Figuring out cracks in brick veneer can be an adventure.
During my first walk around the exterior of this home, I noticed a fairly typical diagonal crack running from the base of the chimney upward at about a 30 degree angle. When we find such a crack, we usually look for a corresponding crack. In this case I expected to find another crack (or cracks) somewhere along the same side of the house. When the plane of the brick work is broken up by windows, steps in the foundation and areas of different kinds of siding, there are weak points that are likely points of cracking—or can “replace” the corresponding cracks we would be looking for.
This first picture shows the location of the crack highlighted in red.
Here is a close-up of the area showing the obvious crack.
From a distance, there really was not a whole lot jumping out at me to explain this crack. No visible cracks in the foundation—-no gaping separations anywhere. One thing is for sure in this scenario: “She’ll be coming round the corner when she comes.” As I rounded the corner to the back of the house (to the right in the picture), this is what I saw.
So now we have to go back to the side view to help with the explanation.
In this picture if we make point “A” stationary and the entire foundation settles along its length to point “B,” it allows all of the brick veneer to move together as a unit without any other cracks forming—-except at the pivot point “A.”
In this case the crack that develops at point “A” had a corresponding crack on the side of the house around the corner—-and in this case it was where the foundation was weakened at the door to the basement. Doorways cut through foundations are a very common “breaking point”—-as are windows and step-ups in the foundation. These kinds of corresponding cracks result in not only foundation settlement but tilting of the foundation—-as is evidenced in this case by the brick pulling away at the top at point “C.”
This is a little unusual because the brick usually stays adhered to the wood framing creating long horizontal cracks more or less parallel to the settling foundation. In older homes, the brick ties that hold the brick to the wood structure pull out of the deteriorating mortar when put under this kind of stress. In this case the whole facade of brick is vulnerable to falling off the side of the home under the right seismic conditions.
This more or less patchable crack at point “A” has now become a fairly major structural repair involving stabilizing the foundation and redoing the brick veneer.
Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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