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The 4 Most Common Brick Problems and What to Do about Them

Brick wall

Brick is a beautiful and durable material that under ideal conditions can last the entire lifespan of the attached structure. Unfortunately, our vastly fluctuating Ontario temperatures and abundant precipitation can take a toll on the masonry here in Ottawa. Add to that any deficiency in the bricks used or the process of their erection and you may start to see defects in your building. These are the four most common problems encountered in brick masonry and what to do about them.

1. Mortar Deterioration

Mortar deterioration is common after the first hundred years or so. It’s generally caused by excessive moisture penetration, wind erosion or other factors. The solution? Repointing. This is the process of removing the old mortar and replacing it. But it must be done with the right type of product as mortar that’s too hard can lead to weakening of the bricks.

2. Brick Deterioration

Bricks could begin to deteriorate for a number of possible reasons including excessive moisture entering the brickwork and then freezing, foundation settling, and repointing work done with too hard a mortar. The signs of deterioration for bricks used in Ottawa architecture are commonly cracking and spalling, with different patterns in deterioration indicating specific problems. For example, diagonal cracking is typically caused by uneven settlement of the building, and vertical cracking in a building’s corners may be due to structural movements.

The solution is generally the same regardless of the origin of the problem. Once the cause of the difficulty is resolved, it typically amounts to replacing the damaged bricks. In some cases the bricks are intact enough to simply turn them around.

3. Bowing or Collapsing Brick Walls

Bad news. This indicates catastrophic structural failure caused by extreme foundation settling or possibly massive amounts of water entering the structure (which can occur when a roof leaks for a long period of time). In either case, the problem will need to be resolved before repair on the brick can begin. Once this is done, the wall can be taken down and replaced. We also recommend waterproofing or a consultation with our foundation contractors in Ottawa to avoid this problem altogether.

4. Efflorescence

A white crystalline substance known as efflorescence can sometimes form on bricks when too much moisture accumulates inside the porous material. You may need to fix or incorporate drainage features to ensure water disperses properly. Afterwards, the efflorescence is easy to remove with a stiff brush, a mild detergent and some water. Never use a pressure washer on brick surfaces as this can lead to erosion that leaves the brick vulnerable to deterioration.

Repairing Your Brick

At Bol-Dan Foundation and Masonry, our renovation experts provide masonry, foundation repair and foundation waterproofing services to Ottawa residents. Contact us to schedule an on-site inspection of your home or business and get a free estimate on repair for your property.


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