Cracks in your property

Cracks in your property

Cracks in your property

Depending on where you live a colloquial term for “fun, entertainment and conversation” is ‘crack’. It often turns up in writing from Northern England and Scotland such as Walter Scott and Robbie Burns. I know someone will be saying it should be ‘craic’ but this gaelicised spelling that has been absorbed into everyday use gained popularity in the 1960’s following its use in an advertisement in the Irish newspaper Connacht Sentinel; “ceol agus craic”, you may have seen this outside many ‘Irish’ pubs; it means “music and fun”.​

But I have digressed, back to cracks. Whilst you may not think of cracks as being fun and entertaining, I’m going to go out on a limb here, they certainly can be interesting.

One thing that cannot be disputed is that cracks in our homes or properties are a cause of concern; structures move for a variety of reasons.

A common cause of cracking is thermal movements. Cracking due to thermal movements are often of uniform width and are vertical. However, there are occasions when the normal rules are not followed; as shown in the photograph below where the shadow from the rest of the property contributed to different thermal expansion and cracking in this masonry wall. It is now common practice to include movement joints in new masonry structures to accommodate thermal movement so cracking due to thermal movement has reduced.


Often we see cracks over windows to doors, but as we like to call them structural openings. Historically window and door frames were installed into buildings as the masonry progressed and brick arch lintels or concrete lintels in post war housing were used over the frame to provide additional support. In these cases the window frames also supported the masonry above. It was not until recently that lintels were used over windows to fully support the masonry over and allow windows to be inserted when the masonry works were completed. This allows for easy window replacement also. The cracking we see over windows and doors usually is in older properties when windows have been replaced. Unfortunately, not all window installers in the past checked that the existing lintels were adequate and remedial works are then required.

The most worrying of all cracking is that caused by foundation movement. Whilst all buildings settle following the initial construction, properties can suffer foundation movement for a number of reasons:

  • Leaking water pipes or drains
  • Influence of trees
  • Weak ground and inadequate foundations

Stepped diagonal cracking is typical of foundation movement, the width, pattern and position of the cracks allow the engineer to determine the likely cause of cracking. Sometimes, further investigation to prove ground conditions are required. Depending upon the foundation types and the cause of failure other cracks can also appear such as horizontal or vertical cracks.

Decay of materials in properties can also lead to cracking and if left unchecked over a long period of time can lead to failure.

The level of damage in the images below was caused by decay to floor joists that the walls were built off.

If you are concerned about any cracks in your property, please do not hesitate to contact one of our offices. As you can see we love having the craic about cracks.

Civil engineering, past, present and future

Civil engineering, past, present and future

Civil engineering, past, present and future

200 years ago in a London coffee shop, a small group of young engineers got together and founded the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), the world’s first professional engineering body.

Just to put that into context, in the same year (1818) Mary Shelley’s masterpiece Frankenstein was published, penned by candlelight on a stormy night, in a Gothic mansion on the shores of Lake Geneva. It was written by candlelight of course, because the light bulb would not be invented for another 62 years, although Michael Farriday was only three years away from inventing the first ever electric motor. Charles Darwin had not set sail on the Beagle, Napoleon was still settling into his new home in exile on St Helena and women in Britain still had one hundred years to wait for the right to vote.

The horse was still the dominant way to travel the often treacherous roads of the time, but in this year, the first human-engineered rival to the horse was proudly announced to the world. German aristocrat Baron Karl von Drais unveiled the first ever bicycle, his “laufmaschine” (running machine), with its fiercely uncomfortable-looking wooden seat. The car, however, would not be invented for another 87 years. The London skyline was vastly different too, no Tower Bridge (not for another 18 years), no Trafalgar Square, and no Natural History Museum.


Civil engineering has been mapping and shaping human existence this way since we abandoned a nomadic lifestyle and sought shelter, around 10,000 years ago. Many early civilisations sprouted up from countries with very little rain fall, such as Ancient Egypt, Pakistan and Mesopatamia (Ancient Iraq), driving the need to create farming and irrigation systems. Some of these utterly stunning feats of engineering have survived the test of time and still inspire today. The term civil engineer, however, is a relatively modern one. As ICE was being founded most engineers were still found in the military, and so the profession of civil engineer was introduced to differentiate and incorporated all things civilian.


In around a month’s time, thousands of young men and women (written in that order because 78% of them are men…) around the UK will be embarking on civil engineering degrees, paving the way for an exciting, rewarding career that will change not only their lives, but those of many more, perhaps across the globe.

If you are one of those setting out on that journey, then once the fog of  Freshers’ Week has subsided and the thrill of independent living begins to wear off as the dirty laundry piles up, the next big thing to put at the top of your job list is to join ICE as a Student Member. It is completely free to join and will give you access to an array of free study resources, lot’s of career and other advice, invaluable industry contacts and networking opportunities and the latest news and industry updates. It even has free online access to recorded guest lectures, covering a wide range of subjects.

For example, did you ever wonder how the first colonists on Mars will grow their own food or dispose of their human waste? HINT: two birds, one stone…Or, perhaps you are curious how you would go about stabilizing a mecury filled German U boat wreckJoin here for free and watch now.


Many people say that there is no such thing as a “job for life” any more, but the facts are that engineering is, and will always be, just that. This is not just because engineering is in an engineer’s bones, but because we will always need engineers, in just about every sector of our lives. In fact, it has recently been estimated that 27% of all enterprises in the UK are now engineering-related.

According to a 2018 report by Engineering UK, engineering employs 5.6 million people in the UK alone, which is an increase of 5.1% over the last five years. They also calculate that every time a new job is created in engineering, 1.74 jobs are created elsewhere and that 203,000 new engineers are needed every year to fill the roles that arise as new industries and technologies emerge that increase the demand for engineering skills.

The report reached the conclusion that schools need to improve their outreach connections within industry so that students get hands-on experience of engineering and get to see what engineers actually do and what amazing, and diverse careers they can have. It also suggests that more female role models might help recruit girls into STEM subjects, as female recruitment is still way too low.

Here are two female engineering facts that may surprise you:

  • The chief engineer on the Brooklyn Bridge was a woman, Emily Warren Roebling.
  • 1930’s pin-up girl and Hollywood star Hedy Lamarr was also a brilliant communications engineer. She came up with switching from frequency to frequency in split-second intervals, (frequency hopping) a game-changing technology that is now also used in missile control.

The future is bright, filled with invention, and we look forward to welcoming the next generation of brilliant (and hopefully diverse) minds into the industry.

3D Printing: Taking DIY engineering to the extreme…

3D Printing: Taking DIY engineering to the extreme…

3D Printing: Taking DIY engineering to the extreme…

3D printing (additive manufacturing) has come a long way since its very humble beginnings in 1983, when Charles Hull printed the very first 3D object, a simple eye wash cup.

Hull’s first ever 3D printer (he called it stereolithography or SLA printing) worked by moving an ultraviolet laser beam over the surface of a liquid photopolymer. Simply put, where the beam hits the exposed polymer, it instantly turns from a liquid to a solid plastic. A sunken platform lowers itself into the pool of liquid as each layer is formed to make room for the next, until the finished cup emerges. Some 3D printers still use this technique today, but there are also several other technologies, all of which are constantly being fine tuned. The Hulls still own the eye wash cup (Mrs Hull is eventually donating it to the Smithsonian apparently).

Whilst similar photopolymer technology was around at the time, what was so remarkable about SLA is that it allows engineers and designers to create 3D models of just about anything that they can imagine using digital data files, which they then upload to a printer to produce physical, 3D objects, one layer at a time.


Since 1983, 3D printing has impacted society in ways that Mr Hull could have only dreamt of. In 2016, a team of pioneering biochemists and medics at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine began printing tissues, bone and organs using 3D printing, that when transplanted into animals, functioned perfectly. They printed the replacement body parts using actual living cells, taken from the patients and cultured in the lab, to ensure that the body’s immune system did not reject them. Unbelievably, in their early investigations they actually used an inkjet printer, loading the ink wells with the living cells and printing with them.

3D printing is also being used to make bespoke prosthetic limbs around the world, more quickly, more cheaply and that fit better than ever before. In 2001 a British organisation called e-NABLE was established that hosts a network of volunteers from all over the world who are using their own 3D printers to create free 3D printed hands and arms for those in need, including many, many children and refugees from conflict zones. The limbs for children come in bright colours and funky designs.


The cost of 3D printers has plummeted over the last five years, a quick look online will show that you can actually pick up something small and basic for under £300 now.

As the cost, efficiency and usability of 3D printers has improved over the last 30 years, the use of 3D printing and our attitudes towards it have begun to shift. No longer is it the domain of well funded MIT research groups and tech buffs, additive manufacturing is now a tool of the many. Small businesses and hobbyists alike are using 3D printing to make everything from musical instruments, household and kitchen equipment, toys, jewellery, accessories and get this, even dentures! High fashion is also beginning to embrace the technology to create, not just quirky, but also more sustainable clothing.

Imagine the depth of innovation and technological leaps that tomorrow’s engineers will be capable of using 3D printing?

Primary and secondary schools around the world are now beginning to tap into this technology and are using it in classrooms to fire up learners’ enthusiasm and inventiveness. Initiatives such as The Create Education Project is helping schools across the UK to achieve this by providing access to printers, free teaching resources, training, software and design ideas. They even offer a free 3D printer loan scheme.

We have talked in other blog posts about the importance of making STEM education in schools more appealing and practical in the hope of inspiring future engineers. What could be better then than students being able to design, print out and assemble anything from a robot submarine to a working power drill?

In May 2018, we got a glimpse of how buildings may develop using 3D printing when University California Berkeley Associate Professor of Architecture Ronald Rael unveiled his ‘Cabin of Curiosities’, a fully weather-proof and livable mini-house made almost entirely from 3D printed materials. He and his students used multiple printers to create the constituent parts and also up-cycled various other materials including grape skins and sawdust into building materials. Here is a video tour of this unique and rather beautiful little building.

One of the latest advancements in 3D printing, which is of profound importance to engineering is that the printing medium is no longer limited to plastics. Printers now print with metals, glass, paper and wood.

The sky really is the limit. If additive manufacturing could produce food too, well wouldn’t that be a game-changer…

It’s getting hot in here! Is nuclear power the key to slashing greenhouse emissions?

It’s getting hot in here! Is nuclear power the key to slashing greenhouse emissions?

It’s getting hot in here! Is nuclear power the key to slashing greenhouse emissions?

British people love to talk about the weather, we are renowned for it and probably always will be. However, anyone can be forgiven for obsessing about the dramatic weather of 2018, a year that saw both the hottest summer ever recorded (parts of Britain consistently topped 30C) and the wettest October ever recorded.

In fact, around the world, 2018 saw unprecedented levels of extreme and catastrophic weather events including heat-waves, floods, hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes and even a super typhoon. Unsurprisingly, these shocking events have prompted new debate about human-induced climate change and what steps we should be taking to combat it.

When hippos swam in the Norfolk broads…

The last time the Earth was as hot as it is now was around 130,000 years ago, during the Eemian Period, when sea levels were 6 meters higher than they are now and monkeys, rhinos and hippos roamed the British countryside! For temperatures even hotter than today, you have to go back even further, to the Miocene (around 23 to 5.3 million years ago), and in particular the Miocene-Climate Optimum (11-17 million years ago), when global average temperatures were 2 to 4˚C warmer than today, sea level was around 20 meters higher and tropical vegetation covered the UK. Somewhat alarmingly, during that period CO2 values were similar to today’s values (350-400ppm).

While there are some factors that change the Earth’s climate that we can not do anything about, such as natural fluctuations in the intensity of the sun, or changes in the orientation of the Earth’s axis in rotation, it is becoming ever clearer that humans need to find alternative ways to manage greenhouse gas emissions.

Clean, green and getting keener

It follows then, that the way we generate and use energy has to change in order to meet climate change goals. Specifically, if we want to stop producing excess carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas) we need to stop burning carbon. In 2017, just under 30% of all electricity generated in the UK was done so by harnessing the renewable power of the natural world via hydro-electrics, geothermal, landfill gas, wind and solar. Almost half of that figure (15%) was wind power alone. Interestingly, it has recently been shown that off shore wind farms also lesson the devastating effects of hurricanes. A further 21% was generated using nuclear power, which is not classed as a renewable because it uses mined Uranium (which is finite) as fuel (because is has large atoms that are easily split, yielding huge amounts of energy). However, nuclear power is still considered a clean, efficient and importantly, de-carbonised, way of generating electricity.

Small but perfectly formed

Over the last decade, advances in nuclear technology have been phenomenal, focussing on lower running costs, enhanced safety, smaller size and improved accessibility, facilitating the expansion of nuclear power generation into a range of industries. Small modular reactors (SMRs) for example, are, as the name, suggests both small and modular, meaning that they can be constructed entirely within the confines and controlled environment of a factory and quality controlled as such. They can also be installed on an economy of scale basis, in a modular series, and importantly, they can be de-commissioned in the same manner. They can therefore be used on smaller sites (including brownfield sites), servicing military bases, isolated communities and developing countries. They can also be sited sub-grade (underground or underwater) to make them less vulnerable to natural or man-made hazards such as extreme weather or terrorism threats.

The latest SMRs now also have the capability to be operated off-grid, which means that they can power an entirely independent micro-grid that can run for several years without outside support, handy following a natural disaster.

New generation nuclear reactors are also being developed that will run at high enough temperatures to provide the heat necessary for water desalination and hydrogen generation, which could have a major impact on eradicating fossil fuel burning for transportation.

Thomas Consulting have provided civil and structural engineering services to the nuclear industry for over 16 years, and over that time we have been part of many exciting and ingenious leaps in innovation within the industry. Are you ready for this next generation of nuclear reactors? We are!