Disclaimer: This is an example of a student written essay.
Click here for sample essays written by our professional writers.

Any scientific information contained within this essay should not be treated as fact, this content is to be used for educational purposes only and may contain factual inaccuracies or be out of date.

Causes of Brick Deterioration and Decay in Buildings

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Construction
Wordcount: 5408 words Published: 3rd Jul 2018

Reference this


Most parts of the building are built from the brick. Nowadays, the brickwork defects ware commonly founded in building. The problem was getting more serious and serious. Seriously of the brickwork defects may cause a lot of problems to the occupants. The main problem encountered in building with a traditional outside bearing wall of brickwork and concrete inside bearing structure is caused by differences in the temperature and moisture-induced movement. Crack maybe be discovered in walls and solutions have to be found. (L.G.W.Verhoef, 2001)

Brickwork defect occurs in building has a variety of reasons. This is perhaps not surprising when one considers the wide range of differences bricks and technique in construction of building, differences in the construction sites and the varied occupational or owner used of the completed building.

Brickwork will deteriorate and decay if not properly maintained. Such deterioration can be caused by a number of factors and can take various forms. The main signs that brickwork is suffering are surface growth and staining, efflorescence, loosed brick becoming dislodged, crack appears throw the bricks or mortar and etc (Moses Jenkins, 2007).

In this sub chapter, the different types of the brickwork defect will be determined. This chapter gave an overview of various types of the brickwork defects and understanding the brickwork defects. To identify the different types of the brickwork defects will make easily for the occupants or owners to find out the causes of the defects and take the suitable remedies method in the right way.

Get Help With Your Essay

If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!

Essay Writing Service

Define bricks

Brick is the materials that commonly use to build the building’s wall. Clay bricks are the most common brick type. It is made from the sand and clay and uniformly burnt at temperatures between 800°C and 1200°C. Surface finishes are sometimes applied e.g. glazed bricks. Glazed bricks are still being produced in quantity and can be obtained from a major English brick manufacturer and supplier. Calcium Silicate bricks is manufactured from sand-lime (calcium silicate). The bricks are pressed under great pressure and steamed in an autoclave. The bricks are smooth, fine textured and light in colour. The brick colour is produced from material source, composition and firing temperature.

The size of bricks over time has changed considerably. Some early medieval bricks were 13 inches by 6 inches by 2 inches. By the late 15th century a brick 9.5 inches by 4.5 inches by 2 inches became the norm and a charter in 1571 stipulated 9 inches by 4.5 inches by 2.25 inches. By the 18th century, 8.25 inches by 4 inches by 2.5 inches brick was introduced. Modern bricks are 8.5 inches by 4 inches by 2.5 inches which following metrication translated to 215mm by 102.5mm by 65mm. Modern bricks is the brick that most of the building using in nowadays.

Defect of size

Oversized bricks are caused by poor material selection and preparation or underfiring. Under size bricks are caused mainly by poor material preparation, faulty moulds and overfiring.

Defect of shape

The causes of these defects are many. These are including poor preparation of moulds or moulding technique, faults in stacking, rough handling and uneven drying. If the bricks are considerably over burnt, incipient fusion takes place and the bricks, called burrs, come out of the kiln or clamp stuck together. Burrs are suitable only for hardcore purposes.

Defects of body

Faults in the raw material body can give rise to defects such as cracking, bloating and laminations. Cracking and warping of bricks, causing incipient weakness, maybe due to exposure of green bricks to direct sunlight or rapid drying winds. Similar effects will be produced by putting green bricks into the kiln too soon. Large cracks maybe caused by rain getting onto hot bricks.

Defect of Appearance

These defects are caused primarily by faulty wires in the case of wire-cut bricks. Dark spots are caused by the presence of unevenly distributed iron sulphide in the clay.

Brick wall settlement

Any movement in a structural brick wall which risks having broken the bond courses in the wall, and any movement in a brick veneer wall which has broken or loosened the connections between the veneers to the underlying structure are potentially dangerous and risk collapsing masonry.

Bulging brick wall

This is likely to be a bond-brick or bond-course failure. This defect is potentially extremely dangerous and must be very urgent to take action. If not, it can causes the building suddenly collapse.

Cracks and Bulges in brick walls

Frost and earth loading can push a below-grade brick foundation wall inwards. The wall is often bulged inwards as well as showing horizontal and step cracking and loose bricks over the bulged area. The damage occurs from slightly above ground level to roughly the frost line.

Cracks and loose bricks

Normally, crack and loose bricks are cause by frost, settlement, expansion, diagonal and stair-stepped. Those defects often happen at building corners where roof spillage is concentrated.

Loose bricks and missing or lost mortar

This is the movement where mortar is severely washed-out by roof spillage or other water movement against the foundation. Loose and lost bricks may also occur where wood blocks, originally set into a wall to permit nailing of interior components, is damaged by insects or decay. Similarly, if wood joists are damaged and bend excessively or collapse (insect damage, rot, fire) the collapsing joist can, as its in-wall end moves, damage the foundation or building wall. Fire cuts on wood joists in brick walls were intended to minimize this damage source by angling the end of the joist where it was set into the wall pocket.

Sand-blasted bricks 

Which have been “cleaned” of old paint, algae, or stains using high pressure sand blasting or possibly even very high pressure water blasting can be permanently damaged by loss of the harder surface of the bricks which had been provided by their original firing. Once the softer internal brick has been exposed, the bricks will be more inclined to absorb water and to suffer water and frost damage. Sandblasting brick is considered a poor practice in building renovation and maintenance.

Spalling bricks

Spalling is caused by water and frost, such as water leaking into a brick structure at any entry point: a crack, a brick which has lost its hard surface, or at openings by window and door penetrations. But beware about caulking brick.

Exfoliating-rust damage to brick 

Masonry wall occur these defects when brick walls have been improperly caulked where caulking should have been omitted. The most common example of this defect is the damage that occurs to a brick wall when a steel lintel over a window or door is caulked tightly between the brick and the steel. Moisture penetrating the brick wall through cracks or mortar joints is trapped around the steel lintel. Rust developing on steel lintels has tremendous lifting power as the rusting exfoliating metal expands, sufficient to crack and damage bricks around lintel.

Improper repair mortar on brickwork

During repair work, tuck pointing bricks, or re-pointing bricks can cause surface spalling of bricks if the mason uses a too hard mortar with high portland content mortar on soft brick in a climate exposed to freezing weather. The high portland content means that the mortar will be not only harder, but more waterproof than the surrounding brick. Water trapped around the hard mortar can freeze leading to surface spalling of the bricks. This is particularly likely to be seen when a wall has been tuck pointed using hard high-portland mortar where originally a soft high-lime mortar was used and where the original bricks were soft.

Salts on brickwork

Salts are a major cause of deterioration. Salt can enter bricks through contaminated water ingress. In coastal areas salt can come from the sea and, in winter, the nearby application of road salt is a constant threat. Salt is damaging because it creates a steady expansion of crystals within the bricks. This can eventually force the structure of the brick apart. The source of salt can occur from within the bricks themselves or from the application of contaminated mortars or renders. Brick lined chimney flues are also vulnerable as sulphates can be introduced when flu gasses condense. This is a common defect where a chimney has been sealed without adequate ventilation.

Efflorescence on brickwork

Efflorescence appears as a white powdery deposit on the brick. It is a phenomenon that soluble slats dissolved in water are carried, deposited and gradually accumulated on brick surfaces to form an unsightly scum. Without water efflorescence cannot occur. The soluble salts may be originated from the raw material of bricks. But in most cases, efflorescence is caused by salts from the external sources such as ground water, contaminated atmosphere, mortar ingredients and other materials in contacts with the bricks. To minimize the risk (it can never be completely avoided in brickwork exposed to weathering) the building detail should be designed, as far as is possible, to avoid saturation. In other words good overhangs, copings and sills with drips all need to be considered. Efflorescence can be ‘helped on its way’ by sponging down the wall with clean water (avoiding substantial wetting) or dry brushing with soft brushes. Any other treatment should be avoided as it may disfigure the bricks. 

Frost Attack on brickwork

Frost attack often occurs when very cold weather immediately follows a very wet spell. When porous materials become saturated and the temperature drops below freezing the formation of ice causes stresses which some bricks cannot be resist and cracking or spalling occurs. Clay bricks are classified as frost resistant, moderately frost resistant, and not frost resistant. Calcium silicate bricks are not generally at risk although it is wise to specify bricks with a compressive strength.

Thermal movement on brickwork

Every materials expand or contracts as the temperature of the material changes, typically expanding as its temperature increases and contracting as its temperature decreases. Different materials expand and contract at different rates when they undergo similar changes in their temperatures. Brick veneer can expand and contract approximately. When determine the expansion or contraction of a brick veneer, it is important to remember the effects of the sun on materials. The energy from the sun’s rays raises the temperature of a material well above the air temperature. On a day when the air temperature is 32° F, the energy from the sun can raise a wall’s temperature to above 100° F

Thermal expansion failures in structural or veneer brick walls

A separate factor that can cause very large movements and extensive damage to brick structures or brick veneer walls is the thermal expansion which occurs across a long or tall brick wall when that wall is heated by sun exposure. The photographs show significant thermal expansion damage in a long brick structure.

Significant breaks and gaps at vertical brick mortar joints due to thermal expansion and perhaps some frost and water damage.

Photograph of thermal expansion damage to a brick wallFigure1: Significant breaks

Horizontal sliding breaks in brick mortar joints, exposing reinforcing wire to rust, exfoliation, and additional damage from those forces as the exfoliating wire produced still more pressure on the mortar joint.

Photograph of a collapsed brick strudctural wallFigure2: Horizontal breaks

Step cracking following mortar joints near the building corners and where the wall movement was resisted by first story intersecting brick walls abutting at right angles the middle section of the long brick wall.

Photograph of thermal expansion damage to a brick wallFigure3: Step cracking

Cracks and broken bricks at the intersections of brick walls and openings.

Photograph of thermal expansion damage to a brick wallFigure 4: Cracks and broken bricks

(InspectApedia, 2007)

Moisture movement on brickwork

Moisture affects all porous masonry materials, including brick, mortar and concrete masonry units but in very different ways. These effects must be considered when a combination of these materials is used, such as when brick rests on a concrete foundation, brick veneer units are used with block back up, and when brick and architectural concrete products are used in the same wythe bands of precast concrete or architectural concrete block in a brick veneer. After their initial mixing or casting, mortar, poured-in-place concrete and concrete masonry units shrink as the curing of the Portland cement proceeds. This is an unavoidable consequence of the curing of concrete products and is accommodated in design.

Sulphate attack on brickwork

Most ordinary clay bricks contain sulphates of sodium, magnesium or calcium. These salts are soluble in water in water, calcium sulphate being less soluble than the other two. Normally, these sulphates are seen as the harmless efflorescence which affect appearance only and need simply to be brushed away. In theory, most brick walls with mortars based on OPC (Ordinary Portland Cement) are liable to sulphate attack. The most vulnerable walls are earth-retaining walls and parapet walls but sulphate attack is a problem also on rendered, and on facing brickwork.

On rendered brickwork, sulphate attack is manifested by cracking of the rendering, the cracks being mainly horizontal and corresponding to the mortar joints below. The rendering may adhere quite well to the bricks early in the attack but areas are likely to become detached as the expansion of the underlying brickwork causes severance of the bond between the two material. (H.J.Eldridge,B.Sc.1976)

Lime staining on brickwork

Lime staining occurs when calcium hydroxide is deposited on the face of brickwork. Lime staining will quickly absorbs carbon dioxide from the air and becomes calcium carbonate. It is virtually insoluble and can only be removed by expert and costly treatment. The calcium hydroxide can come from three main sources:

  1. calcium hydroxide caused by the hydration of Portland cement
  2. from hydrated lime added to mortar
  3. from brickwork in contact with wet concrete

Porosity on brick

Porosity is an important characteristic of brick. In contrast to other moulded or pre-cast building materials, the porosity of brick is attributed to its fine capillaries. By virtue of the capillary effect, the rate of moisture transport in the brick is ten times faster than in other building materials. Moisture is released during day-time and re-absorbed during night-time. The ability to release and re-absorb moisture by capillary effect is one of the most useful properties of brick that helps to regulate the temperature and humidity of atmosphere in a building. This distinctive property makes brick an admirable building material, particularly suitable for buildings in the tropics. On the other hand, all porous materials are susceptible to chemical attacks and liable to contamination from weathering agents like rain, running water and polluted air.

Crack in brick faces/firecracks

The finished appearance of clay brick can vary greatly, this is because dependant on clay and the manufacturing process. Some products contain cracks of varying degree (sometimes referred to as firecracks) as an inherent feature. Firecracks are usually visible on the product as delivered. However, firecracks can be masked by the texture and surface sands used in the manufacturing process becoming visible after bricks are laid as a result of natural weathering of exposed brickwork.

Find Out How UKEssays.com Can Help You!

Our academic experts are ready and waiting to assist with any writing project you may have. From simple essay plans, through to full dissertations, you can guarantee we have a service perfectly matched to your needs.

View our services

Dampness of the brick wall

More or less permanent dampness showing more clearly on the internal wall surface from ground level up to a height of about 750mm, but may be higher in severe cases or if the outer face is covered with a non-porous finish. The decorations may be damp, blistered or discoloured, or, if dry, may have been pushed off the wall by a film or salts which will often be seen as a fluffy crystalline growth. The possible causes of dampness in the brick wall are lack of dpc (damp proof course), by-passing of the dpc, Failure of the dpc material.

Brick growth and expansion gaps in brickwork

Bricks undergo long-term permanent expansion over time. This expansion continues for the life of the brick, but the majority of the growth occurs early in its life. Most general purpose bricks have a coefficient of expansion in the range of 0.5-1.5mm/m (millimeters per meter) over fifteen years. Designers can use the values of the coefficient of expansion to accommodate for the growth of bricks by the size and spacing of the control joints. The provision of control gaps or articulation joints between parts of the structure during construction will accommodate movements within the structure over time. Numerous sources of movement exist and include:

The change in size of building materials with temperature, loading conditions and moisture content

The differential change in size of building materials (for example, cement products shrink over time, whilst clay bricks expand slowly over time)

  • Foundation and footings movement
  • Frame movement
  • Frame shortening
  • Temperature movement
  • Internal horizontal and vertical movement

Causes of the brickwork defects


Brickworks are used primarily in the construction of walls. To construct the brick wall required many skills, design, experience, selection of material, and technique. Lack of all expertise may cause the brickwork defects or failure of the building. The defects that occur in brickwork maybe the result of inherent faults, deficiencies in production, design, materials or workmanship, and attack by environmental agents.

After the brickwork has been constructed, it maybe meets of various requirements, climate, loading, and occupational in use. It is not surprising that defects happened or occurs frequently.

In this sub chapter, the causes of the brickwork defects will be list out. To find out the actual causes of the brickwork defects will be easily for the occupational to take the right remedies immediately and reduces the brickwork defects happen.

Selection of bricks

The choice of bricks is often influenced by the price but the quality required must also be carefully considered in order to avoid defects developing during the service life of the material. Therefore, the selection of suitable bricks for any particular purpose has often to be a trade-off between appearance and durability requirements on the one hand, and cost on the other.

This is not always possible to assess the quality of bricks by the colour, variability of colour of bricks of the same source and method of production can often be an indication of strength and durability variations.

Storage of bricks

Bricks on site are rarely kept under adequate cover. Defects in the bricks resulting from the lack of adequate protection on the site are rarely apparent before use. However, bad weather conditions can be detrimental to bricks in that saturation by rain can be responsible for both subsequent efflorescence and decoration defects.

Soluble Salts in Bricks

Under burnt bricks contain a high salt content. The salts come from the raw clay from which the bricks are made, or are formed in the burning process. Most clay bricks contain some soluble salts, but the types and amounts vary appreciably. The effect of the soluble salts on both efflorescence and the more serious problem of disintegration of bricks themselves are largely governed by the strength and pores structure of the bricks.

Sulphate attack

Sulphates are salts which are naturally present in industrial waste, gypsum product, clay bricks, flue condensates and in some ground waters. In persistently damp conditions, sulphate will react slowly with tricalcium aluminate forming a compound called calcium sulphoaluminate. This reaction causes the cement mortar or render of the brickwork to expend and eventually disintegrate.

Solar Radiation

While drying out of soil by trees is the most common reason for cracking in brickwork, some clay are also very susceptible to drying out by direct solar radiation. The northern facing wall is the most likely to be affected and stepped diagonal cracking is the most common symptom, usually occurring at the north east and north west corner of the building. (Greg Loveder, 2000)

Migration of moisture

The movement of moisture beneath a building can produce the phenomenon known as long term dome and saucer effect. The dome effect is a slow heaving of the soil caused by movement of moisture from the perimeter of the house to its centre, and the saucer effect is moisture moving in the opposite direction, from the centre towards the perimeter. The dome effect causes the walls to tilt outwards and the restraining influence of the roof produces horizontal cracks on the outside wall. These will be wider on the outside surface rather than the inner.

Planting of tree

Some of the brickwork defects may cause by big trees roots that plant nearby the building area. When planning to plant trees, the idea to be considering is the strength of the footings under the house. If lack of strength, the roots of the trees maybe grow into the ground under the building and cause the brick wall settlement and cracking.

Uneven settlement of foundations

Where a particular heavy load is placed on the foundation such as a large column, movement may occur as moisture is squeezed out of the soil or the soil readjusts itself. This consolidation will stop when the soil has finally compacted enough to support the load. Brick wall or masonry wall may crack which may result from movement during compaction.

Excessive vibration

Damage caused by vibration from earth tremors, heavy traffic or pile driving is fairly rare, however if the vibration is great enough to actually cause the foundation to move, brickwork cracking or defect can occur. The crack will show up irregularly if the sources of the vibration cannot be removed. (Greg Loveder, 2000)

Additional building

Building an addition building onto a house or add more storey of houses can impose a load intensity on the soil different that which is there already and so cause differential settlement. Even if the loading intensities are similar, the difference in time between when the two settlements occurred can be enough to create the brick wall cracks.

Approach of design

Design of brick wall is very important. The designer must have the knowledge about the brick experience in chosen the types of brick to be used. The designer must be fully aware of the client’s needs. Defects often occur because of a lack of understanding of the different types of bricks and the method of construct the brick wall.

Lack experience of worker

Workers in the masonry construction is not in strict accordance with the construction and standards, masonry mortar is not full, especially in vertical mortar joints are not full, and even produce dense seam, seam permeability. In addition, the dry brick on the wall, mortar in the brick water was absorbed, causing low strength of mortar, brick and mortar separation, so that the overall stiffness of masonry fell, gray mortar joints crack.


Cracks of brickwork may result from overloading of the ground on which the building rests, or of the building itself or parts of it. Releasing the load does not necessary allow the masonry wall to revert to its original state since the overloading may have been partially accommodated by a permanent compaction of the bricks. The forces responsible for the overloading may be of external origin, such as excessive wind, or may be internal, such as those arising from the installation of excessively heavy equipment for which the masonry wall was not designed. A change of occupational may have same results.

Lack of maintenance

Maintenance must be taken for all the building to minimize the cost of repair work for seriously defects happen. Lack of maintenance will make a small cracks or defects on brickwork change to more serious and serious.

Improper soil analysis and preparation

When a builder chooses an area of land to build on, it is important to do some sort of soil analysis and preparation. The analysis will provide the developer and/or builder with enough information to choose the adequate soil preparation and construction strategy that should be used to develop the land. Improper soil analysis and preparations can be very damaging to a housing development. For example, a builder can discover that the land soil is made up of expansive soil. If this is the case, houses need to have a foundation that will be able to support the changing pressure and consistency of the soil. This is because expansive soil will swell when wet and then shrink once it dries. If one builds on this type of soil and is not aware of it, there will inevitably be issues to handle. There will be crack in the brick wall or masonry wall. The repair of this is very costly and very intrusive. Unfortunately, the reality is improper soil analysis and preparations happen all the time.

Negligence of construction

Negligent construction is an unfortunately common occurrence. A builder has to be very careful when choosing a contractor or subcontractor. A builder will sometimes use one contactor for various projects. A contractor may have skills to install floor tiles but not the know how to build a brick wall. The responsibility can fall on several parties when there is a defect, and that’s up to your attorney to determine.

Movement of the ground

Mining subsidence, landslips, earthquakes, or moisture changes of shrinkable clay soil may cause the movement of the ground. The brick wall of the building will be crack because the wall of building has become displaced from the rest without any change in actual size of the materials. In theory, this is possible to reconnect the displace parts to bring the building back to its original condition but in practice this seldom can be done.

Acid rain

Acid rain is precipitation that is much more acidic than normal rainfall, and the acid rain is usually caused by pollution such as sulfur and nitrogen emissions. Several different mechanisms are operant in the deterioration of brick masonry through the action of acid rain. The bricks are susceptible to acid rain through the selective dissolution of their glassy phase. The mortar is affected mainly by the reaction of the calcareous components. The soluble salts resulting from these reactions, in solution with rain water or condensed moisture, will migrate through the porous matrix of the masonry. In the places where the water evaporates the salts will be deposited. Repeated dissolution and re-crystallization of these salts leads to the mechanical disruption of the masonry structure. Since the salts will concentrate in the more porous material, either the brick or the mortar will be more seriously affected, depending on their relative porosity.


Two aspects of the environment have been considerably which is wind and temperature. This is because they cause loading to be applied to the structure. The strong wind may cause the brick wall or the whole building move, this may cause cracking to the part of the building. The high temperature applied to the brickwork may cause spalling and brick prolong to high temperature can lead to surface vitrification. (A.M.Swoden, 1990)

Remedies method of the brickwork defects in building


As known early, brickwork is one of the largest parts of most of the building. The strength, stability, and durability of brickwork are very important. If lack of all those factor, the brick wall or masonry wall maybe fall down or collapse suddenly.

If the brickwork occurs any cracking or defects, the right method of remedies must be taken immediately. This is to ensure that the occupational or owner use the building under safety and healthy purposes.

Brickwork will deteriorate and decay if not properly maintained. Such deterioration can be caused by a number of factors and can take various forms. The main signs that brickwork is suffering are surface growth and staining, efflorescence, loosed brick becoming dislodged, crack appears throw the bricks or mortar and etc. So, the right remedy must be taken to ensure the brickwork do not decay and deteriorate. (Moses Jenkins, 2007)

In this sub chapter, the remedies method for various types of defects will be list out. This is to avoid the brickwork defect getting serious in building in construction industry. The defects of brickwork must be repair immediately, if not the defects will be more serious. For example, cracking can be due to expansion or shrinkage the clay brickwork itself.

Remedies of efflorescence

Efflorescence can be minimized by laying dry bricks and by speeding up the drying process after the bricks have been laid by providing good ventilation. The salts that cause efflorescence are soluble in water. Hosing with water will cause the salts to dissolve and be re-absorbed into the brickwork, and then reappear when the brick wall dries out again. Acid or alkaline treatments are not recommended as they increase the salt content of the wall. The best method is simply brush off the deposit with a stiff dry bristle brush after the wall has dried out. Then sponge the surface with a damp synthetic chamois or high suction sponge. Use very little water and rinse sponge frequently in fresh water.

Remedies of sulphate attack

The effects of sulphate attack manifest themselves as expansion of the jointing mortar. On rendered walls the signs are horizontal cracking of the rendering with portions falling off. Advanced stages of attack may make the structure unsafe. When rebuilding is necessary, the bricks use should be of low sulphate content and the mortar should be of a mix of 1:1:6 sulphate-resistance Portland cement: hydrated lime: sand. In addition, care should be taken to exclude all conditions of dampness. On rendered walls, the rendering should be removed and the brickwork allowed to dry before reapplying a weaker mix of sulphate-resistance cement, lime and sand.

Tackling Decay

Where decay has occurred, take action to rectify the damage will be necessary before this leads to greater problems. The use of chemical treatments to stabilize brick should only be considered with extreme caution. Whilst the defects may be effective initially, there has been insufficient research carried out on the possible long term damage such treatments could have. Chemical sealants can trap moisture within the brick just as effectively as the claims to keep water out.


Cleaning soiled brick buildings should be undertaken carefully. In the past, the use of inappropriate cleaning techniques has resulted in considerable damage being done. If considered essential small scale tests should be employed to assess the effectiveness and likely damage which could be caused before any large scale work is carried out. There are some guides when doing the cleaning works:-

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have your work published on UKEssays.com then please: