Friday, November 4th, 2011 by Tim Snyder
Brick houses have long been valued for their solid, stately appearance. Many homeowners prefer a home with a brick exterior over one sided with wood or vinyl because of brick’s inherent durability. A brick wall can stand up to snow, sleet, rain, gale-force winds and errant baseballs without even breathing hard. Immune to fire and insect damage, brick demands little in the way of maintenance (occasional repointing), outlasting other siding treatments that require periodic painting, sealing and spot repairs.
Brick is Beautiful, but Also Brittle
A brick house built before 1900 or so will probably have double or solid brick walls. Interior brick is likely to be covered with plaster, while the exterior brick will be exposed. Newer brick houses are typically built with a brick veneer –a single layer of brick that is laid up outside a wood-framed wall.
Regardless of which method of construction was used, a brick house has one principle weakness that is often apparent in the greater Denver area and in many parts of the western U.S: It’s inflexible. So if soil movement causes its foundation to shift, a brick house is almost certain to crack due to the brittle nature of the material.
Structural cracks in brick don’t look the same as cracks caused by normal mortar shrinkage or weathering. Structural cracks are larger than nonstructural cracks; they’re also uneven –often larger at the top than at the bottom.
Soil Movement is Surprisingly Common
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, about 25% of all homes in the U.S. have some sort of damage caused by unstable soils. In fact, soil movement causes more property damage than earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes combined.
The reason that soil movement damage goes unnoticed is that it often occurs gradually. Cracks start out small and are easy to overlook until they grow larger over time. In many parts of the western U.S., soils have a high content of clay and silt. When this type of soil gets wet, water doesn’t drain through the soil. Instead, it’s absorbed by clay and silt particles. Adding the water volume to the soil causes the soil to expand in a very powerful way.
Soil Settlement is a Common Cause of Cracks in Brick Walls
Many masonry foundations can withstand expanding clay soil without sustaining damage. But when the soil dries out and shrinks, a more stressful situation can occur. The soil beneath a footing and/or foundation wall can shrink away from the masonry, creating an empty area, or void, where solid, load-bearing soil is absent. Unable to bridge the gap over this void because of the weight of the house, the footing cracks and settles down. A wood-framed wall located over this settled foundation section can often bend slightly to accommodate the change. But a brick wall doesn’t have the same flexible characteristics. So it cracks.
Foundation Repair Specialists Can Fix Structural Cracks in Masonry Walls
Structural cracks in a masonry wall should never be ignored. It’s certain that the same conditions that caused the crack will continue to affect the foundation. This will cause the crack to enlarge; or it may cause displacement, with one part of the wall sliding or tilting inwards or outwards. While the home’s inhabitants won’t be affected initially, a house with this type of damage is almost impossible to sell or provide collateral for a second mortgage.
Fortunately, foundation repair specialists have engineered solutions to this type of foundation problem, and many other foundation problems as well. When the soil immediately below a foundation can’t support the structure, these contractors can drive steel piers down to stable soil at greater depth. A steel bracket connects each pier to the foundation, enabling the contractor to raise the settled wall or footing back to its original level. In most cases, this causes cracks to close up and restores the building’s structural integrity. By correcting the problem rather than simply treating the symptom, foundation repair contractors help ensure that settlement and cracking won’t recur in the future.
Complete Basement Systems of CO a trusted foundation repair contractor in Denver, and also specialize in crawl space and basement waterproofing and repair. They proudly serve in and around Denver.