitations in the use of thermoplastic materials used in rooflights and lighting diffusers.

    Internal fire spread (Structure)

    The premature failure of the structural stability of a building during
    fires is restricted by specifying a minimum period of fire resistance for the elements of the structure. An element of structure is defined as part of a structural frame, a loadbearing wall and a floor. The requirements are that the elements should resist collapse for a minimum period of time in which the occupants may escape in the event of fire. Periods of fire resistance vary from 30 minutes for dwelling houses with a top floor not more than 5 m above ground, to 120 minutes for an industrial building, without sprinklers, whose top floor is not more than 30 m above ground.
    For information on the requirements for buildings other than dwellings, concerning purpose groups, compartments, concealed spaces, external fire spread and access for the Fire Services.

  • Walls Durability and freedom from maintenance

    The durability of a wall is indicated by the frequency and extent of the
    work necessary to maintain minimum functional requirements and an
    acceptable appearance. Where there are agreed minimum functional requirements such as exclusion of rain and thermal properties, the durability of walls may be compared through the cost of maintenance over a number of years. Standards of acceptable appearance may vary widely from person to person, particularly with unfamiliar wall surface materials such as glass and plastic coated sheeting, so that it is difficult to establish even broadly-based comparative standards of acceptable appearance. With the traditional wall materials there is a generally accepted view that a wall built of sound, well burned bricks or wisely chosen stone ‘looks good’ so that there is to a considerable extent a consensus of acceptable appearance for the traditional walling materials.

    A wall built with sound, well burned bricks laid in a mortar of roughly the same density as the bricks and designed with due regard to the exposure of the wall to driving rain, and with sensible provisions of dpcs to walls around openings and to parapets and chimneys, should be durable for the anticipated life of the majority of buildings and require little if any maintenance and repair. In time, these materials exposed to wind and rain will slowly change colour. This imperceptible change will take place over many years and is described as weathering, that is a change of colour due to exposure to weather. It is generally accepted that this change enhances the appearance of brick and stone walls.

    Walls built of brick laid in lime mortar may in time need repointing, to protect the mortar joints and maintain resistance to rain penetration and to improve the appearance of the wall.

  • Walls Resistance to weather and ground moisture

    A requirement of the Building Regulations is that walls should adequately resist the passage of moisture to the inside of the building. Moisture includes water vapour and liquid water. Moisture may penetrate a wall by absorption of water from the ground that is in contact with foundation walls or through rain falling on the wall.

    To prevent water, which is absorbed from the ground by foundation walls, rising in a wall to a level where it might affect the inside of a building it is necessary to form a continuous, horizontal layer of some impermeable material in the wall. This impermeable layer, the damp-proof course, is built in, some 150 mm above ground level, to all foundation walls in contact with the ground and is joined to the damp-proof membrane in solid ground floors as described and illustrated in Chapter 1.

    The ability of a wall to resist the passage of water to its inside face depends on its exposure to wind driven rain and the construction of the wall. The exposure of a wall is determined by its location and the extent to which it is protected by surrounding higher ground, or sheltered by surrounding buildings or trees, from rain driven by the prevailing winds. In Great Britain the prevailing, warm westerly winds from the Atlantic Ocean cause more severe exposure to driving rain along the west coast of the country than do the cooler easterly winds on the east coast.

    British Standard 5628: Part 3 defines five categories of exposure as: very severe; moderate/severe; sheltered/moderate; sheltered; and very sheltered. A map of Great Britain, published by the Building Research Establishment, shows contours of the variations of exposure across the country. The contour lines, indicating the areas of the categories of exposure, are determined from an analysis of the most severe likely spells of wind driven rain, occurring on average every 3 years, plotted on a 10 km grid. The analysis is based on the ‘worst case’ for each geographical area, where a wall faces open country and the prevailing wind, such as a gable end wall on the edge of a suburban site facing the prevailing wind or a wall of a tall building on an urban site rising above the surrounding buildings and facing the prevailing wind.

    Where a wall is sheltered from the prevailing winds by adjacent high ground or surrounding buildings or trees the exposure can be reduced by one category in sheltered areas of the country and two in very severe exposure areas of the country. The small-scale and large-scale maps showing categories of exposure to driving rain provide an overall picture of the likely severity of exposure over the country. To estimate the likely severity of exposure to driving rain, of the walls of a building on a particular site, it is wise to take account of the categories of exposure shown on the maps, make due allowance for the overlap of categories around contour lines and obtain local knowledge of conditions from adjacent buildings and make allowance for shelter from high ground, trees and surrounding buildings.

    The behaviour of a wall in excluding wind and rain will depend on the nature of the materials used in the construction of the wall and how they are put together. A wall of facing bricks laid in mortar will absorb an appreciable amount of the rain driven on to it so that the wall must be designed so that the rain is not absorbed to the inside face of the wall. This may be effected by making the wall of sufficient thickness, by applying an external facing of say rendering or slate hanging, or by building the wall as a cavity wall of two skins or leaves with a separating cavity.

    A curtain wall of glass (see Volume 4) on the other hand will not absorb water through the impermeable sheets of glass so that driving rain will pour down the face of the glass and penetrate the joints between the sheets of glass and the supporting frame of metal or wood, so that close attention has to be made to the design of these joints that at once have to be sufficiently resilient to accommodate thermal movement and at the same time compact enough to exclude wind and rain.

    It is generally accepted practice today to construct walls of brick, stone or blocks as a cavity wall with an outer and inner leaf or skin separated by a cavity of at least 50 mm. The outer leaf will either be sufficiently thick to exclude rain or be protected by an outer skin of rendering or cladding of slate or tile and the inner leaf will be constructed of brick or block to support the weight of floors and roofs with either the inner leaf providing insulation against transfer of heat or the cavity filled with some thermal insulating material.

  • Walls Strength and stability


    The strength of the materials used in wall construction is determined
    by the strength of a material in resisting compressive and tensile stress and the way in which the materials are put together. The usual
    method of determining the compressive and tensile strength of a material is to subject samples of the material to tests to assess the ultimate compressive and tensile stress at which the material fails in compression and in tension. From these tests the safe working strengths of materials in compression and in tension are set. The safe working strength of a material is considerably less than the ultimate strength, to provide a safety factor against variations in the strength of materials and their behaviour under stress. The characteristic working strengths of materials, to an extent, determine their use in the construction of buildings.
    The traditional building materials timber, brick and stone have been in use since man first built permanent settlements, because of the ready availability of these natural materials and their particular strength characteristics. The moderate compressive and tensile strength of timber members has long been used to construct a frame of walls, floors and roofs for houses.

    The compressive strength of well burned brick combined with the durability, fire resistance and appearance of the material commends it as a walling material for the more permanent buildings.
    The sense of solidity and permanence and compressive strength of sound building stone made it the traditional walling material for many larger buildings.

    Steel and concrete, which have been used in building since the Industrial Revolution, are used principally for their very considerable strength as the structural frame members of large buildings where the compressive strength of concrete, separately or in combination with steel, is used for both columns and beams.

    In the majority of small buildings, such as houses, the compressive strength of brick and stone is rarely fully utilised because the functional requirements of stability and exclusion of weather dictate a thickness of wall in excess of that required for strength alone. To support the very modest loads on the walls of small buildings the thinnest brick or stone wall would be quite adequate.


    The stability of a wall may be affected by foundation movement (see
    Chapter 1), eccentric loads, lateral forces (wind) and expansion due to temperature and moisture changes. Eccentric loads, that is those not acting on the centre of the thickness of the wall, such as from floors and roofs, and lateral forces, such as wind, tend to deform and overturn walls. The greater the eccentricity of the loads and the greater the lateral forces, the greater the tendency of a wall to deform, bow out of the vertical and lose stability. To prevent loss of stability, due to deformation under loads, building regulations and structural design calculations set limits to the height or thickness ratios (slenderness ratios) to provide reasonable stiffness against loss of stability due to deformation under load.

    To provide stiffness against deformation under load, lateral, that is horizontal, restraint is provided by walls and roofs tied to the wall for stiffening up the height of the wall and by intersecting walls and piers that are bonded or tied to the wall as stiffening against deformation along the length of walls.
    Irregular profile walls have greater stiffness against deformation than straight walls because of the buttressing effect of the angle of the zigzag, chevron, offset or serpentine profile of the walls, illustrated in Fig. 44. The more pronounced the chevron, zigzag, offset or serpentine of the wall, the stiffer it will be.
    Similarly the diaphragm and fin walls, described in Volume 3, are stiffened against overturning and loss of stability by the cross ribs or diaphragms built across the wide cavity to diaphragm walls and the fins or piers that are built and bonded to straight walls in the fin wall construction.

  • Walls functional requirements

    The function of a wall is to enclose and protect a building or to divide space within a building.
    To provide a check that a particular wall construction satisfies a range of functional requirements it is convenient to adopt a list of specific requirements. The commonly accepted requirements of a wall are:

    Walls Strength and stability
    Walls Resistance to weather and ground moisture
    Walls Durability and freedom from maintenance
    Walls Fire safety
    Walls Resistance to the passage of heat
    Walls Resistance to airborne and impact sound Security

  • Oversite concrete

    When Portland cement was first continuously produced, towards the end of the nineteenth century, it became practical to cover the site of buildings with a layer of concrete as a solid level base for floors and as a barrier to rising damp. From the early part of the twentieth century it became accepted practice to cover the site of buildings with a layer of concrete some 100 mm thick, the concrete oversite or oversite concrete. At the time, many ground floors of houses were formed as raised timber floors on oversite concrete with the space below the floor ventilated against stagnant damp air.

    With the shortage of timber that followed the Second World War, the raised timber ground floor was abandoned and the majority of ground floors were formed as solid, ground supported floors with the floor finish laid on the concrete oversite. At the time it was accepted practice to form a continuous horizontal damp-proof course, some 150 mm above ground level, in all walls with foundations in the ground.

    With the removal of vegetable top soil the level of the soil inside the building would be from 100 to 300 mm below the level of the ground outside. If a layer of concrete were then laid oversite its finished level would be up to 200 mm below outside ground level and up to 350 mm below the horizontal dpc in walls. There would then be considerable likelihood of moisture rising through the foundation walls, to make the inside walls below the dpc damp, as illustrated in Fig. 24.

    It would, of course, be possible to make the concrete oversite up to 450 mm thick so that its top surface was level with the dpc and so prevent damp rising into the building. But this would be unnecessarily expensive. Instead, a layer of what is known as hardcore is spread oversite, of sufficient thickness to raise the level of the top of the concrete oversite to that of the dpc in walls. The purpose of the hardcore is primarily to raise the level of the concrete oversite for solid, ground supported floors.
    The layer of concrete oversite will serve as a reasonably effective barrier to damp rising from the ground by absorbing some moisture from below. The moisture retained in the concrete will tend to make solid floor finishes cold underfoot and may adversely affect timber floor finishes. During the second half of the twentieth century it became accepted practice to form a waterproof membrane under, in or over the oversite concrete as a barrier to rising damp, against the cold underfoot feel of solid floors and to protect floor finishes. Having accepted the use of a damp-proof membrane it was then logical to unite this barrier to damp, to the damp-proof} course in walls, by forming them at the same level or by running a vertical dpc up from the lower membrane to unite with the dpc in walls.

    Even with the damp-proof membrane there is some appreciable transfer of heat from heated buildings through the concrete and hardcore to the cold ground below. In Approved Document L to the Building Regulations is the inclusion of provision for insulation to ground floors for the conservation of fuel and power. The requirement can be met by a layer of insulating material under the site concrete, under a floor screed or under boarded or sheet floor finishes to provide a maximum U value of 0.45 W/m2K for the floor.

    The requirement to the Building Regulations for the resistance of the passage of moisture to the inside of the building through floors is met if the ground is covered with dense concrete laid on a hardcore bed and a damp-proof membrane. The concrete should be at least 100 mm thick and composed of 50 kg of cement to not more than 0.11 m3 of fine aggregate and 0.16 m3 of coarse aggregate of BS 5328 mix ST2. The hardcore bed should be of broken brick or similar inert material, free from materials including water soluble sulphates in quantities which could damage the concrete. A damp-proof membrane, above or below the concrete, should ideally be continuous with the dpc in the walls.

    It is practice on building sites to first build external and internal load bearing walls from the concrete foundation up to the level of the dpc, above ground, in walls. The hardcore bed and the oversite concrete are then spread and levelled within the external walls.

    If the hardcore is spread over the area of the ground floor and into excavations for foundations and soft pockets of ground that have been removed and the hardcore is thoroughly consolidated by ramming, there should be very little consolidation settlement of the concrete ground supported floor slab inside walls. Where a floor slab has suffered settlement cracking, it has been due to an inadequate hardcore bed, poor filling of excavation for trenches or ground movement due to moisture changes. It has been suggested that the floor slab be cast into walls for edge support. This dubious practice, which required edge formwork support of slabs at cavities, will have the effect of promoting cracking of the slab, that may be caused by any slight consolidation settlement. Where appreciable settlement is anticipated it is best to reinforce the slab and build it into walls as a suspended reinforced concrete slab.