What to do about crumbling foundation bricks in my detached garage?
April 7, 2011 3:46 PM   Subscribe

My detached garage has some damaged foundation wall "bricks" - cinder block or masonry, not sure of right term. Detached garage photo, and a Closeup of damaged masonry bricks/cinder blocks. How bad is this and what kind of professional do I need to call about it? (Or can I fix it myself?)

This is damage over a period of a few years. The garage may have been built as early as the 1920s, no idea how recent the exterior surface on the bricks is.

The garage is built into the side of a hill, and the downhill side has an exposed foundation made of these masonry blocks (?). The beige sort of stucco-ish finish/coating on the blocks is cracked and coming off, exposing the gray compressed cinders or cement or concrete within.

-What are these bricks called?

-What is causing the cracking - is it water damage? (No obvious water problem inside the building, but I haven't looked that hard, it's a primitive garage inside) What should I look for to figure it out?

-What kind of professional deals with things like this?

-Does it look like a straightforward fix, or an "oh no, serious money" fix?
posted by LobsterMitten to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This looks cosmetic to me. And those underlying "bricks" are cinder blocks. They don't look 1920's.

I think your issue is with whatever someone used to adhere the decorative coverings to the blocks. Are the fallen coverings intact?

I'd just mortar them back on.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 3:56 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

From the photo, it looks like that's just your parging (the cement mixture used to seal the wall). If that's all it is, then it requires someone who can wield a trowel to fix it.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:04 PM on April 7, 2011

Agreeing with the other two posters. It looks cosmetic rather than structural- the cinderblocks form the load bearing foundation, not the exterior decorative bricks, and then cinderblocks don't look like they've been compromised. I don't know that you need a professional mason, probably a generally handy person could fix this.
posted by Leta at 4:24 PM on April 7, 2011

My old teacher would have called the stuff falling off a veneer. You have water getting between your veneer and the cinder blocks. Find out where it's coming from. If it's persistent it could affect the integrity of the mortar of the cinder blocks.

Just by looking at the close up, you're gonna watch more veneer bricks fall if you don't do anything.
posted by Max Power at 4:37 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

The exterior finish on more bricks is now cracked and pulling away from the underlying brick material, which in turn is crumbly.

I agreed too until I read that caption. It looks like that facade has been holding moisture between it and the structural masonry causing all of it to deteriorate. It also looks like it's just a matter of being old and needing to be refinished. It probably won't be too expensive to knock off all of the old surface material and maybe stucco it or something similar that will tolerate exposure to the elements.

On preview, pretty much what Max Power just mentioned.
posted by snsranch at 4:41 PM on April 7, 2011

Masonry/stucco/cementitious products are fantastically porous. If any water is intruding into the space between the finish veneer and the concrete block behind, it's probably coming from the exterior as rain or other precipitation. Depending on where you live, freeze/thaw action could then more quickly force the veneer off the wall.
posted by LionIndex at 5:29 PM on April 7, 2011

What you need to determine is whether the exterior, tan brick pieces are separate pieces from the underlying gray bricks, or if they are part of them (like cast concrete bricks, which for some reason seems to fit the time period).

If they are a veneer, they can be chipped off and the underlying bricks probably are fine. If they are part of the bricks and not a veneer, you still might be fine, but it will take more inspection to be sure. Especially when you wrote that (something) seems crumbly. What can be happening is that water is seeping inside the bricks (which are porous) and not seeping back out, and the (likely) freeze / thaw cycle is destroying them. This can happen with painted bricks if the water is getting in up top somewhere and can't get out due to the paint.
posted by gjc at 5:31 PM on April 7, 2011

Forgot: should probably get a mason out to do a consult.
posted by gjc at 5:32 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

On the contracting front, I would seek out contractors who do exteriors and invite two or three to bid on the project. In my experience "bids" are usually about 20% lower than "estimates". It must be the sense of competition that makes a difference.

Don't know your location but even here in So Cal that job is probably $1000 or less.
posted by snsranch at 5:52 PM on April 7, 2011

I don't think that this is a veneer - the chunks that have fallen off were part of the cement blocks.

This is generally referred to as "spalling" and occurs when moisture gets into a block and freezes.

The first thing you need to do is determine if and how water got into the blocks - is there a leak on the interior that allows water to enter the blocks?

Matching the exact pattern could be tricky, but it wouldn't be a huge job for a mason to replace the blocks. You might have to settle for a close but not exact replacement block.

Priority one is to get the exposed (very porous) block surfaces replaced or painted. The spalling will continue as long as moisture is able to enter the blocks. I imagine some of the other faces are ready to fall off without too much effort.
posted by davey_darling at 6:56 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

There is some minor settling as should be expected from an older structure. It's not water damage. As long as your floor slab isn't in too bad of shape it is just going to be a minor cosmetic fix. Any handyman familiar with concrete work should be able to fix it nicely and for not a lot of money.
posted by JJ86 at 7:30 PM on April 7, 2011

This was happening to my house - on the bricks that make up the foundation wall. We don't have a fancy finish like yours, just a textured mortar covering, but it's the same function.

Ours was about the same size area as yours. It cost us about 500 bucks to have the old stuff knocked off and some new cement applied. I suspect prices will vary depending on the nature of the materials and work involved, so call a few masons and get several quotes.

You do want to get it taken care off, because that decorative shell protects the blocks from the elements. That said, they are made of stone and nothing bad will happen immediately.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:32 PM on April 7, 2011

Response by poster: Just by looking at the close up, you're gonna watch more veneer bricks fall if you don't do anything. [...]

I imagine some of the other faces are ready to fall off without too much effort.

Yes, this is definitely true. That close-up is from a year ago and already there are more open areas, and much of the wall has cracks through the veneer, or through the front of the bricks (if the tan part is actually part of the brick rather than a veneer).

I see these bricks, with this kind of facing, all over in our area, and the inside of them doesn't look quite like cinder block (it is made of larger chunks of material, not a uniform smallish-grain material like cinder block) but nobody seems to know what they're called.

Thank you all for your help. I will be calling a mason in the next few weeks, will update if we get any solid answers.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:34 AM on April 8, 2011

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