Brick effloresence & mortar loss & spalling (C) D Friedman Brick Foundation & Brick Wall Defects, Failures, Collapses

  • BRICK FOUNDATIONS & WALLS - CONTENTS: This article series on brick foundation walls, brick structural walls & brick veneer walls explains how to recognize & diagnose & repair brick foundation & brick wall defects & failures. 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
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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.

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.

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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  (C) D Friedman Lintel rust in brick wall (C) D Friedman Spalling bricks (C) D Friedman Tuckpointing mismatched mortar brick wall  (C) Daniel Friedman

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 (C) D Friedman

Also see this close companion article: FOUNDATION CRACK DICTIONARY which discusses in detail the process of evaluating foundation cracks and signs of foundation damage by examining the crack size, shape, pattern, and location.


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.



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