Brick Wall Repairs

Masonry walls are very durable, and brick walls are no exception.  Nevertheless, brick walls do need maintenance in order to keep their striking visual effect as well as to keep their functional properties, whether its function is either Veneer or Structural.

A brick wall can be either structural or veneer. A structural brick wall sustains part or all of the structure they are at.  For example, a garage or shed or certain (or all) portions of your house. On the contrary, a veneer wall does not support structural elements, however it is more than just the "skin" of the building: It also provides thermal insulation, waterproofing and drainage management to the building structure.

Water, cold, heat, snow, strong winds, soil movements and even runaway cars are just some examples of agents that can damage your brick walls, regardless of whether they are structural or not.

Below are some common problems brick masonry walls may present. Some maintenance issues may be more complex than the ones described on this section and each is handled in its own unique way.

The Mortar Between The Bricks on Your Wall

While the bricks making up your wall can last well over 100 years, the mortar joints of a brick veneer wall usually last about 25 years[1]. Therefore, every once in a while you will need to provide maintenance to those mortar joints. This kind of maintenance is called repointing.

Although repointing may be considered "minor" maintenance because no serious damage may be visible, it is a very important part of the maintenance plan for your building walls. Structural or not.

"Over time, weathering and decay cause voids in the joints between masonry units (usually bricks), allowing the undesirable entrance of water. Water entering through these voids can cause significant damage through frost weathering and from salt dissolution and deposition."

Repointing a brick masonry wall must be performed by an expert brick mason. Decisions such as whether the existing mortar must be removed first, the matching as well as the installation methods are not always used by non-experienced masons.

Also, while the repointing is being performed, other problems such as cracking can be detected earlier. This will make its repair simpler, faster, cheaper and over all, safer for the long term.

[1] Multiple sources. The Chicagoland Cooperator for example.

Loose or Cracked Brick Veneer Walls

First of all, a compromised Veneer wall keep deteriorating until fixed. There is no way around this. 

A brick wall may crack at the mortar joints.  Once this process starts, the crack will only grow in size, faster and faster.  At this point, the wall's waterproofing function is compromised.  This lets water get in and very quickly start rotting structural elements (the "framing").

Simply "covering with mortar" a mortar crack simply hides the problem as the cracking process will continue and eventually the cracks (much bigger) will be visible again.

How to manage a cracked brick veneer wall must be decide by an experienced brick mason.  The best course of action could include simply patching (uncommon), removing and reinstalling parts of or even tearing and rebuilding major sections or even the whole wall. Sometimes it simply mustbe done.

Cracked bricks may be caused by the same factors mentioned above or may be due to minor and invisible imperfection that was already present on the brick itself. Cracked bricks must be removed and replaced. This must be done by an experienced brick mason in order to avoid disturbing the surrounding bricks and making the problem worse.

One or a few cracked bricks very rarely compromise the integrity of your wall but will certainly let moisture get (and accumulate) inside.

Loose, Cracked, Deformed Structural Brick Walls

Any kind of failure in a structural brick wall can lead to disastrous results to your property. Some deatached buildings as well as older houses or buildings may incorporate or fully made of structural brick walls. Because the brick wall is the structure, any crack or deformation must immediately be reviewed by an expert mason.

According to the source and the extent of the damage the wall can be either patched (not very common), repaired or rebuilt. Repairing a structural brick wall is not to be taken lightly. Structural support must be built to the building before even touching the wall to be fixed. This must be done by an experienced mason and may involve other trades as well.

Once a structural brick veneer wall takes damage, it will continue breaking down until repaired or it fails. This can take months or even years, but will certainly happen.

Ignoring a bowed or cracked structural wall is a very serious mistake. It can not only trigger permanent damage to your property; it can even land you in trouble with the authorities. 

Loose, Cracked or Bowed Foundation Brick Walls

Even though brick foundations are not as common as concrete ones, they are found among older houses, and are just as or even more susceptible to bowing and cracking. Similar to concrete, slight bows in brick foundations are not easily noticed. Only upon closer inspection the “belly” will be noticeable. Often, some crumbling of the mortar will be an indicator.

As is the case with concrete, once a bow has occurred in a brick wall, that wall is no longer structurally sound. Tremendous pressure is being put on the wall, not only from the top, but just as likely from the exterior. The cracks that typically follow a bowed wall are not far behind making repair more complex and expensive. 

Based on the type and extent of damage the wall can be either repaired and/or reinforced -if the damage is within safe limits and the repair work can be guaranteed- or must be torn down and rebuilt.

As mentioned above, ignoring a bowed or cracked structural wall is a very serious mistake. 

"Efflorescence is normally the white, powdery scum that can appear on masonry walls after construction but can also be brown green or yellow, depending on the type of salts. Nobody likes it, nobody wants it on their walls, but occasionally this persistent problem appears."

The appearance of efflorescence is hard to predict and it can be triggered by one or more very unpredictable reasons, including the clay the brick has been made of, the water or the sand used for the grout, nearby soil composition, exposure to moisture, among others.

Although most of the times efflorescence cannot be permanently eliminated, it is important to regularly (every few years) treat it in order to avoid letting the staining become permanent.

Treating efflorescence is not a simple task. Chemicals, sandblasting, scrubbing among others are methods but only an experienced brick mason will be able to decide which are the best methods to treat your efflorescence situation - while preserving your wall.

Some free advice?   Don't carelessly apply off-the-shelf efflorescence treatments. Only an experienced mason can tell whether they are suitable for your wall.