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Cracking in Brick Walls: What Does it Mean?

Large crack in a brick wall.

Buildings with brick walls are some of the most beautiful structures around. Unfortunately, these walls aren’t invincible, and cracking in brick walls occurs fairly often.

Long story short, brick wall cracks indicate structural issues. Here, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the damage.

Understanding Cracking in Brick Walls

Brick walls are a popular choice for houses and buildings. They look nice, last a long time, and are pretty resilient. However, even the best brick walls can start to show cracks over time, especially if foundation settlement occurs. Let’s talk about what these cracks might mean.

Overview of Different Types of Brick Wall Cracks

  • Hairline Cracks: These are super thin cracks that might look like tiny spider webs. They’re common and not always a big deal.
  • Stair-Step Cracks: These cracks run along the bricks and mortar in a pattern that looks like stairs. This type can be a bit more serious.
  • Horizontal Cracks: When you see cracks running sideways across the wall, that’s what we’re talking about. These can be a sign of big trouble.
  • Vertical Cracks: These cracks run up and down. They can be due to the house settling a bit after it’s built.

Some cracks are just about looks and don’t really hurt the wall. But others can tell us there might be a problem with the foundation of the house, which is a big deal.

Brick Wall Cracks and Their Implications

Small cracks in a brick wall.

Hairline Cracks

  • What They Look Like: Thin lines that might be hard to see unless you’re looking closely.
  • Why They Happen: Small cracks can come from the house settling a bit, changes in temperature, or even just the brick getting older.
  • When to Worry: If these cracks get bigger or you see a lot of them, it might be time to get some advice from a pro.
Star-step pattern cracking in brick wall.

Stair-Step Cracks

  • What They Look Like: Cracks that run in a zigzag pattern, kind of like stairs, along the mortar between bricks.
  • Why They Happen: These cracks often mean the ground under the house is moving or settling unevenly.
  • Why It’s Important: Because they can signal that the foundation is moving, it’s a good idea to have someone who knows about foundations take a look.
Large horizontal crack between bricks.

Horizontal Cracks

  • What They Look Like: Straight lines that run side to side across the wall.
  • Why They Happen: These are usually caused by pressure from the soil outside the wall, especially if the ground gets too wet or dry.
  • Why It’s Urgent: Horizontal cracks can mean the wall is being pushed in or out, which could lead to big problems with the structure of the house.
Long vertical crack in a brick wall.

Vertical Cracks

  • What They Look Like: Long lines that run up and down the wall.
  • Why They Happen: These can be caused by the house settling a bit, which is pretty normal, especially in new homes.
  • When to Take Action: If these cracks start getting wider, it’s a good idea to have them checked out to make sure there’s no serious issue.

Understanding these cracks is the first step in keeping your home safe and sound. If you ever notice cracks getting worse or you’re just not sure, it’s always best to call in the experts to take a look.

The Cause of Cracking in Brick Walls: Foundation Damage

Imagine your house is like a giant puzzle—the foundation is one of the most important pieces. If something goes wrong with that piece, the other pieces of the puzzle won’t fit together, and the entire thing can start to look a little wonky.

That’s what happens when there are problems with a house’s foundation, the different parts of the house no longer fit together as well. Let’s dive into why these problems happen and how they make cracks show up in brick walls.

Why Do Foundation Problems Happen?

  • Soil Type: Not all dirt is the same. Some kinds of soil (especially clay) shrink when they dry out and expand when they get wet, kind of like a sponge. If your house is sitting on this kind of soil, the foundation will move up and down a lot after rain or snow, which isn’t great for stability.
  • Improper Drainage: Water is a big deal when it comes to foundations. If water hangs around your house’s foundation because it’s not draining away properly, it can make the soil too wet and soft. This can make the foundation sink or move. Check your gutters, downspouts, and yard grading to ensure water is moving away from the home.
  • Extreme Weather: Weather can be tough on houses. Lots of rain can make the ground too wet, and drought can make it too dry. Both situations mess with the soil, and in turn, your foundation. Also, really cold weather can freeze any moisture in the ground, causing it to expand and push against the foundation.
  • Tree Roots: Trees growing too close to your foundation are likely to cause issues as the roots expand. Firstly, roots such moisture from the soil, which can cause foundation settlement as the soil becomes weak and brittle. Secondly, tree roots can sometimes grow straight into a foundation wall, causing it to crack and crumble over time.

How Do These Issues Lead to Cracks?

When the foundation moves, it doesn’t move alone—the whole house moves with it, including the brick walls. Here’s how that movement can cause different kinds of cracks:

  • Soil Movement: When the soil under a house expands and contracts, it can cause the foundation to sink and move. This movement pulls apart bricks and mortar, leading to cracks. If the soil expands or shrinks, you might see stair-step cracks as different parts of the house move differently.
  • Water Pressure: Too much water in the soil can push against the foundation walls, especially if the drainage isn’t great. This pressure can lead to horizontal cracks in the walls as the foundation tries to hold up against the pressure.
  • Settling and Shifting: All houses settle a bit after they’re built, but if they settle too much because of bad soil or extreme weather, you can get vertical or stair-step cracks. This is the house’s way of trying to adjust to the moving foundation.

Understanding these causes can help you spot potential problems early. If you see cracks in brick walls, it’s a good idea to get them checked out by a professional team. Catching foundation issues early can save you a lot of trouble (and money) down the road.

Solutions to Fix Cracking in Brick Walls

When you’ve got cracks in your brick walls and problems with your foundation, it’s like having a sick pet. You know something’s wrong, but you need a vet (or in this case, a foundation expert) to figure out exactly what’s going on and how to fix it. AFS Foundation & Waterproofing Specialists are like foundation doctors, ready to diagnose and treat your home’s foundation issues. Let’s look at some ways they can help fix and prevent problems.

Tools to Fix the Foundation

Helical piers attached to the foundation of a home.
  • Foundation Pier Systems: These metal rods attach to the foundation and are inserted into sturdy rock below the soil. This helps stop the foundation from moving and properly redistributes the weight of your home, preventing cracking brick walls from forming.
  • Wall Anchors: If you have a basement, wall anchors are crucial. Imagine your foundation walls are like a tent that’s starting to lean because the stakes aren’t holding. Wall anchors are like adding new, stronger stakes into the ground and pulling the tent walls back into place. They help pull back walls that are bowing or cracking because of soil pressure.
  • Steel I-Beams: Sturdy beams attach to a basement wall and are secured to the basement floor and the floor joists above. This creates a rigid frame that keeps the walls straight, lessens the severity of cracking brick walls, and prevents them in the future.

Why Fixing Both Symptoms and Causes is Important

Just like with a sick pet, treating the symptoms without fixing the underlying problem won’t really solve anything. If your walls are cracking because of foundation issues, just filling in the cracks won’t stop it from happening again. AFS focuses on fixing both the visible problems (like cracks) and what’s causing them in the first place (like unstable soil or water damage).

DIY Brick Wall Crack Repair: Not a Good Idea

Fixing cracks in brick walls because of foundation problems by yourself might not be the best idea. Here’s why it’s smarter to call in the experts:

  • Requires Specialized Knowledge: Experts can figure out why the cracks are there in the first place. It could be because of the ground moving, water problems, or the foundation settling. If you just fill in the cracks without fixing the real issue, the problem could get worse.
  • Safety First: Messing with the foundation and structure of your house can be risky if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing. Doing something wrong could make your house unsafe.
  • Making Things Worse: If you don’t fix the cracks the right way, you could end up making the damage even bigger. This means it could cost a lot more to fix later on.
  • It Could Cost You More: Trying to save money by doing it yourself might seem like a good idea at first. But, if you don’t fix it properly, you might have to spend a lot more money later to get professionals to fix it right.
  • Warranty and Insurance Issues: Doing it yourself might void any warranties you have on your house. Also, if you don’t follow local building rules, you could have problems with your insurance or face issues when you try to sell your house.

So, even though it might be tempting to try and fix cracks in your brick walls by yourself, it’s really important to get professionals to do it. They know how to fix the problem safely and correctly, saving you time and money in the long run.

Preventative Measures You Can Take

Even though repairing foundation damage is best left to professionals, there are some ways you can help prevent foundation problems from happening. Here are some tips:

  • Proper Drainage: Make sure water flows away from your house, not towards it. This can involve sloping the ground away from your foundation or installing gutters and downspouts to direct rainwater away.
  • Regular Inspections: Just like going to the doctor for a check-up, having your foundation inspected regularly can catch problems early, before they get big and expensive.
  • Maintenance: Keep an eye on your foundation and walls. If you see small cracks starting to form, or if doors and windows begin to stick, it might be a sign of foundation issues.

By taking these steps, you can help keep your foundation strong and avoid problems down the road. And if you do run into issues, AFS Foundation & Waterproofing Specialists are there to help diagnose and treat your home’s foundation, keeping it healthy for years to come.

FAQs

Small, hairline cracks are common and often not a major concern. They can result from minor settling or temperature changes. However, monitoring these cracks for changes in size or new cracks developing is important.

While older homes are more likely to have cracks simply due to age and the long-term effects of settling and environmental exposure, new homes can also develop cracks as they settle during the first few years after construction.

Signs that a crack may be related to foundation issues include the crack being wider than 1/4 inch, the presence of stair-step or horizontal cracks, doors and windows that stick or won’t close, and cracks that continue to grow over time.

Schedule a Free Foundation Inspection With AFS

AFS installer smiling and holding metal rod over shoulder.

If you have concerns about the cracks in your brick walls, don’t hesitate to contact AFS. We’ve been helping homeowners across the Southeastern United States protect their foundations since 2000, and we’re ready to do the same for you.

With industry-leading solutions and an experienced team, we’re committed to taking care of your home. Don’t let foundation cracks ruin the safety and comfortability of your home—schedule a free inspection with AFS today!

Related Resources

Ted Dryce

Ted Dryce

Content Writer

Ted is an SEO Content Writer who has been with Groundworks since 2021. He’s covered home repair topics ranging from crawl space encapsulation to regional soil conditions. When he’s not working, Ted is performing improv comedy and working on his own creative projects.

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