Brick effloresence & mortar loss & spalling © D Friedman at Brick Foundation & Brick Wall Defects, Failures, Collapses

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Brick foundation and wall problems:

This article explains how to recognize, diagnose, & repair brick foundation & brick wall defects & failures such as cracks, spalling, movement, bulging, leaks, damage due to impact, settlement, frost or water damage, and other problems.

We describe types of brick foundation or wall cracks, crack patterns, differences in the meaning of cracks in different brick wall types (veneer vs. structural or solid brick walls), and where there is brick wall damage, the role of site conditions, building history, and other causes of building movement and damage.

We discuss the following: Examples & list of structural & other failures in brick walls & foundations. Damage caused to brick structures due to thermal expansion of long brick walls lacking expansion joints. Damage to brick veneer walls - cracks, bulges, loose brick.

A catalog of types of brick foundation and brick wall damage and defects. Types of foundation damage organized by foundation materials. Photographs of brick wall damage patterns and types.

This information helps in recognizing foundation defects and to help the building owner or inspector separate cosmetic or low-risk conditions from those likely to be important and potentially costly to repair.

We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.

How to Recognize & Diagnose Brick Foundation & Brick Wall Defects & Failures

Examples of structural & other failures in brick walls & foundations

Photograph of structural damage to a brick wall Photograph of structural damage to a brick wall

Brick wall settlement: These photographs of a Canadian brick structure (courtesy Carson Dunlop) show what is probably old and recurrent structural damage to a brick building in its above-ground walls. We suspect there has been ongoing foundation settlement below these problem areas. [Click any image to see an enlarged, detailed version]

Photograph of a collapsing brick structure, a historic stable in Saugerties NY

Further inspection and investigation were warranted.

Watch out: Any movement in a structural brick wall which risks having broken the bond courses in the wall, and any movement in a brick veneer wall which has broken or loosened the connections between the veneer to the underlying structure are potentially dangerous and risk collapsing masonry!


Structural brick wall collapse: This historic brick structure in Saugerties, NY, had already begun to collapse when we inspected its condition. The root cause of failure was water from roof leaks and at the building right side (not visible) in-slope grade and surface runoff which soaked the structure's lower foundation walls and permitted frost damage.

As bond coursed break and walls bulge, structures of this type are unstable and dangerous.

It is likely that considerable portions of this structure will need to be removed before repairs can begin. Inside we observed other evidence of collapsing foundations below other walls and we considered this building dangerous to enter.

Structural brick foundation collapse

Photograph of a collapsed brick strudctural wall

We can see that this collapsed brick wall was a structural brick foundation, and the soil piled up suggests it was done in by pressure from wet earth - a drainage or roof drainage problem may have been the root cause of this collapse.

[Photograph courtesy of Alan Carson, Carson Dunlop, Toronto]

Some common brick foundation wall or brick structural wall defects to be observed and reported include:

A List of Types of Brick Foundation & Brick Wall Damage & Defects

Schematic of a solid brick foundation wall (C) Carson Dunlop AssociatesThis sketch of the components of a preserved solid brick foundation with masonry exterior walls is courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates.

Step cracks in brick wall © D Friedman at Lintel rust in brick wall © D Friedman at Spalling bricks © D Friedman at Tuckpointing mismatched mortar brick wall © Daniel Friedman at

Improper repair mortar used during "repair work", tuckpointing bricks, or re-pointing bricks can cause surface spalling of bricks if the mason uses a too-hard mortar high-portland content mortar on soft brick in a climate exposed to freezing weather.

Our photo (left) of a brick structure near the Maine coast shows neat workmanship, but poor choice of mortar in an extensive tuckpointing job.

The high portland content means that the mortar will be not only harder, but more waterproof than the surrounding brick. Water trapped around the hard mortar can freeze leading to surface spalling of the bricks.

This is particularly likely to be seen when a wall has been tuckpointed using hard high-portland mortar where originally a soft high-lime mortar was used and where the original bricks were soft.

Structural brick wall with rain screen opening between wythes © D Friedman at

Methods of Detection of Hidden Cracks or Other Structural Damage in Concrete & Masonry Walls & Foundations

Question: Is it possible to detect cracks in brick walls or concrete walls and slabs that are hidden from view by plaster?

2017/05/29 Parth Bathia said:

Is it possible to detect cracks in brick walls or concrete walls and slabs that are hidden from view by plaster?

Like there is no through and through air pockets.

If there is a way. I want to know how is it possible to detect the same.

I get the use of thermal imaging but that is only possible for detecting temperatures on surface.

I want something that might be able to detect cracks that is hidden about 6 - 8 inches inside the walls without breaking or damaging the wall.


What an interesting question; thank you. I have some obvious and some speculative answers:

1. obvious cracks will often show up through plaster if there is ongoing movement in the masonry wall that has been plastered-over, either as plaster cracks or sometimes as a plaster bulge.

2. With thermal imaging there is a small chance you'd see a wall crack IF the crack were leaking water AND you happen to scan the wall when the leak is enough in quantity and lower temperature to show up as a temperature variation - but I'd consider such "detection" speculative.

3. There are non-destructive testing methods (such as the Echo Impact method) that can find cracks or voids in masonry structures, though in my opinion those are going to work best on placed (poured) concrete that would not be expected to have many voids.

A structural brick wall will usually have an interior wall cavity and may have many other smaller voids that can be confusing when using an echo-impact masonry void detector.

Please see CONCRETE or MASONRY DAMAGE TESTS where we provide descriptions of tools and methods that address your question and requirements.


Continue reading at BRICK STRUCTURAL WALLS LOOSE, BULGED or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Or see BRICK FOUNDATION & WALL DAMAGE FAQs - questions and answers posted originally on this page

Or see CONCRETE or MASONRY DAMAGE TESTS - non-destructive inspection & test methods for concrete, block, brick & other strucctures

Or see FOUNDATION CRACK DICTIONARY detailed process of evaluating foundation cracks and signs of foundation damage by examining the crack size, shape, pattern, and location.


Or see FOUNDATION BULGE or LEAN MEASUREMENTS explains a simple method for determining how much bulge or lean is present in a foundation or wall,

Or see FOUNDATION MOVEMENT ACTIVE vs. STATIC helps determine if the foundation movement is ongoing

Or see FOUNDATION DAMAGE SEVERITY discusses how we decide the severity of foundation damage and the urgency of further action


Or see this

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