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Do Cracked Bricks Mean You Have A Foundation Problem?

Sam Smith Foundation Repair Consultant

cracked bricks

If you are concerned about the cracks on your brick wall and what it means for your home’s foundation, keep reading.

In this Regional Foundation Repair Guide, we answer common questions regarding brick cracks, including:

  • What Causes Bricks To Crack?
  • What Do Cracked Bricks Say About Your Foundation?
  • What Are The Different Types of Cracks, And What Do They Mean?
  • How Can Cracked Bricks Be Repaired?
  • Are Cracked Bricks Always A Cause For Concern?
  • How Can You Save Money When Repairing Cracked Bricks?

At Regional Foundation Repair, we help homeowners fix many foundation related issues every day, including those related to cracked bricks.

If you are wondering how much it will cost you to fix the cracks on your bricks, tell us more about your issue in the form, and our specialists will send you a free, no-obligation quote.

And if you want to learn more about why bricks crack and how to identify issues before they become catastrophic, keep reading our guide below!

Why Do Bricks Crack?

For brick homes or those whose outer walls are brick veneers, cracks on the surface of the walls are a common occurrence.

While some of them are purely cosmetic concerns, others indicate serious structural problems within your home. Knowing the various causes of cracking differences and the between the different types of cracks is the first step towards preventing and resolving the issue.

Here are some of the causes of cracking in brick houses:

Foundation Sinking or Settling

Foundation settling is perhaps the most common cause of cracking on walls and floors. In most cases, especially for new homes, settling within the first or second year is natural and will not result in significant cracks.

This is because, during the initial construction, the soil is disrupted to make room for the foundation. With time, the weight of the home will compress it and cause it to shrink, causing the foundation to settle by a small degree, resulting in minor cracks.

The kind of foundation sinking you should worry about comes later on after natural settling has already occurred. It results from changes in the soil underlying the home due to factors such as the effects of moisture, erosion, formation of sinkholes, among others.

When the soil shrinks or shifts unevenly, it will pull parts of the home’s foundation down while others remain intact, resulting in cracks on your bricks, among other structural problems.

These cracks will get bigger with time and will be accompanied by other signs such as cracked floors, uneven or sagging floors, and sticking windows and doors, etc.

Reactive Or Plastic Soils

Plastic or expansive soils are those that respond to changes in their moisture content.

Soils with a high clay composition will expand to a large extent when moist and contract when dry.

The seasonal expansion and contraction will consequently lift and lower your home, and since bricks are not flexible enough to go with the flow, they will give in to the pressure and crack.

If your home is built on such soil, then this could be the source of the cracks on your foundation walls and other structural issues.

If this is the case for you, it’s important to have a structural engineer measure the composition of the soil before you decide on where and how to build your home’s foundation.

Effects Of Water

In homes with faulty gutters and downspouts, incorrect grading or sloping towards basement walls, leaking pipes, flood damage, or malfunctioning garden sprinklers, the foundation and other walls will suffer from the effects of excessive moisture.

The process of brick construction involves firing in kilns to remove all moisture content and harden the bricks.

As a result, they are usually at their smallest size when used to build houses. Due to their high porosity, they will absorb water from the surrounding area, causing them to increase in size. The tension caused by the increase in size will make the bricks crack.

Natural Degradation of Building Materials

Unless your home is built with pure diamond, it is bound to suffer wear and tear due to aging.

With time, the bricks and other building materials in older homes will begin to lose their structural integrity and succumb to gravity, resulting in wall cracks.

Another effect of time on structures is concrete cancer, where the steel reinforcements in concrete degrade due to exposure to salt and moisture. These changes in the steel will impact the surrounding bricks and the result will be cracking.

Geographic and Climatic Factors

Environmental factors can also impact brick integrity.

Alternating warm and cold temperatures will lead to alternating brick expansion and contraction, eventually causing them to crack. Other geographical factors like earthquakes, excessive flooding, and drought will also compromise the integrity of brick walls and result in cracks.

Some human activities near your home could also affect the integrity of your brick wall.

Excavation and construction works that use heavy machinery could cause vibrations that will weaken your home’s brickwork with time.

Proximity to freeways, highways and airports could also expose your home to these destructive vibrations. These are some of the factors you should check when deciding on where to build or buy your home.

What Do Cracked Bricks Say About Your Foundation?

Cracks are an eyesore that will mess up the aesthetic appeal of your interior and exterior walls, but this is usually just the tip of the iceberg.

Most cracks indicate deeper issues within the structure of your home.

So what could these cracks say about your foundation?

Your Foundation Is Moving

A sinking foundation will wreak structural havoc on the rest of your home.

Unless yours is a new home that is still undergoing natural settling, a sinking foundation is something that you should not ignore. Get it inspected to determine the cause of the sinking and prevent the damage from spreading.

It could also be that your foundation is undergoing an upheaval. This is especially common in areas with plastic soil.

These soils will absorb moisture and increase in size, pushing your foundation up and causing it to crack. Although such foundation cracks may not be as large as those caused by a sinking foundation, they can still compromise the structural integrity of your home.

Water Issues In Your Foundation

Cracks on your foundation could also result from excess moisture around your foundation wall. If you have a crawl space or basement, the accumulation of water will soak your interior and exterior walls, weakening them and making them susceptible to cracking.

Moisture in the soil near your foundation will also increase the rate of foundation sinking, which will cause further cracking on your walls, among other effects.

Water in your foundation and wet crawl spaces or basements are not problems you can ignore.

They will not only cause severe structural degradation of your home but will also pose health and safety concerns by facilitating the growth of mold and mildew and making your walls and floor colder.

How Do You Identify Different Types Of Cracks (And What Do They Mean?)

There are various types of cracks on brick walls, each indicating a different level of seriousness. Cracks can be categorized broadly as either passive or progressive. Passive cracks do not increase in size, whereas progressive ones continue to grow with time.

A narrower classification of cracks is based on their direction and their location on your wall. Some common types include:

Vertical Cracks

One way to tell how serious a crack is is by looking at its direction. Vertical, tiny cracks appearing near the apex, where the wall and ceiling meet, are an indication of foundation settling. If they were a result of the initial settling after construction, they will not increase in size and should not be a cause for concern.

vertical crack on the foundation wall

However, if the vertical brick cracks continue to run down the length of your wall and increase in width, it could be an indication that part of your foundation is falling away from the rest of your house.

Horizontal Cracks

Horizontal brick cracks are almost always a sign of foundational issues. When soil changes, water damage, and other factors cause your foundation to sift downwards suddenly, it could take the lower part of the wall with it. If the upper part of the wall remains intact, the tension will tear a horizontal line across your brickwork.

Horizontal brick cracks are almost always a sign of foundational issues

Stair-Step Cracks

Stair step cracks run either vertically or horizontally along the mortar connecting the bricks in lines resembling a staircase. You should always investigate such cracks as they signify underlying foundation issues. They are mainly caused by part of the foundation wall sinking but could also be as a result of soil upheaval.

stair step cracks on the brick wall

Soil upheaval occurs when the soil beneath your foundation expands and pushes the wall upwards. Since the mortar connecting the bricks are the weakest points in your wall, downward or upward forces on the walls will cause cracks to appear along these lines in the form of steps.

Door and Window Cracks

Cracks around the corners of doors and windows are common and may not indicate trouble. It could result from poor installation or the expansion and contraction of your window or door frame. Such cracks are minor and will mainly affect the drywall more than the brick itself.

crack around window frame

However, these cracks could also be a sign of trouble. Your windows and doors provide weak points for tension forces to act on your walls.

Therefore, if there are issues with your foundation, you will notice diagonal cracks running from the corner of the window or door frames, increasing with time.

Such cracks are often accompanied by other signs of structural problems such as doors and windows sticking (refusing to open and close smoothly).

How Can Cracked Bricks Be Repaired?

Before taking any repair measure against the cracked bricks, you should first check to see whether they are passive or progressive. For progressive cracks, you should first resolve the cause of cracking before patching them up.

Solving Water Problems

If the infiltration of water is what is causing your bricks to crack, you should improve your draining to ensure your gutters and downspouts do not drain near your walls.

You should also check your plumbing to ensure none of the water and sewer pipes are leaking. To prevent water from collecting near your foundation walls, you should grade your landscape properly to ensure it slopes away from your home to improve the drainage.

In areas prone to flooding, consider constructing French drains to channel away subsurface water and prevent it from soaking up the soil near your home.

If your crawl space or basement collects water that then seeps into your wall, waterproofing and encapsulation of the area will go a long way to protect your brick wall.

Foundation Lifting

Where foundation sinking is the culprit, lifting the foundation back to its original position should significantly reduce the cracks.

If you seal the cracks before restoring your foundation to its original height, they will return as the foundation continues to shift. Such repairs will also make it difficult to lift your foundation back to its original position.

So what are the most common methods for living foundations?

Helical Piers

These are large screws lined with plates that are drilled into the base of the sinking foundation. They penetrate past the soft solid into the load-bearing soil level and use the resistance to lift the foundation to its original position.

Push Piers/ Steel Piers

Push piers are like helical piers, but instead of being drilled into the ground with the help of helixes, they utilize the weight of the house to push them into the load-bearing soil level. In the process, the house is pushed up to the desired height.

Concrete Piers

With concrete piers, technicians will first drill a hole below the sinking foundation up to the load-bearing soil level. They will then fill it with concrete to the desired height, after which the foundation is lifted using jacks and placed on top of the piers.

DIY: How To Patch and Replace Cracked Bricks

After identifying and resolving the source of the cracks and ensuring they will not recur, you can now patch them up to return your home to its original cosmetic glory.

Here is how you should go about DIY patching the cracks in your brick wall:

Step 1: Remove debris

First, remove the loose, broken or chipped pieces of brick and mortar using a hammer and chisel.

Step 2: Clean the area

Using a stiff-bristled brush, remove dust and dirt from the gaps and cracks left.

Step 3: Prepare the mortar

Prepare new mortar by mixing 3 parts sand with 1-part cement and ½ a gallon of water until you have a soft paste that is slightly runny.

Add the appropriate mortar dye to the mixture to match with the rest of your wall

Step 4: Apply the mortar

Use a trowel to fill the mortar into the cracks, packing it tightly and removing any excesses until it is level with the brick.

Step 5: Finishing touches

Use a mortar-shaping tool to replicate the appearance of existing mortar joints

Step 5: Let it dry and cure

Leave the mortar to dry for two to three hours then remove excess mortar with a damp sponge. You should then leave it to cure for one to two days.

Are Cracked Bricks Always A Cause For Concern?

Cracked bricks are not always a cause for concern, but this does not mean you should ignore them completely.

Passive cracks, such as the ones resulting from the settling of your home, are usually tiny and will not cause serious structural damage to your home. They could, however, facilitate the entry of moisture into your crawl space and basement, which will expose you to other problems.

In any case, it is better to be safe than sorry. If you see even the tiniest cracks on your wall, you should look into the issue to rule out any underlying structural problems. Only then should you look for ways to patch them up.

How To Save Money When Repairing Cracked Bricks?

Construction repairs are not a cheap affair. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to keep the costs reasonable.

The Sooner The Cheaper

It goes without saying that the more you wait, the more the cracks on your walls will spread, and the more you will end up paying for repairs.

If problems with your foundation are the cause, getting the issue resolved as soon as possible will save you from the hefty costs of replacing your foundation.

Get It Fixed Right!

Repair costs are most expensive if the problem recurs and you have to repeat the fix. To be safe, let a professional examine your cracked brick wall and offer a permanent solution.

Unless you are very sure, trying to repair such problems by yourself could make the issue worse and cost you more in the long run.

Do not lose sleep over cracked walls and other foundation issues. Scheduling a free inspection with our specialists at Regional Foundation Repair is the first step towards resolving your foundation problems for a safe and comfortable home and peace of mind.

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Sam Smith Foundation Repair Consultant
SHORT BIO: Hey, I'm Sam Smith. I'm one of our service techs here at Regional Foundation Repair. I'm here to help you learn more about your home's foundation. I've been doing this for a while, so I have a few insider tips and tricks to share!

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