Based on my personal experience, I would say that differential brick expansion and differential foundation settlement are the top two things that cause cracks in brick veneer homes. A third and close by cause is sag in double-wide garage door steel lintel beams. Rounding out the list are steel lintel expansion (#4) and reflective cracking (#5).
As I’ve said many times, foundation repair contractors lump all five of these into one category: foundation settlement or foundation failure. This is literally the farthest thing from the truth when talking about cracks in brick veneer homes.
The Top 5 Causes of Cracks in Brick Veneer Homes:
Cause #1: Differential Foundation Settlement
Although differential foundation settlement ranks at the top of the list, I argue that more than 90% of the time, the settlement is so small that it does not represent foundation failure and does not represent a structural problem. So if you know of many homes that have been underpinned due to brick veneer cracks, there’s a very good chance that someone paid for this unnecessarily.
Cause #2: Differential Brick Expansion
Differential brick expansion, the second most common of cracks in brick veneer, is pretty easy to understand and spot. It can be stair-step or vertical but it always has a nearly uniform crack width. These cracks form in nearly all houses because builders in our area don’t understand the need for expansion joints. If we all lived in Texas, we’d see expansion joints in all brick veneer construction. I guess that means they’re smarter than us. If the builder does not provide expansion joints in brick veneer construction, the brick veneer will nearly always develop expansion cracks (create its own expansion joints). Clay brick masonry undergoes irreversible expansion during its lifetime. This creates stress concentrations around door and window openings or at offsets in walls. These cracks are nothing to worry about.
Cause #3: Sag in Double-Wide Garage Door Lintel Beams
Sag in double-wide garage door lintel beams can be tragic. Again, this is attributable to builder error or stupidity. The steel angle lintel that supports the brick located above the garage door opening must be bolted or welded to a structural back up that carries or supports the entire weight of brick. The lintel cannot span 16 to 18 feet and support any significant weight, without sagging and, ultimately, making cracks in brick veneer. Many foundation contractors look at these cracks and recommend foundation underpinning. Whenever I hear of this, I genuinely question their Code of Ethics.
Cause #4: Steel Lintel Expansion
Steel lintel expansion results in vertical cracks or stair-step cracks above the upper corners of window and door openings. Steel expands and contracts with changes in temperature. During the hot summers, the steel expands and pushes outward on the brick veneer, which generates small cracks. Again, foundation repair contractors call these settlement cracks. Nothing needs to be done.
Cause #5: Reflective Cracking
Lastly, brick veneer is often constructed atop a concrete slab – such as an elevated porch slab or exterior patio. If shrinkage cracks develop in these slabs and the cracks extend to and below the brick veneer, they will nearly always cause cracks in brick veneer to form—hence the name: reflective cracking. Just like tile flooring on concrete slabs. The tile cracks whenever the underlying slab cracks.
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