Gallery of Building Brick Problems

This gallery of photographs is intended to assist owners, architects, and attorneys in identifying problems with bricks.

Freezing and Thawing Durability

Freeze-Thaw Damage – Spalling (Visible Peeling Away of a Surface Layer) and Internal Cracking (Not Always Visible in the Wall)

Bricks not immediately adjacent to heated walls may be prone to exhibit spalling. Chimneys and porches are particularly susceptible to durability failures. In this photograph, dark biological staining accentuates and contributes to the facial loss due to brick freeze-thaw damage (spalling).

Spalling below a water drain with water impingement.

Advanced Freeze-Thaw Deterioration on Reclaimed Bricks Used in a Garden Wall

Internal Cracking Not Visible From the Outside of the Building Due to Freezing and Thawing

Extreme Freeze-thaw Failures in the ASTM C67 “Freezer” Test (Imported Bricks)

Elasticity Mismatch – Rigid Mortar and Soft Old Reclaimed Bricks

The red and beige bricks were chosen from construction rubble from an late 1800’s structure. The lighter colored or beige bricks were then called “commons” and were typically used in interior walls (that never saw water impingement or freezing and thawing), They we reused in a home built in the 1950’s with bricks laid in a Portland cement (hard or rigid) mortar. Over 60 years later, the moisture expansion of the bricks along with freezing and thawing caused surface spalling and cracking in the beige bricks. This is a classic case of elasticity mismatch between the lighter colored/soft bricks and the mortar.

Face Cracks


Efflorescence (Surface Deposit) – Under Ridge Cap (Left of Gable)

Efflorescence on a Garden Wall (Encrustations)

De-Icing Salt Deposits on Brick Paver

Lime Runs (Vertical Salt Deposits), Also Called “Encrustations” in the European Community

Lime Run on a Garden Wall Due to Lack of Flashing (notice expansion joint)

The use of a brick cap that was not sloped along with the apparent lack of flashing led to excessive saturation allowing calcium deposits to be formed on the wall surface.

Lime Runs on a Garden Planter Wall

No effective means (impermeable barrier) was used to prevent water infiltration from the inside of the planter into the brick retaining wall resulting in lime solution from the mortar with deposition on the brick surfaces during drying periods. The lime deposits were not promptly removed resulting in an encrustation of calcium carbonate.

Metal Staining in White Accent Bricks – Acid Interaction with a Contaminant

Metal Staining Due to a Building Gutter Attachment – Copper Oxide


Face and Edge Chips (Removed Material) Showing Red Brick “Body” in Areas of Surface Removed Material

The ceramic surface coating is removed revealing the underlying red brick material.

Corner Chipping

Salt Scaling


Lime Pops – Surface Defects

Consequence of Improper Flashing Visible After Rain

Leaking Chimney Despite Flue Caps and Well-Applied Flashing

Algae Growth at the Base of a Wall (indicating high moisture content)

Plant Growth on Wall Damaging Mortar

Structural, Cosmetic, and Repair

Moisture Expansion Over a Long Term Resulted in this Wall Failure Due To a Lack of Expansion Allowance in Its Design

Ineffective Matching of Repair Bricks to Originals

Color Matching: Color Comparison of Brick Display Panels to Construction Should Be Done in Natural Light

Blistering Paint Caused by Moisture in Walls Before Paint Application

Problems with Epoxy Sealer/Paint Due to Water in the Walls and Salt Release through Pinholes

Scanning electron microscope image of salt crystals in a pinhole.

Biological Stain (Leaf Mold) on Paver

Engineering/Structural Stability

Stair-Step Cracking – Subsidence

Stair-step cracks through mortar joints indicates excessive lateral tensile force caused by subsidence. It is seen in many older structures.

Tensile Cracking Due to Impact and Lack of Thermal Expansion Allowances

Example of “serpentine wall” with joint cracking due to impact.

Repaired Area (Upper Photo) after “Soft” Replacement Bricks Fell – Elasticity Mismatch

Original brick areas within the red highlight box were replaced with “soft” imported bricks during an original renovation. After about 15 years, the soft bricks started falling off of the walls necessitating another repair with harder/stiffer bricks.

Mortar Recession Due to Salt Attack

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