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Introduction to common structural issues in Spanish properties

1. Spain is a large country with many different climatic, geological, natural and cultural characteristics. Building construction must take those into account. Survey Spain’s observations made here largely refer to constructions found in the Mediterranean coastal and inland areas.

2. Survey Spain has been inspecting properties for buyer and owners over the last 20 years, and by far the most common problems found are associated with damp – rising up, coming down or penetrating through. These can all have consequences for the decorative, technical and structural ‘health’ of a building.

About the most common structural issues in Spanish properties

3. What are the most common structural issues found in Spanish properties?
3.1. Structural failure in modern Spanish properties in our experience is very uncommon. Since 2001, all building construction must have a 10-year decennial structural insurance, which basically covers all the reinforced concrete elements of a building. The insurers appoint specialists to supervise the construction of these elements therefore ensuring that all is done correctly.
3.2. However, if a building is being constructed by and for occupation by the owner, they can elect not to have that insurance policy thus making a saving in cost. This is one of the reasons why developers are keen to sell individual sites to villa purchasers thereby giving the opportunity to reduce the cost of the property. The absence of the insurance should be stated in the legal title of the property.
3.3. Survey Spain is of the opinion that this is a false economy for two reasons.
3.3.1. The construction is not supervised and therefore the building contractor has the opportunity to save on their costs by taking shortcuts making the construction less secure.
3.3.2. If there is no decennial insurance, the building cannot be sold to another party for 10 years unless that party agrees to knowingly accept the absence of that insurance.
3.4. Even with appropriate insurance it must be borne in mind that the occupier of a faulty building will suffer the inconveniences of the faults until they are repaired. Securing payment from insurance companies inevitably involves delay and disappointment, so that it’s much better to ensure that’s a building is being or has been constructed correctly prior to its purchase.
4. How does the age of a property influence the likelihood of structural issues?
4.1. Buildings constructed prior to 2001 do not have the reassurance of the structural elements having been supervised by an independent specialist.
4.2. Building materials inevitably deteriorate over time and therefore an older building is more likely to have problems.
4.3. Design and material defects will become apparent over time, especially if there has not been regular or specialist maintenance.

Understanding foundational problems in a property

5. What are the signs of foundational problems in a property?
5.1. The principal indication is cracking.
5.1.1. However, it should be noted that not all cracks or fissures in a building are an indication of a foundation structural problem.
5.1.2. Note that the definition of a ‘crack’ is one that goes completely through the structure and is obvious on both sides, whilst a ‘fissure’ is a break of the surface element that does not penetrate through the structure.
6. How do soil types in Spain affect the structural integrity of buildings?
6.1. Different subsoils require different structural designs. If the foundations and structure of the building have not taken those into account, there can be problems.
6.2. Again, since the turn of the century, geological surveys have been a legal requirement and, in any case, foundations cannot be designed correctly without that knowledge.
6.3. Some areas are notorious for having subsoils that change with their support on a seasonal basis according to their moisture level. A house situated on this type of subsoil, with inappropriate foundations, was once described to Survey Spain as being a “dancing house” due to cracking opening and closing on a seasonal basis..
6.4. If the movement is minor, any cracking that appears can be filled with flexible material to prevent water penetration and the movement can be accepted. However, more major movement will require the underpinning of the structure. Survey Spain has seen instances where relatively modern houses have had to be demolished due to these problems.
7. Are there common issues related to using certain construction materials in Spain?
7.1. There has been much recent publicity regarding defects of structural beams due to short-term manufacturing techniques. These are part of a long list of innovations that have shown defects over time. Unfortunately, not all these problems are known until the defects occur and many cannot be visually identified without in-depth structural surveys involving taking core samples and digging down and checking foundations.
7.2. Such investigations are not practical for the average house purchaser, where the seller will not be prepared to have the decoration of their house inevitably damaged during the investigation works, nor delay the sale while the works are carried out. All this where there may be pressure from other parties interested in the building who are not being equally cautious.
7.3. The construction of any building involves thousands of different elements, made of different materials and used with different techniques. All of these must be correct to make the perfect building.

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