Brick Veneer Homes

Brick Veneer Homes: Are They Really Worth the Headache?

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I don’t know if you are aware of this, but I’ve spent the last three-plus years going around Madison County and giving presentations to various Real Estate Companies about the causes and implications of cracks in exterior brick veneer. The reason? Whenever home inspectors find brick veneer cracks, they always recommend a further structural evaluation to limit their liability, and nine times out of ten, the Realtor calls a foundation repair company for a free evaluation. And let’s face it. That’s what they are. Free evaluations of cracks in brick veneer. But it nearly always comes with a caveat: “We recommend foundation repairs costing at least $ 5,000.00.” You hardly ever hear of repair costs less than this. Why? Because it’s impossible to run a construction company and be profitable if you can’t charge $ 5,000.00 in a day or two. And why are these foundation repair contractors in business? Because of cracks in exterior brick veneer homes, mainly.

Are Brick Veneer Homes Worth the Headache?

We have so many brick veneer homes in North Alabama, and there are so many brick veneer cracking problems, that foundation repair companies can thrive. Some homeowners and nearly all home buyers are scared to death by brick veneer cracks. They see brick veneer as the primary structural element of the home. The foundation repair contractors feed on this. There are a short list of other so called foundation or structural problems with houses, that they also repair, which are fabulous by the way, but I contend that brick veneer cracks rank number one when it comes to the most common “major repair cost items” in every day real estate transactions. And who feeds this money making machine? Realtors. You do. Every time you call them, you are asking for a price to repair cracks in brick veneer. You never once ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? Why are we paying for brick veneer crack repairs?” Is it because: “Everyone else does, so I guess I better?” You just assume that they’re bad. Right? You know, they kill deals don’t they!!!???

What if I told you that you could tear all of the brick veneer off of every single house and throw it into the Tennessee River and the house could care less? Would you believe me? Well: It’s true. Brick veneer does not support the roof; it does not brace the home from wind; it does not do anything structurally. It’s just an attractive exterior siding material—no different from vinyl, wood or stucco. Actually, brick veneer is nothing but a pain in the derriere. Why? Because it can’t stretch one bit. You try to stretch it and it cracks. Hit it with a hammer and it shatters. It has no significant shear and tensile strength. It is baked clay…burnt dirt, for God’s sake. It can support itself because it has decent compressive strength, but it has little shear and tensile strength. So let’s say a house footing settles or shifts about 1/2-inch. Guess what? The brick veneer cracks. But does the house care? “Heck no, it doesn’t care.” Because wood frame buildings, like houses, are very flexible. They can stretch a whole lot. This is why you hardly ever see cracks in the interior drywall finish opposite the exterior brick veneer cracks. If you do see large drywall cracks, then you likely have a problem.

I’ve been inspecting houses for 30 years and I’ve been performing floor level surveys for about three-fourth’s this time. Never, have I inspected a home that didn’t have at least one inch of floor level variation across it’s foot-print. And one-inch variation nearly always represents a crack free home. SO IF WE CONTEND THAT CONTRACTORS CAN BUILD A LEVEL FOUNDATION, I AM HERE TO TELL YOU THAT ALL HOUSES SETTLE. THAT’S A FACT OUT OF BUCK’S ALMANAC. So believe me, ¼-inch, ½-inch, ¾-inch, etc. footing elevation variation or settlement, does not mean that a seller of a home needs to spend $ 26,000.00 underpinning his foundation due to cracks in exterior brick veneer. Especially if he’s been living in the home with the cracks for umpteen years and there are no problems inside the home. He might as well just replace the brick with some alternative siding. (Now that’s a novel idea!)

The next time you have a home inspector come running into the home, panting and out of breath, exclaiming he’s saved the day because he found cracks in the exterior of brick veneer homes, ask him why this is so important. If he says that cracks in brick veneer represent a foundation failure, ask him to point out the cracks in the drywall inside the home opposite the exterior brick veneer cracks. If there are none, tell him to calm down. Tell him that brick veneer is very brittle and cannot stretch the slightest amount, so minor settlements, which crack brick, are nothing to worry about. And do this in front of the buyer. Stand your ground.

Let’s all work together to educate the home inspectors who think cracks in brick veneer represent foundation failure. Ask them, “what if this house had vinyl siding?” “Would you even be saying anything to us right now?” I say he/she wouldn’t, because there are usually no cracks inside the home, and vinyl siding would certainly not show cracks. He/she wouldn’t even be talking about it. See what he/she says. I bet they can’t answer you, at least intelligently. It’s true. Think about it.

If you’re a Realtor who is sick and tired of seeing sellers pay huge sums of money to foundation repair contractors in order to salvage real estate deals because of cracks on the exterior of brick veneer homes, or if you’ve seen deals fall apart because of the high cost of foundation repairs that come from the free inspections, please let me take you to lunch. I’d like to hear some of your horror stories. I’d like to tell you what I could provide as an alternative to expensive foundation repair.

Or better yet: if you’re a Realtor who’s sick and tired of hearing me preach this sermon about brick veneer homes, then please contact me and tell me so. I would sincerely appreciate it. If enough of you respond this way, I promise to take a back seat on this issue, and forever keep my mouth shut on the subject. I’ll let this ridiculous/tragic real estate game continue.

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