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Photograph of -  © Daniel Friedman 2007 1989 cracked  masonry block foundation wall, probably from earth pressur at original construction - notice the wavy mortar. Drop a plumb line to measure total inwards bulging of this block foundation wall. Thermal Expansion Cracks in Brick Walls & Foundations

  • BRICK WALL THERMAL EXPANSION CRACKS - CONTENTS: How to recognize, diagnose, & repair or prevent brick wall or foundation cracks due to thermal expansion. Factors that determine the extent of thermal expansion damage to a brick wall or structure. Absence of control joints or expansion joints in long brick walls leads to extensive cracking damage. Photographs of brick wall crack damage attributible to thermal expansion
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about brick wall or foundation cracking caused by theraml expansion
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Brick wall cracking due to thermal expansion:

This article describes extensive damage that can be caused to brick structures due to thermal expansion of long brick walls lacking expansion joints. We describe how to recognize, diagnose, & evaluate thermal expansion cracks in brick walls &: brick foundations and how to distinguish between this type of cracking failures and other cracks and movement in masonry foundations or walls, such as concrete, masonry block, brick, stone foundation damage due to impact, settlement, frost or water damage, and other causes. We illustrate properly-designed control joints to prevent cracking in brick walls.

This article series describes ypes of concrete and other masonry wall & 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. This information assists in recognizing foundation defects and helps separate cosmetic or low-risk conditions from those likely to be important, possibly quite dangerous, and potentially costly to repair.



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How to Identify, Diagnose, & Evaluate Thermal Expansion Damage to Brick Walls

Photograph of thermal expansion damage to a brick wall Photograph of thermal damage to a brick wall<

Thermal expansion failures in structural or veneer brick walls: is a topic misunderstood by many builders, masons, engineers, architects, and inspectors. As Dave Wickersheimer, R.A. P.E. and masonry failure expert has pointed out, brick "grows" in size indefinitely [though probably most of its size increase is early after it's manufacture.]

But a separate factor that can cause very large movements and extensive damage to brick structures or brick veneer walls is the thermal expansion which occurs across a long or tall brick wall when that wall is heated by sun exposure. The photographs here show significant thermal expansion damage in a long brick structure - the Poughkeepsie NY Jewish Community Center) when we first photographed it in 1989. We visited this site again for an update in June 2007.

This brick veneer wall was built over a concrete block building. The brick veneer was attached using normal steel strap methods and the brick veneer was also reinforced at intervals using a horizontal steel wire. But the wall, more than 100' long, was built without a single expansion joint.

As the south-facing wall of this building heated in summer sun the wall grew in length until it pushed out the East and West building corners at their tops for a total of nearly 3" measured by dropping a plumb line from each building corner. The veneer movement produced a variety of damage, including:

Photograph of thermal expansion damage to a brick wall Photograph of a collapsed brick strudctural wall Photograph of thermal expansion damage to a brick wall Photograph of thermal expansion damage to a brick wall

We were surprised that there was not more extensive damage to the structural walls themselves, and we urged the building management to consult an experienced mason for further inspection and repair. We expected the mason to cut vertical expansion joints in the wall and to seal these joints with an appropriate flexible filler material or gasket. No repairs were made, the cracks had grown slightly, and leaks had increased at the time of an informal site inspection and visit we made again in June 2007, as shown in the photographs below.

Photograph of thermal expansion damage to a brick wall Photograph of thermal expansion damage to a brick wall

Factors which determine the extent of thermal expansion damage to a brick wall or structure

Control joint in a brick wall, James McGowan Kingston NY (C) Daniel Friedman Control joint in a brick wall, James McGowan Kingston NY (C) Daniel Friedman

Above: a control joint built into a brick wall of a building in Kingston, NY. It's no surprise that this wall had a good control joint in the brick wall: note that the sign indicates that this building houses James McGowan and sons, a Kingston masonry company.

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

Or see THERMAL EXPANSION of MATERIALS for a table of the coefficient of expansion of common building materials including brick, concrete, mortar, and stone.

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