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STRUCTURAL INSPECTIONS & DEFECTS
AGE of a BUILDING - how to determine
BRICK FOUNDATIONS & WALLS
CHIMNEY INSPECTION DIAGNOSIS REPAIR
COLD POUR JOINTS, CONCRETE
COLUMNS & POSTS, DEFECTS
DISASTER BUILDING INSPECTION & REPAIR
EARTHQUAKE DAMAGED FOUNDATIONS
FLOOD DAMAGE ASSESSMENT, SAFETY & CLEANUP
FLOOD DAMAGE TO FOUNDATIONS
FOOTING & FOUNDATION DRAINS
FOOTINGS EXPOSED, Repair Methods
FOUNDATION BULGE or LEAN MEASUREMENTS
FOUNDATION CONSTRUCTION TYPES
FOUNDATION CONTRACTORS, ENGINEERS
FOUNDATION CRACKS & DAMAGE GUIDE
FRAMING DAMAGE, INSPECTION, REPAIR
GRADING, DRAINAGE & SITE WORK
GUTTERS & DOWNSPOUTS
INSECT INFESTATION / DAMAGE
MOBILE HOMES, DOUBLEWIDES, TRAILERS
MODULAR HOME CONSTRUCTION
MOISTURE CONTROL in BUILDINGS
RETAINING WALL DESIGNS, TYPES, DAMAGE
RETAINING WALL GUARD RAILINGS
STRAW BALE CONSTRUCTION
STRUCTURAL DAMAGE PROBING
STRUCTURAL WOOD ASSESSMENT
THERMAL EXPANSION of MATERIALS
TIMBER FRAMING, ROT
WATER BARRIERS, EXTERIOR BUILDING
WATER ENTRY in BUILDINGS
WINTERIZE A BUILDING
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.
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Types of 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.
Damage to brick veneer walls - cracks, bulges, loose brick. Cracks & Movement in Loose Brick Veneer Walls - Support Issues?
Brick Wall Type Definitions: start by comparing structural brick to brick veneer walls
Definition of structural brick walls
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 the properties of structural brick walls below at Structural Brick Wall Construction Details.
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.
Definition of veneer walls
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. - Masonry Design Manual. 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
Definition of wythe or brick wythe
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 at far left) 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, at below-right.
The veneer wall tie sample 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 Wall and Brick Wall Panel Systems: Thin Brick Veneers & Engineered Brick Panel Systems
Other brick veneer walls include thin brick systems, a lightweight brick masaonry 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.
Question: What is Causing These Brick Veneer Wall Cracks & How Do I Fix Them?
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.
Reply: Check for Loose Brick Veneer Facing & Check the Veneer Support and Building Structure
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.
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.
Inspect The Loose Brick Veneer Wall More Carefully
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.
Bulged or Bowed Brick Veneer Wall
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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Bond courses tie together the multiple wythes of bricks that form a structural brick wall. You can spot a bond course by noticing the "ends" of bricks rather than the longer "stretcher" courses of brick. Those ends show (usually) that bricks were placed in the wall across the wythes of brick that comprise a structural brick wall.
Our sketch (below left), courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates, shows what happens when a brick structural wall becomes bulged. This is an extremely dangerous condition threatening sudden and catastrophic building collapse.
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,
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!
Watch out: some structural brick walls may not show bond courses - the wythes of brick may have been tied together using steel wire or other fasteners.
Also see FOUNDATION CRACK EVALUATION which discusses in detail the process of evaluating foundation cracks and signs of foundation damage by examining the crack size, shape, pattern, and location.
[Click to enlarge any image]
Examples of Water & Frost Damage to Brick Walls
Repairs / Reinforcement of Structural Brick Walls: Connectors, Special Fasteners
The drawing at left, from Carson Dunlop Associates, shows how a structural brick wall may be reinforced laterally using a steel tie rod. In our photo of an antique building in Hudson, NY (below right) those three "stars" shown above the three windows of the second floor are probably functioning as giant "washers" securing a front-to-back anchor that secures the front wall of this structure against bulging or movement, possibly also securing the floor structure inside as you can see in the sketch at left.
Repair of Brick Veneer Walls
The brick veneer wall shown in our photos (below) was rebuilt after a partial collapse. You can see some of the original veneer bricks on the ground.
Take a look at Thermal Expansion Cracking in Brick for more about brick veneers and types of veneer damage.
Readers of the article series BRICK FOUNDATIONS & WALLS should see these detailed articles on brick veneer walls and brick structural walls: BRICK STRUCTURAL WALL Loose Bulged and BRICK VENEER WALL Loose, Bulged and BRICK WALL DRAINAGE WEEP HOLES and also BRICK WALL THERMAL EXPANSION CRACKS.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about loose or moving brick veneer walls on buildings
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