It is commonly assumed that cracked bricks are always a foundation problem, but there are several potential causes for a brick to crack. In some cases, cracks are merely an aesthetic issue. In others, they can be indicative of serious structural problems.
The method of repairing cracked bricks will depend on the cause. It is better, though, to prevent them in the first place. Inspecting your masonry regularly can help to prevent a brick to crack. This guide will cover the causes of and types of repairs for cracked bricks and provide tips on how to prevent them.
Inspecting for Cracks and Spalling
The sooner you spot the damage, the better. If it is a real structural issue, noticing the crack early on often means that you have caught the problem before the damage has become extensive. For this reason, you want to inspect your brick for cracks and spalling regularly.
While you can certainly do this yourself, it is best to have a professional masonry contractor come by and inspect them periodically. While it is good for you to do this regularly, having your efforts supplemented with a trained professional can ensure you do not miss anything.
Determine if Discoloration is an Aesthetic or Foundation Issue
Discoloration is a sign that your bricks will begin to crack soon. Discoloration in the brick is caused by moisture seeping into the bricks. Sometimes, this is only an aesthetic problem. When bricks are made, they are fired in a kiln until all of the moisture inside the brick has evaporated. That means that a brick fresh out of the kiln is as small as it can ever be.
Bricks are porous and will naturally absorb moisture in the air. Since most bricks are laid within a few weeks of being fired, they are still very dry and at their smallest size. As they absorb moisture, they expand. A foot-long brick can easily expand by half an inch. This means that the whole wall will be growing in size, leading to cracks.
Discoloration and cracking can also be a foundation issue. Moisture can be seeping in through a crack in the foundation itself and getting into the bricks, or the foundation may have shifted, directly causing a crack in the brick.
Determining whether the discoloration or cracking is merely aesthetic or a serious foundation issue will often depend on the location. If the discoloration and/or cracking is occurring only where two walls meet, it is likely an aesthetic problem and not a foundation issue. The swelling of the bricks as they absorb moisture will not harm the wall itself, but it will create problems where two walls meet. If the discoloration or cracking is in the center of the wall, it is likely to be a foundation problem.
Preventative Details at the Time of Construction
Since brick expansion is a universal problem in construction, there are techniques that go a long way toward preventing it. Masons should always leave gaps between 3/8 and 1/2 inch wide at regular intervals in the brick. These gaps will be filled with backer rods, which are flexible foam ropes. Once installed, the gap will be sealed with caulking to keep moisture out.
Properly done, these gaps will allow sections of the wall to expand without damaging other sections. Over time, the joints will compress and you will notice the caulk protruding from them as it is squeezed inward. After a few years, the bricks should stop expanding as they lose their capacity to absorb moisture.
Contemporary and Historic Restorations
If your bricks have developed cracks or discoloration, you may want to consider having them restored. Brick cracks can be very unappealing, potentially lowering the value of your building. In addition, while it may be a purely aesthetic issue right now, cracks can lead to structural issues over time.
Whether your building is a modern or historical building, a professional masonry contractor can restore it. Restoration involves removing the discolored or damaged brick and then replacing it with fresh brick that looks exactly like the original.
Consult a Professional on Your Building’s Needs
If you have noticed cracks or discoloration in your bricks, you should contact a professional masonry contractor. Waterproof Caulking and Restoration has contractors with years of experience working in masonry. We can assess the damage and tell you if you have an aesthetic or a structural problem. We can also conduct regular masonry inspections to help prevent this sort of damage.
It is best not to wait until you already see damage in the bricks. By that time, any repairs that are needed could be expensive. Contact us before you know there is a problem, and our inspection service will reduce the risk of your bricks cracking. If you do notice damage to your bricks, we can help you with your repair or restoration needs.