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Loose brick veneer walls on buildings:
This article explains the difference between structural brick walls and brick (or stone) veneer walls. We explain how to recognize, diagnose, & evaluate movement and cracks in brick walls and how to distinguish between this type of brick wall bowing or bulging and cracking failures.
Our page top photo shows a brick veneer wall undergoing demolition in Newburgh, NY - providing a view of several structural features: metal corrugated strips nailed to the building sheathing to hold the veneer wall to the structure, and a projection in the masonry foundation to serve as a support for the veneer. The remains of veneer wall bottom flashing are also visible.
Types of brick wall damage including foundation cracks, crack patterns, differences in the meaning of cracks in different foundation materials, site conditions, building history, and other evidence of building movement and damage are described to assist in recognizing foundation defects and to help the inspector separate cosmetic or low-risk conditions from those likely to be important and potentially costly to repair.
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Damage to brick veneer walls - cracks, bulges, loose brick. Cracks & Movement in Loose Brick Veneer Walls - Support Issues?
A veneer wall of brick or stone is not a supporting structure. Rather it's a brick (or stone) "skin" or brick facing that is secured to the building (anchored brick veneer on wood frame construction) to give the appearance of a brick or stone building.
Definition of brick veneer:
A brick veneer is a single wythe of masonry for facing purposes, not considered as contributing to the structural value of the wall or surface.
See Masonry Design Manual in the REFERENCES section of this article.
In fact, the structure must be able to carry the weight of the veneer. We illustrate the construction properties of brick veneer walls just below, beginning at Brick Veneer Wall Construction Details
Sketches of brick veneer walls (above) and structural brick walls (below) are courtesy of Toronto Home Inspection & Education Firm Carson Dunlop Associates.
A structural brick wall is built to actually support the building floors and roof. At a minimum a structural brick wall is comprised of at least two wythes of brick bonded together by bricks placed crosswise in the wall or by metal fasteners.
The wythes of brick are separated by an air space both for wall width dimensioning and for drainage (brick masonry cavity walls).
We illustrate & give more details about the the properties of structural brick walls
at STRUCTURAL BRICK WALL CONSTRUCTION where we also discuss the dangers of loose, bulged structural brick buildings.
A "structural brick wall" is one that contributes to the support of the structure. Its multiple brick wythes give width and strength to the wall and are usually separated by an air space of about an inch to form a thicker, more dry wall.
The wythes are tied or joined together at intervals by bond courses of brick laid across the wythes to connect them, or by steel fasteners or wire mesh or other means. Some structural masonry walls may be faced with brick (a brick veneer) that actually covers masonry block, stone, or even structural clay products.
If you look at a brick masonry wall, one brick thickness of the wall is one wythe. A brick veneer wall constructed using full-dimension bricks will be one brick wythe in thickness (of the veneer). The total wall thickness will include the veneer wythe plus the thickness of the wall structure itself.
Carson Dunlop Associates sketch (wall detail above) illustrates the usual manner in which a brick veneer wall is supported at the wall bottom.
On occasion we find an "add-on" brick veneer supported by a steel lintel bolted to the building structural wall bottom. In addition to a foundation ledge or projection to carry the weight of the brick veneer wall, the veneer wall is secured to the building structure.
The traditional device used to secure brick or stone veneers to a building structure is the brick veneer tie: a corrugated metal strip shown nailed to the wall of the building undergoing demolition (below left) and in close-up, below.
The veneer wall tie sample shown below was provided by Tom Tamlyn, a residential building products manufacturer.
Our photos (Below) show two very different cases: at left we see what looks like it might be a structural brick wall - to the left of the chimney where we see "bond courses" in the brickwork. But wait! What's going on to the right of the chimney - there are no bond courses. Actually the wall at right was a brick veneer structure.
Bricks were applied over a concrete block building wall. The owner-builder, a mason himself, used "faux" bond courses in the some of the walls of his home - for aesthetic reasons.
By contrast, the brick walls in our collapsing brick structure (below right) included bond courses but could not tolerate a foundation collapse below nor frost damage from roof leaks from above.
At BRICK FOUNDATIONS & WALLS we describe the collapse of the structural brick walled building shown below.
Other brick veneer walls include thin brick systems, a lightweight brick masonry veneer that is attached to (or "hung on") commercial buildings and some residential structures, and engineered metal panel systems such as Ambrico's "Thin Brick" lightweight masonry veneer panels and Ambrico's EZ-Wall system that supports thin brick affixed to engineered panels using mastic.
Synonyms for thin brick veneers are faux brick, facing brick, veneer brick, and (not so nice), "fake brick". Thin bricks that are glued to a panel or directly to a wall are referred to as adhered veneer.
Thin brick veneer wall products including prefabricated brick panels (e.g. by Sanford Contracting) may be made from clay, gravel and cement and may include recycled building materials.
Engineered brick wall panels are systems that attach pre-fabricated brick panels to the building structure or frame. They are not part of the supporting structure.
I am making an offer to a townhouse, concerned about a small crack on the front corner of the house. This is an end unit, built in 2001, front facing south-east, the side facing west
. I am attaching some photographs. I am wondering if you can help me figure out what the problem is from what you can see in the photographs., how serious it is, and how to fix it. - B.O.
A competent onsite inspection by an expert usually finds additional clues that help accurately diagnose a problem. That said, here are some things to consider:
Our view of what's going on with this building is very limited and surely an onsite inspection will provide other clues, but in your photo (above) we can see a typical hairline crack at the juncture of veneer to the structure.
Watch out: While the reader's photo (above) is certainly a brick veneer picture taken from the corner of the home, it is indeed important first to be sure you have correctly identified the type of brick structure. That's because cracks and bulges in structural brick walls can indicate extremely dangerous conditions, including the risk of catastrophic building collapse.
I am building a new house in the U.S. in Indiana. The builder poured the wall for the footing in 30 degree F weather, and it looks to me to have problems. Main problem is the brick ledge has many areas that needs repair before brick can be laid.
They tell me this is NOT a problem they intend to repair this by reforming and pouring new concrete to make the brick sill smooth & level. Please advise me of how you feel about this job & is it OK to let them proceed with the repairs.
None of the uniformities go thru the entire walls. The brick veneer ledge seems to be damaged the most. I am assured they can and will repair on Tuesday with a good bonding cement. They state they have not had problems with repairs like this in the past. - Anon, 7 March 2015
What I see in your photos are cold-pour joints - suggesting concrete was mixed and poured maybe in small batches, maybe by hand? (Let me know).
See CONCRETE COLD POUR JOINTS
These are not normally a structural concern as long as cracks and gaps don't go through the wall (which would be future leaks), and as long as the brick ledge is adequately supported so as not to move or fall later.
In some of your photos the brick ledge - I'm assuming this is for the bottom of a brick veneer wall - is so marginal that it's fair to ask if the brick veneer weight will be adequately supported if all the builder does is patch in the wall below the brick ledge to make it look smooth.
My OPINION (I'm not a mason nor a structural engineer) is that if the brick veneer ledge repairs are done properly and in a method that assures that the "patched" portions of the brick ledge won't simply break away from the cured concrete foundation wall, then the ledge will remain in place to offer the support that's needed (weight of a brick veneer wall can be considerable).
If the repair is inadequate or sloppy or fails to bond or is not pinned to the existing foundation then the weight of the veneer could cause it to later fail - an expensive problem later.
If I were the mason I'd consider drilling and pinning (drill and insert short re-bar or use another method approved by an expert such as your architect or engineer) in areas where there is as per your photos not much of a supporting ledge in the original foundation wall.
Certainly you're not going to see the builder re-do the whole wall. So what you want is careful attention to the ledge-repair and some evidence that it will be structurally sound and not simply break away when the weight of the veneer wall is added.
I've used bonding cement systems with success - there are two methods: mechanical pinning - drill a hole a few inches into the existing concrete every couple of feet and drop in a short piece of vertical re-bar, or paint a bonding additive or adhesive to the surface before adding the patch.
What I'm not experienced with is using a bonding additive on new uncured concrete. Drilling and pinning would be cheap insurance. If the builder prefers to use a bond coating I'd like to know what the product is - you should take a look at the instructions from its manufacturer to see what they say about application temperature, weather, and also the curing state of the coated surfaces.
Now back to some questions about the reader's brick veneer:
Is this a wood frame building with brick veneer or masonry (block) with brick veneer?
Cracks are common at the end of a brick veneer wall that was built only [typically] on the front of a residential building or one-family home.
Below we provide two more photos of more serious brick veneer wall cracking - movement or separation from the building. The brick veneer shown in our photos [below] was bulged and loose, separating from the building. It may be possible to repair this veneer wall using special fasteners.
We see a range of cracks and signs of movement, from trivial cracking that is probably just due to differences in the thermal expansion rates of brick, concrete, and the wood-framed wall to which the veneer was (hopefully) attached, to more serious 1/8" to 1/2" wide cracks when the veneer wall is actually loose and in danger of collapsing.
Hairline cracks at the building corner might not be serious enough to leap into action.
Our sketch at left, courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates, shows how brick veneer walls are attached to the building structure.
Here are a some of things to look for when evaluating a possibly-loose brick or stone veneer wall on a single-family home
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You should not buy a home without having a pre-purchase home inspection by a trained and experienced professional. S/he should be able to form an opinion about the condition of the brick veneer on the townhouse and doubtless will have other findings that you'll consider important when planning to buy or maintain the home.
See BRICK VENEER WALL DAMAGE ASSESSMENT - separate article
In understanding a bulged brick wall, if we don't know if the bulging (or loose or cracking for that matter) is in a structural wall or a veneer wall, we cannot understand the degree of risk involved.A brick veneer collapse can be dangerous: bricks can fall on people nearby causing serious injury or worse. But a loose or even falling brick veneer - alone - is not the same level of risk as the potential collapse of an entire building!
Our sketch at left, courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates, shows what happens when a brick veneer wall becomes bulged
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See BRICK VENEER WALL DAMAGE ASSESSMENT - separate article
Watch out: while a brick veneer wall that is bowed or bulged risks a dangerous collapse, even more dangerous is the risk of a complete building collapse if the brick wall that is bulged or bowed is structural - supporting the building.
See BRICK STRUCTURAL WALLS LOOSE, BULGED for details.
At BRICK FOUNDATION & WALL DEFECTS where we list types of brick wall and foundation defects, we illustrate cases of structural brick wall or foundation collapse. As we point out in that article,
Also see 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.
Hello. I ran across your website which was very helpful and it has several great examples of areas of settlement concern. However, I didn't find anything like the situation I had on a Southern Arizona property I recently appraised.
I called for a structural engineer to inspect the property and render an opinion as to whether there was settlement/sinking and any repair needed.
[Click to enlarge any image] [The gap shown in this brick veneer mortar joint amounts to a significant amount of movement - this is not cosmetic damage - Ed.]
The lender had a handyman (not a licensed structural expert) go out and write a letter stating that the area I was describing was merely "minor hairline cracks normal for age and material."
I am an appraiser in ... AZ and have been for 30 years - I have seen many hairline and step cracks in brick exterior house walls.
I have also seen significant structural issues as well as weep hole gaps, etc. as well as just plain old missing mortar. I have never seen this type of issue.
To me these seem more concerning but I am not a structural expert.
My question is - based on the photos I attached, was a structural inspection prudent to have requested?
This home has recently been redone on the inside so I cannot tell if there were repaired cracks on interior walls.
The concrete next to the foundation visually appears to have sunk or at least be cracked and depressed below the surrounding concrete.
This home is being purchased and both agents & the lender are displeased and pushing at me to waive the requirement based on the handyman's letter.
I realize you can't see the property in person and would not ask you to render any opinion for use in this argument.
However, if you could just let me know for my own personal education, if my concern is potentially justified, I would be very grateful.
- Anonymous by private email 1 Feb 2018
The damage in your photos is not "normal", is not "minor hairline cracks", and it shows evidence of serious damage to the building and while repair might not be needed on an emergency basis, significant repair costs are likely.
In my opinion it would be malpractice to accept the handyman's letter as it is apparent on the face of the matter that the handyman is incorrect - you, as the person accountable, could be the person left accountable for a future loss at the property or a diminution of resale value or a cost of repair.
The "structural inspection" must be performed by a qualified expert, perhaps a structural or civil engineer who has specific experience and expertise with brick and brick veneer construction and veneer repairs at residential buildings.
See BRICK VENEER WALL DAMAGE ASSESSMENT - separate article - where follow-up photos and notes from the appraiser allowed this wall damage case to be discussed in greater depth.
Also see BRICK STRUCTURAL WALLS LOOSE, BULGED has additional information.
Repair methods for brick veneer walls are at BRICK VENEER WALL REPAIR METHODS
Details about the repair of structural brick walls are at BRICK WALL REPAIR METHODS
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