Originally posted: 8/27/19, revised 3/4/22
You’re looking at the outside of your beautiful brick home when you notice the veneer is cracking. Understandably, you start to worry about what this means. The bricks on your wall are cracked: isn’t that a sign of foundation problems?
The answer to that is a solid… maybe. It depends on what type of crack it is, where it is, and if there are other symptoms elsewhere in the home.
We’re going to review bricks and brick veneers, foundation cracks, and most importantly- what you need to look for in addition to those cracking bricks. Acculevel is a family-owned and operated company founded by Andy Beery in 1996. We have helped more than 35,000 homeowners restore stability to their settling foundations and we want to help you do the same.
Let’s start with what a brick is, and the various reasons it might crack.
About The Bricks in Your Home
Bricks are made of hard baked clay that is tightly compressed into the classic brick shape. Despite that compression, bricks don’t stand up well to major environmental changes; they often crack or chip when conditions are too wet or too dry. The sometimes extreme freeze-and-thaw cycles that we experience here in the Midwest aren’t good for bricks, either.
If you’re concerned about cracks in your brickwork or masonry, you should inspect them for cracking, flaking, and other changes. Small problems with exterior bricks can usually be prevented with good drainage practices.
Make sure the grading around your foundation is good and your downspouts are draining away from the home. Clogged gutters may not seem like a foundation threat, but they are! This type of preventative maintenance can also protect your brick foundation from erosion, hydrostatic pressure, and water intrusion.
Understand Your Foundation
Before we begin, please be confident in the makeup of your foundation structure. Most homes built since the 1950s have concrete foundations. Builders often add a type of decorative outer layer -a brick veneer- to cover the concrete and add to curb appeal.
If you have an older home with a true brick foundation, you may need to work with a masonry company if you’re seeing brick cracking. Masons are skilled tradesmen who specialize in brick, stone, and mortar construction. Repair methods used by most foundation companies are designed for concrete materials, typically not brick.
Different Types of Cracks Indicate Different Issues
Not every crack in a brick veneer is a structural problem. We have to consider the crack location, its size and shape, and what other problems are happening in your home.
Erosion Causes Uneven Settling
A small amount of foundation settling is nothing to worry about; all houses settle to a certain degree. It’s a natural and reasonable process that happens as the weight of a home presses down on the soil below.
Settling is only an issue if it happens unevenly. When one corner or section of your home sinks more than the others, it causes stress throughout the entire building. None of the materials used to build your home- bricks, steel, lumber- are flexible. So they won’t allow for one area to pull against the rest. Instead, they warp or crack under the strain.
Hydrostatic Pressure Causes Bowing Walls
When there is more water in the ground than the soil can absorb, hydrostatic pressure develops. Essentially, this means that any water that isn’t absorbed flows freely around your yard- until it runs into something it can’t flow through. Then it collects into pools or puddles, building up pressure. Unfortunately, this non-absorbent object is sometimes your house.
Your home isn’t built to be a dam. It’s designed to resist pressure from above, so that it can withstand the weight of your home and hold the structure stable. Water pushing in from the sides can weaken your house foundation.
What Are Signs of Uneven Settling In A Brick Foundation?
Are you seeing stair step brick cracks (like a zig-zag shape) on the exterior of your home? The photo below is a great example.
This photo was taken by an Acculevel project advisor during a free in-home assessment. This crack is a sign of settling foundation issues.
If this looks familiar, you need to check the interior of your home in the same general area. Don’t look in the basement only; review the inside of your living spaces, also.
- Do you see any cracks in the drywall? Pay special attention to drywall around doors and windows. When a home settles unevenly, it strains the framing of the house- including windows, doors, and stairways.
- If you see any drywall cracks, test the doors and windows in that room. Are they difficult to open or close? Will they close on their own? When your house sinks unevenly, it can warp the frames enough to make doors and windows “stick.”
If you answered, “yes,” to these questions, those are additional signs of a settling foundation. Were your answers more of a mixed bag? You can learn more about settling and diagnosing structural problems here. The best way to repair uneven foundation settling is with helical piers.
Chimney Foundations Can Settle
If you’re finding cracked bricks along a chimney, this is something that requires evaluation by a professional. A chimney is one of the heaviest pieces of a home, and it’s probably built on its own foundation. Most builders hire a masonry contractor to create a chimney. They pour a separate concrete slab for it, then connect it to the house during bricklaying.
So if you see cracks or gaps where the chimney meets your home, or notice it leaning, this is a clear indication of foundation concerns. If you’d like more information about this, we have an article specifically about how to repair chimney foundations.
This photo was taken by an Acculevel project advisor during a free in-home assessment. The chimney is leaning away from the house (the gap is worst at the top).
Chimneys that need foundation repairs usually require helical piers, just like your home.
Porches Can Settle, Too!
Like chimneys, porches are often built on separate foundations. Symptoms of a settling porch share traits with both homes and chimneys. You should look for:
- Brick veneer cracks on a porch, especially stair step cracks
- Doors or windows that stick
- A gap between the house and porch, as the porch leans or pulls away
This photo was taken by an Acculevel project advisor during a free home assessment. The stone facade clearly shows the gaps and cracks that have formed during settling.
In the photo above, you can see the porch veneer is made of stone (not brick). But the signs of settling are clear and easily spotted; a brick veneer cracks in the same ways. Piers are usually the best method for settling foundations, but sometimes porches require both piers and slabjacking.
What Are Signs of Hydrostatic Pressure In A Brick Foundation?
Horizontal brick cracks indicate a different type of foundation problem. They’re an indication that hydrostatic pressure is weakening your wall.
This photo was taken by an Acculevel project advisor during a free home assessment. You can see some cracks forming between the rows of bricks and at the very bottom, the home’s foundation is curving (bowing) inward.
If you are noticing clear signs like these, you need to look at the inside of that same wall. You are looking for:
- Horizontal cracks in a poured concrete wall
- Either horizontal OR stair step cracks in a block wall
- Possible water intrusion
If you find any of these, you have structural problems that need to be repaired promptly.
If one of your foundation walls is actively bowing? It needs to be repaired as soon as humanly possible. Bowing walls become collapsing walls, which lead to serious structural damage. You may want to consider basement waterproofing also- even if you don’t have water getting into your home. A quality water drainage system can reduce or even eliminate hydrostatic pressure.
This photo was taken by the same project advisor at the same home. This deep horizontal crack marks where the wall is bowing inwards.
Crawl Spaces Can Have The Same Foundation Problems
We understand that entering a crawl space can be unpleasant, and it may not be possible for you to do so. But if you have cracked brick walls, or suspect you need foundation repairs, please have a professional evaluate your home.
We highly recommend waterproofing for crawl spaces, and not just for foundation repair purposes. A wet crawl space can lead to sagging floors, rotting insulation, and mold or other biological growth.
You may also want to invest in waterproofing to prevent future damage and control potential water intrusion.
How to Repair Cracked Bricks or Masonry
In the previous sections, we’ve linked to other articles that may be relevant to the specific types of crack you’ve found in your brick foundation.
It is entirely possible that the issues you’ve noticed don’t fall into any of these categories. We mentioned earlier that some small cracks in a brick veneer don’t indicate foundation repairs are needed. These are more like cosmetic cracks, where the cracked brick is incidental and limited only to the veneer. If this is the case, you should contact your local bricklayer or masonry company. They have the expertise you need for replacing the bricks themselves or repairing mortar in the joints.
Your Home Needs Regular Check-Ups
When was the last time your home had a “physical?” We have a free DIY Foundation Checklist that guides you through an inspection of your home.
If you’re not the DIY type (or want to stay out of your crawl space), sign up for our Home Inspection Program (HIP).
Have More Questions About Foundation Repairs?
We have developed an in-depth foundation repair guide, available at no cost to all homeowners. This is a thorough breakdown of all the issues we’ve discussed in this article, plus details about repair methods, costs, potential concerns, and all of your FAQs.
Are You Ready for A Free In-Home Assessment?
If you live in Indiana or the surrounding states, contact Acculevel! We will schedule an appointment for you with one of our friendly and experienced project advisors.
Your project advisor will discuss your concerns, examine your entire home, then review the necessary repair options with you. As a team, you will determine the best course of action for you, to keep your home strong and healthy for years to come. Our goal is to provide a whole-home solution; one that addresses both the symptoms and the underlying cause of the issue.
If you do not live within our service area, please verify the company you hire is reputable, insured, and accredited by the Better Business Bureau. You can also download a free copy of our Questions To Ask A Contractor, here. This should help you assess any home repair company that you should need.