Making sure your home is structurally stable involves maintaining the outside as much as it does the inside. It’s always advised that you take a thorough look at the outside of your property at least twice a year to see if you can spot any signs of structural failure. One of the signs you should watch out for are cracked bricks.
Cracked bricks are a serious sign of foundation failure. It means that your house’s structural integrity is being compromised because the foundation itself is damaged. When a foundation is damaged, the rest of the house is eventually damaged as well, and this is often manifested in cracks along the wall. Cracked bricks are often a sign of advanced foundation settling, so once you spot it, you need to contact repair experts as soon as possible.
What Causes Cracked Bricks?
Cracked bricks are a sign of foundation settling. When the foundation settles, it is no longer able to support the house like it used to because it is no longer even. Since the home’s foundation is now lopsided, the weight of the entire house is distributed unevenly. Depending on where the house is tilting towards, the strain from having to support the house’s weight will cause the walls opposite to where the tilting is happening to break apart and crack.
This is what leads to cracked bricks outside your home (and inside as well if your home features exposed brick). The more the house settles, the more the walls will crack and break. The size of the cracks you see around your home will indicate how long the settling has been going on for and how bad it is.
How Do Foundations Fail?
Foundations settle because of some form of soil erosion. Soil erosion refers to the displacement of soil due to some external element. In a place like Charlotte, NC, soil erosion occurs due to frost heave, hydrostatic pressure, and swelling soils.
During the winter, when water turns into ice, it expands by about 9% as it freezes. Although it may not seem like it, expanding ice has enough force to displace the soil under and around your foundation. It also has enough force to keep a hold on the foundation as the soil below becomes displaced and uneven. By the time the snow melts and the house is no longer held tightly by the ice, it settles onto an uneven layer of soil.
The Charlotte area in North Carolina is covered in a soil called Cecil, which is the state soil. Cecil soil is a bit sandy at the top, but in its subsoil, just eight inches below the surface, it has a lot of clay. Clay is a problematic substance to have in residential soil because it allows the soil to retain water more easily. When clay soils are exposed to water, they swell up as they retain that moisture. This causes the soil to loosen up and get displaced faster, since the soil is less dense.
When the moisture in the soil dries up, the soil compacts closely together, becoming denser again, but shrinking and losing volume in the process. Underneath your foundation, this causes a few gaps to form. If the foundation cannot rest on an even layer of soil, then it will settle sideways.
And, of course, hydrostatic pressure can affect your basement walls to the point of structural collapse. Hydrostatic pressure is when groundwater accumulates against your basement wall. When too much groundwater accumulates, it exerts pressure onto the wall, causing it to bow inwards. Since the walls in your basement aid in holding up your home, if even one of them is structurally unsound, the rest of the house will break apart as well.
Problem Signs That Lead to Cracked Bricks
Cracking bricks are a sign of foundation settling, so many of the things you’ll be looking out for are related to how a failing foundation can affect the rest of your home, such as:
- Uneven Floors
If your bricks are cracked, then your floor is most likely uneven as well. When bricks crack, it means that your home can no longer support the weight of your home due to settling. This settling isn’t only apparent outside but inside the home as well. Your floor will tilt along with the house if there’s any settling; so, get a level ruler, and use it across varying parts of your house to determine just how uneven the floor is.
- Wall and Ceiling Cracks
Once you notice that your bricks are cracked, look inside your home and try to find any cracks along the ceiling and the wall. Sometimes, a brick wall will crack due to some sort of external impact. However, if there are cracks along the wall and ceiling inside the house, it proves that there is something wrong with the house’s internal structure.
- Jammed Doors and Windows
As the house settles and the walls break apart, the door and window frames will also warp. Your wall plays a crucial role in keeping the frames even, so when they break apart, the frames are compromised as well. This leads to door and window jamming since the frames are no longer symmetrical. Usually, the wall where the jammed door or window is located is the one with the cracks, so if you’re having trouble using them, check outside to see if you spot any cracks.
- Foundation Flooding
Cracked bricks can indicate that your house is not only tilting to the side but also that a chunk of the foundation itself is breaking away from the rest of the house. If you notice a crack on your bricks, then check your basement as well. A broken foundation means that groundwater is able to pass through very easily, leading to severe foundation flooding.
Where You Can Spot Cracked Bricks
Besides knowing what to look for, knowing where to look is a vital part of keeping up with your home’s structure. There are multiple areas in your home where you can begin to look for problem signs, such as:
If you can’t find cracks on your brick veneers, then look towards your chimney instead. The bricks on your chimney get affected by foundation problems as well. Besides brick cracks, a good indicator that something is wrong is a tilting chimney. If the chimney is lopsided, even if there aren’t any cracks, then it will break apart eventually if the foundation problems persist.
Regardless of whether your basement walls are made of bricks or cinder blocks, if the foundation is failing, there will be cracks. These cracks in your basement walls can be trouble because they will accelerate the settling even further.
- Brick Veneers
Brick veneers (sometimes called brick cladding) are the bricks on the bottom portion of your home. They often are used for decoration. When a house is settling, the problem signs that appear on this part of the house often goes unnoticed because it’s not at a homeowner’s eye level. You can get a better look at this part of the house at a distance, but this means that you’ll miss any smaller cracks that can be taken as an early sign of settling.
This is why it’s important to check the brick veneers around your home twice a year. A lot can change in six months, so it’s important to do these inspections once every few months. If you are uncertain about what you see, then you can always contact a foundation expert.
Types of Brick Cracks
There are two ways bricks can crack. While it is possible for the cracks to form because the wall is structurally weak, there is one type of crack that is a sure indicator of foundation failure.
- Horizontal Cracking
Horizontal cracking is when the crack appears on the bricks in a horizontal manner, as the name implies. Sometimes, this kind of crack can appear because the wall is structurally weak and is buckling under the weight of the home, even if there is no settling involved. This kind of crack can appear right along the mortar line, in the middle of the bricks themselves, or as a combination of both.
- Stair-Step Cracks
Stair-step cracks appear diagonally along the mortar lines, which is the white part in between each individual brick. This type of crack is an undisputable sign of foundation settling since it can only happen if the house is tilting sideways. If the crack is wider at the top than it is at the bottom of the wall, then it means that the settling has advanced significantly, and you should call an expert as soon as possible.
How Can Brick Cracks Be Prevented?
Soil erosion and hydrostatic pressure are caused by poor foundation drainage, so getting a reliable drainage system can go a long way in preventing brick cracks. A good drainage system will be able to collect the water that accumulates around the foundation, which helps to keep it dry and slow down erosion.
If you already have a cracked brick wall, then contact your local foundation experts. There are many foundation repair solutions that can even things out and close the gaps caused by the cracks.
Cracked bricks are a sign of advanced settling since it indicates that the house can no longer withstand the weight of the uneven home. It causes major trouble for the structural integrity of your house.
- Why Replacing Isn’t a Viable Solution
Replacing your foundation isn’t a helpful solution for a few reasons: it’s extremely expensive, inconvenient, time-consuming, and your foundation will go through the same problem again in the future. To replace your foundation and build a new one would mean having to excavate around the entire house, put the house up on temporary supports, tearing the foundation apart, and then building a new foundation. This can take multiple days or weeks, and you will have to live somewhere else until the job is done.
After the new foundation is built, it will settle once more after a few years because the real problem, the soil, has not been addressed. If there is a layer of soil under the foundation, there will be erosion. The only way to stop it is to make sure that the foundation is no longer supported only by the soil.
- What Can Be Done Instead
Instead of replacing the foundation, you can stabilize the settling one by installing helical or push piers. Helical piers and push piers are steel rods that are installed deep underground. They transfer the weight of the house to the stable, load-bearing soil layers below. These soil layers are so deep underground that they do not erode as easily as the loose soil layers near your foundation.
By relying on the piers and the tough soil, your foundation is guaranteed to be supported by a system that never fails. Helical and push piers also can lift your foundation and even out your home. Once the house is even again, not only will the foundation no longer settle but also your bricks will no longer crack as well.
Knowing what to look for in your bricks will give you a better understanding of how your home is settling, so you know which other problem signs to look for.
- Uniform Sinking
Uniform sinking is when the foundation begins to settle evenly, meaning that it’s sinking, but does not tilt while doing so. Foundations rarely ever sink evenly, and this form of settling isn’t common. Still, it’s completely possible. When your foundation is settling like this, it doesn’t really affect your bricks in a significant way.
The brick veneers, which is the bottom part of your home that is covered in bricks, don’t really show any signs of breakage because the house is settling evenly. This means that the weight of the house is still being distributed evenly as well. As the settling advances and the house sinks lower, you’ll notice that the height of the brick portion of your house is getting shorter. Still, just because uniform sinking isn’t as visually damaging as other forms of settling doesn’t mean that the house isn’t in danger.
- Tilting and Differential Sinking
Tilting sinking is when the layer of soil is greatly uneven on one specific side, so the house settles in a lopsided fashion. Unlike uniform sinking, this type of settling does affect your bricks in a detrimental way. Because the house is tilting, the rest of the house now must withstand the pressure of an uneven house until they break.
Differential sinking is similar except that, besides sinking to the side, part of the foundation also is tearing itself away from the rest of the house. Because the foundations break apart in such a severe way, the bricks most definitely will crack with this type of sinking. With tilting sinking, the bricks might not crack immediately after the settling begins, but with differential sinking, the cracks appear faster, and they are bigger and wider. With both types of settling, stair-step cracks are common.
If the brick veneers outside your home have cracks, then you might want to check to see if the cinder blocks in your basement are cracked as well. Besides settling, the bricks could break apart due to a lack of support from the basement walls. Basement wall bowing is caused by hydrostatic pressure, which causes the wall to bow inwards. If the problem is left alone, then the wall will buckle under the weight of the groundwater. Luckily, bowing basement walls can be repaired, which means that the brick cracks outside your home can be fixed as well.
- Wall Anchors
Wall anchors are a type of wall stabilization system that stops basement walls from bowing further. Holes are excavated where the earth anchors need to be placed. Once those are installed, holes are drilled into the basement wall, and a steel rod is pushed through until it is attached to the earth anchor outside. A steel plate then is attached to the wall by securing it to the rod with a bolt. As the bolt is tightened, enough pressure is exerted to push back against the hydrostatic pressure, effectively stabilizing the wall.
Over time, the bolt can be tightened so that enough pressure is exerted to straighten out the wall. As the wall is straightened out, the cracks on the bricks outside will get smaller and smaller until they are back to how they used to be. The thin, non-obtrusive plates do not take up any space in your basement.
- Wall Braces
Installing wall anchors requires excavation for the earth anchors. However, not everyone has the yard space for excavation work, so instead of wall anchors, wall braces can be used instead. With wall braces, steel I-beams are secured vertically across the entire wall. They are attached to special brackets, both at the top and at the bottom. These brackets are specially designed to fit in any basement without damaging the floor or floor joists.
Once in place, the braces permanently stop wall bowing. Like wall anchors, wall braces can slowly straighten basement walls over time. Though they do not require excavation work, the I-beams do protrude from the wall a bit. However, they take up little space and can be covered with drywall.
Call DryPro for Foundation Repair Solutions
If your bricks are cracking, it’s time to call your local foundation repair experts at DryPro. We service Charlotte, NC and have been in the home repair business since 1999. To schedule a free appointment with one of our field experts, all you must do is call us or use our online contact form. On the day of the inspection, you’ll get a thorough rundown of the estimated repair cost and a timeline so you can know how quickly we can get your home looking and functioning like new.
View more Foundation Repair Problem Signs