You’ve got mortar cracking between your bricks in kind of a straight line. The cracks are not horizontal or going in a noticeable stair-step pattern. These cracks are going mostly straight in a vertical direction. Oh joy, what could this be about??
Or maybe you are looking to buy a brick home and notice this vertical cracking on the exterior during your showing. What is going on here? Should I be concerned that this home has foundation issues?
At Anchor Foundation Repair, we understand that homeowners can see alarming signs like vertical cracks in bricks and mortar and be concerned about them. While we are not masons or brick layers, we do know how foundation settlement and other causes affect masonry work and brick veneer siding and can tell you about how we diagnose issues during foundation inspection visits.
This article will explain the root cause of vertical cracking in brick mortar. We will also review your options for getting this troubling home issue repaired.
What Do These Vertical Brick Cracks Look Like?
This home symptom needs a little more description than I could offer in the intro. These cracks feel decidedly different than a typical stair-step crack pattern even when there are few deviations from the straight vertical.
The kind of vertical cracks we are talking about have a few characteristics. These vertical cracks:
- Appear in the middle sections of longer exterior walls,
- Are mostly straight, even if there are a few stair-step jumps in the path.
- The crack opening is usually wider at the top near the soffit, but
- Could be wider at the bottom near the slab (less common), and
- Could occur around an expansion joint if present.
- You could have bricks cracked straight through and cracked mortar as well.
What Do Vertical Mortar Cracks Mean?
There is only one reason for these kinds of vertical cracks to appear in a brick home. Changes and cosmetic flaws appearing in rigid finish surfaces like a brick veneer are great indicators. They tell us that something is happening with the unseen structure below and behind the outer finish. This concerning sign of vertical brick crack lines is caused by foundation settlement.
Foundation settlement is a *less alarming* way of saying that your home is sinking, but that sounds terrible and scary like you’re falling into a bottomless pit. Foundation settlement happens frequently in construction and it’s not that dramatic. It means that your home has moved somewhat in a downward direction from when it was originally built.
Vertical cracks especially highlight foundation settlement when there is significant settlement at one corner of your home. You could also have settlement at two consecutive corners where the middle of the wall is not sinking but the corners are pulling down. In other words, the entire home is not settling evenly. A section or corner has moved lower than the rest of the house.
When the Vertical Crack Is Wider at the Top and Narrow Down Low
A vertical crack that is wider at the top near the soffit and narrower down low near the slab often indicates that one of the corners of the wall has settled. It could also mean that settlement has occurred on both corners. This situation is also one that happens near brick expansion joints when/if they are present.
When the Vertical Crack is Narrow at the Top and Wider Down Low
Vertical cracking that is wider down near the slab indicates that the wall has a sag between the corners. So the middle of the wall is sagging, sinking, or settling rather than the corners. This is the opposite of the scenario above.
With sags in the middle of walls, we often find interior foundation settlement requiring interior foundation work. This is where you need support under the middle of the home in addition to around the perimeter. Interior foundation repairs are more extensive and expensive compared to more typical foundation repairs that take place along the exterior walls only.
Why or How Do Vertical Brick Cracks Happen?
When foundation settlement is happening on the corner or corners of a wall, it often shows up with telltale vertical cracking in the mortar and bricks.
When a foundation settles (or sinks down) the framing of the home moves with it. A brick veneer wall is attached to the framing. Settlement forces put pressure on the bonds between bricks and the individual bricks as well in this case. As the foundation and framing sink the mortar cracks as a result. If the force is strong enough, it could also crack the bricks in half.
Imagine gravity pulling straight down in the corners of a brick wall and where and how the bricks themselves or the mortar could crack. Maybe it’s hard to visualize but that’s a lot of force!
What To Do About Vertical Brick Cracks: 6 Options
You’ve got some options on what to do about vertical brick cracks around your home. Let’s list them quickly here and then we can elaborate on the options.
- Ignore the cracks and do nothing
- Repair with caulk
- Re-apply mortar (also called tuck point)
- Remove and replace damaged sections
- Redo the entire brick wall on one or more sides of the home
- Raise the foundation using foundation repair
Let’s discuss . . .
Option 1: Ignore the Vertical Cracks In Your Brick
Suggesting that you ignore the cracks sounds a little strange, but we’re just listing *all* the options here. But if the cracks don’t bother you that much and aren’t getting actively worse at the moment, then you could just ignore them for a while until you decide if or how to proceed later.
If the cracking is not on the front of your house or not easily visible from the street, then it might not be that urgent for you.
Options 2 & 3: Caulk or Re-Mortar Your Vertical Brick Cracks
Repairing the cracks with caulk or mortar are both cosmetic ways to mask the issue. This could work in the short term if you just want to make the cracks disappear temporarily to look good for an event at your home. Eventually, the cracks will reveal themselves again if the root cause of the problem is not addressed.
If this sounds like what you need to do right now, feel free to contact a Brazos Valley masonry contractor to get this cosmetic repair done for you.
Options 4 & 5: Remove/Replace/Redo Sections or Entire Walls
Removing and replacing damaged sections or redoing an entire wall of brick is a temporary cosmetic fix if your foundation is still settling. When active foundation settlement is the cause, this would be a short-lived and costly solution, not to mention a huge waste of money. The cracks will return if your foundation is still moving.
If you could somehow verify or tell that the foundation is no longer moving, then this would solve the visual problem more permanently. But it’s pretty hard to know for sure if a foundation is still moving or not or if it will move again in the future without the extra support of foundation repair. This leads us perfectly into the next option almost as if I had planned it that way . . .
Option 6: Raise the Foundation with Foundation Repair
If you want to fix foundation-related brick cracks with a more permanent and lasting solution, raising your foundation back to its original elevation is the way to go. Foundation repair is the only solution that addresses the root cause of the problem.
Foundation repair adds extra support under the length of your affected brick wall(s) and corners. Foundation repair also raises the portions of the home that have settled back into their original position when built. After a foundation is repaired, you can confidently do some re-mortaring to seal up the cracks for good without the worry of it cracking again due to further settlement.
Handling the Source of Your Vertical Brick Mortar Cracks
Now that you know and understand what has caused your vertical crack issue, what’s next? Well, you will need to decide if it’s time for foundation repairs or if you want to choose a more temporary solution.
At Anchor Foundation Repair, we have been inspecting and repairing foundations for 35+ years in Bryan, College Station, and surrounding Brazos Valley communities like Madisonville and Caldwell. We want to empower you with as much diagnostic information as possible so that you feel confident making repair decisions for your home.
Knowing when to get started with foundation repairs is a tough call for any homeowner. First, look around your home for other signs of foundation problems. Then, check out this article for guidance on knowing when the time is right to move forward with foundation repairs on your home with 100% confidence.