Brick Climb Failures

Do you have unusual brick cracks on the upper story of your brick house? A foundation related settlement usually manifests in a stair-step patterned crack that starts at the first story and continues to the second story. It often occurs near the corners of the house and follows the weakness in the veneer, which occurs in the door and window openings. So if you see a step crack starting at the foundation below a window corner and then continuing to the upper story window, it is likely (but not always) related to foundation settlement.

However in some cases you will find cracking only in the upper story and the cracks are not always in a step pattern. If you have an unusual crack above or next to a window and see the brick pulling away from the window, check to see if the window occurs near a brick climb. A brick climb is where the brick veneer sits on a sloped lower roof. The photo below left is an example of a brick climb and represents a classic brick climb failure. In this case the brick that climbs up the lower garage roof to the right of the front entry has slid down pushing in the brick at the bottom and creating a crack opening at the top. The movement was large enough to loosen the center keystone of the arch and allow the brick to lean out away from the window.

Houses built before the mid 90s often have brick climbs that are not adequately supported. On roof slopes greater than 7V:12H the brick should sit on a steel ‘L’-shaped lintel and the lintel should be attached to the adjacent wall studs or the supporting rafter with nails or lag screws. The lintel should also contain vertical steel plates welded to the horizontal leg in order to prevent sliding of the brick veneer down the roof.

If the lintel is not adequately connected, supported, or contain the steel “stops”, then sliding can occur. That doesn’t mean it will always occur. If there is enough of a buttressing effect from the wall brick adjacent to the brick climb, then sliding may not occur, despite the inadequacies in the connection. However when there is not enough of a buttressing effect and the connection is not adequate, brick sliding will inevitably occur. The repair in the case above is to remove the brick on the brick climb and install a proper brick climb lintel properly connected to the wall. The specific connection and flashing detail may vary depending on the specific conditions so contact an engineer for a proper repair detail.

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