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Strange Brick Issues


Brian G
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I have a house with some odd brick problems; odd for around here at least. First off, this is the patient: 1960, 1563 square feet, conventional foundation. These photos are a little big on purpose, so you can click to blow 'em up for a better look.

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All of the windows have a gap under the rowlock; this is the worst one. At the back of the gap the rowlocks are still sitting on the veneer, like they were forced down at the rear by swelling windows or pressure from above (but the windows don't seem swollen).

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I found a few large areas like this; mortar loss, faces popping off of certain bricks, etc. They all seem to fall between 1 and 4 feet off the ground, and it looks like the deteriorating ones are all light orange. My first thought was splashback, but there isn't anything to splashback off of.

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The mortar itself is still rock hard, even where it looks bad. You can scrape a joint with a screwdriver and not more than a few grains will fall out.

Then we have a wide assortment of stairstep cracks in the usual places, an individual brick here or there that's been replaced or poorly remortared.

No visible weeps, but that's extremely common here.

None of the mortar joints look squashed; not even the badly deteriorated ones.

The house has the usual slight dips and lumps you would expect for the age; nothing drastic.

The crawl space is low and not particularly well ventilated.

The land in that county has expansive soils in places, ranging from mild to pretty bad.

And it's Mississippi, so any theories involving freezing are highly unlikely.

Any thoughts, theories, or questions?

Brian G.

Mayhem in the Masonry [:-boggled

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Brian,

I blew-up the first photo and it looks like the house is sitting at a slightly lower elevation then the ground around it. Almost like the house has sunk a little. Did you see that or is the grass just in need of a good cutting?

The last photo shows the brick veneer at grade/patio level. Was that the case all around this house, or could you see a couple of inches of foundation at the perimeter?

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This might be a stupid question, but, any other indication of a high water mark? Since it's not probable that it's frost damage my best guess would be repeated soaking. Does that area flood? As for the rowlocks, the brick above the gap seem to be smaller than the ones on the ends, almost like they shrunk. Pretty odd. It also appears that the mortar joints were simply cleared of excess and never struck, and unless it contains Portland it will shrink away from the edges in some places.

Tom

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The way this one is built is a little screwy. It has piers and beams everywhere, perimeter included, with the veneer continuing right down past the piers and into the grade (similar to the way it usually bypasses block or poured concrete on its way to the footing). It reminds me of the way some historic houses look from inside the crawl space, when the veneer came long after the house was built. I don't think that's the case here though.

Brick veneer extending below grade is all but universal down here. I rarely see the edge of a slab or a block foundation from outside, if it has brick veneer.

If it looks low to the ground, it is. Any HI with a hint of claustrophobia couldn't handle the crawl on this puppy. [:-scared]

Brian G.

It Ain't Easy To Crawl While Holding Your Breath Expelled [:-crazy]

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Originally posted by Tom Raymond

This might be a stupid question, but, any other indication of a high water mark? Since it's not probable that it's frost damage my best guess would be repeated soaking. Does that area flood?

No, it's not a low area at all. The severe mortar loss sure looks like water damage, but it's only that bad in a few places. I can't come up with a reason for "here but not there". Why does it skip the first 2 or 3 rows, then start and run 3 or 4 feet up? It's wierd. My instinct is splashback from shrubs that are no longer there, which would account for a lot, but writing that is going out on a limb.

Brian G.

Bizzaro Brick Co. [:-alien]

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The first photo establishes that the veneer beneath the window isn't moving downward, but rather that the rowlocks are canting upward, just like you said, so the strangeness doesn't appear to be a foundational issue.

Like Tom said, this appears to be a moisture-related condition. What about water entering around the windows? In the third photo, there appears to be a pretty significant gap between the window and the brick.

Also, the soffits don't appear to be very wide. Overflowing gutters could allow water to work its way into the air space behind the brick.

Finally, maybe it's the photos, or just my monitor, but it almost looks as if there are two layers of mortar in the bottom two photos, as if the problem areas have been pointed--Hey, Kurt. Notice that I didn't say tuckpointed? I do pay attention.--in the past.

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Originally posted by Bain

What about water entering around the windows? In the third photo, there appears to be a pretty significant gap between the window and the brick.

Possible, but the gaps aren't that big and the damage is all on the surface.

Also, the soffits don't appear to be very wide. Overflowing gutters could allow water to work its way into the air space behind the brick.

The soffits are very narrow, but no gutters.

Finally, maybe it's the photos, or just my monitor, but it almost looks as if there are two layers of mortar in the bottom two photos, as if the problem areas have been pointed.

It's just the way it looks. A few spots had been touched-up and one rowlock was totally re-done, but 99% of the mortar was original.

Brian G.

Mortar Man, Save Me! [:-masked]

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This is a wild assed guess. I've never seen that sort of damage on a high fire brick, but a lot on low fire commons.

Something about your comment of "the mortar was rock hard", makes me suspect some mortar incompatibility w/the brick.

When super hard mortars are combined w/brick that have a different rate of expansion and contraction, the result is brick faces that calve off, similar to this place.

As far as the rowlock thing, I have no idea.....

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Did you take a close look at the structural wood under the windows.

Everytime I've seen the rowlock canted up or the window appearing to have dropped behind the brick, usually with cracks visible at the top of the window and a sunken sill behind the brick, I've found rotten sill plates, rim joists, etc in the crawl space.

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How about the framing was incredibly wet or damp when the veneer was installed. The framing dried out rapidly for some reason causing bricks to move, mortar to crack and rowlocks to jump. The resulting mortar deterioration is from little being done to correct the problem in 50 years.

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Hi,

A few of the previous posters have it right. The rowlocks are canting upward because the framing that's resting on the foundation behind the veneer has either shrunken or the sills have been badly damaged and the weight of the house is crushing them. Either way, the windows tend to slip downward, gaps appear along the top of the windows and the rowlocks end up levering slightly upward. I've seen it a few dozen times. Here in Seattle I wouldn't be that surprised to find it, because lots of houses were built out here years ago with lumber that wasn't kiln dried and was fresh from the mills. It tended to lose moisture and shrink. Don't know what's causing all of the face erosion, though,unless it's the brick ties stressing the wall as they moved downward and this allowed water into the veneer and mortar where it froze and caused the mortar to pop out and the brickwork to spall.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Phillip, I may be wrong but I'm pretty sure they did share the same footings around the perimeter. The veneer came down almost against the piers.

Rob, no framing stamps; this was just old enough to be rough-cut lumber. It may well have been a bit green or damp, but the floor joists didn't show signs of it.

My client walked, partly because of this and partly for all the other issues on this house. I can't blame her.

Thanks for all the input guys. [:-love]

Brian G.

Movin' On [:-calndr]

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Hey Brian--

I realize that this is likely too late to really help, (I haven't checked in lately) but I'll take a stab at it. First of all, I agree with the earlier posts stating that the root cause of the gaps around the windows is deteriorating rim joists/mud sills. The perimeter framing rots and "sinks" and the window frames effectively force the masonry window sills up. Erby's pics show it well. I've seen it a lot...but only in homes older than 1960. In fact, it's far more common around here in homes from the 20's and 30's. Coincidentally, your brick looks like it could have been used in that period, but the other construction techniques I see don't match that time frame. The lack of a pronounced soffitt would tend to indicate a time frame shortly post WWII. As a contradictory note, the aluminum (or galvanized) foundation vents are almost definitely newer. And, a full perimeter foundation was the norm around here post war also. Not piers and curtain walls as you have. But if your home is out in the sticks, anything goes, right? You never know what you will find.

Anyway, the overall look of the home would suggest to me more of an early to mid 1950's construction date. Especially if there was ever a large picture window somewhere on the front.

As for the orange brick deteriorating more -- I think that is a brick with more sand content and/or fired to a less hardened condition than the others. These are more susceptible to moisture absorption. I see that a lot in homes prior to 1940 or so. In crawlspaces, the softer bricks in the piers suffer from rising damp. The orange bricks are sometimes almost completely gone. Often, all that remains is a pile of bright orange dust at the base of the pier.

Bottom line: I suspect a serious moisture problem under the home. I also think they also found some old stock brick that they used which contributed to the deterioration on the exterior.

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Brian--

I see that you posted a reply just before I did. Things are possibly a little more odd. You said the home had rough cut lumber. That would usually indicate a home from far earlier than 1960. Alternately, it could have been from a local "backyard" mill...

and possibly not dried properly, leading to more than normal shrinkage. This could cause similar shrinkage to that which rot damaged rims could cause.

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Originally posted by AHI in AR

You said the home had rough cut lumber. That would usually indicate a home from far earlier than 1960. Alternately, it could have been from a local "backyard" mill...

It could easily be either one. I got the 1960 date from the MLS, which is not always accurate, but we've always had numerous local mills. There used to be a lot more, but even now they aren't exactly rare.

...and possibly not dried properly, leading to more than normal shrinkage. This could cause similar shrinkage to that which rot damaged rims could cause.

Possible. It isn't rot, as far as I can tell. I wasn't able to reach all parts of this low-arsed crawl, but all parts of the sills I could see were okay.

I'd love to be around for an autopsy on this one. [:-magnify

Brian G.

Preferrably With Dana Scully [-crzwom] [:P]

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