House Shopping 101: Brick Behaving Badly
by Keith Tripp, March 2018
We build houses with brick, yet brick and water don’t do well in our cold climate where the freeze thaw phenomenon takes it toll. Why isn’t the brick on houses all falling apart? Water management and a bit of warmth are the key.
The best examples of brick failure can be found on garden walls and those proud entrances to pseudo-gated community subdivisions built in the 1980s, followed closely by chimneys built in the 1980s that didn’t meet common sense or even code requirements at that time.The failures are caused by lack of water management. In the photo of the wall, the brickwork has exploded from freeze-thaw action. Water enters at the top of the wall where fenceposts are embedded in the wall and flashings are inadequate or damaged. The parging efforts on the wall will have little benefit and may even reduce the ability of the brickwork to dry to the outside.
This 50-year-old brick veneer wall shows spalling caused in earlier days when the downspout was leaking against the wall. Brick veneer walls can tolerate some water because they can dry to the exterior, have an air space behind the brick and drainage capability. They also receive some warmth from heat loss through the house walls. However, concentrated and long-term water exposure will cause damage. Brick veneer damage is most commonly found where downspouts have been leaking, or close to ground level at the front of houses where snow and salt take their toll.
This Oakville chimney is disintegrated at an early age of 27 years, and soon will be at risk of collapse. It was built without good practices that have been understood for many years, and probably did not even meet the code requirements at time of construction. It has no chimney cap and drip-edge to shed water away from the brick. To make things worse the brick is corbelled, creating ledges to catch the water. These failed chimneys are a common find on 1980s houses across the GTA.
This triumvirate of Oakville chimneys are all destined to early failure because of poor construction practices.
There are two house shopping tips buried in this rubble:
1) The chimneys are a good example of why you should still worry if you have purchased a new home and the builder is telling you “Don’t worry, everything has been inspected and approved by the City”.
2) If buying a 1980s house with a masonry chimney: look up and expect the chimney to be in worse shape than found on houses built in the 1950s and 1960s.