Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Poor Brick Step System Installation, 11-4-10

Nashville Home Inspections - Poor Brick Step Installation

Ever seen a set of exterior entry steps that are falling apart or caving in. Why is that? Look at the picture below.

HINT: Actually, two hints. First, mortar is porous and, second, brick steps need a solid foundation.

So in the photo above perhaps you can see the deteriorated mortar around the brick. Look closely at the poor repair where the steps meet the stoop. A DIY installation of mortar is unsightly and not serving much purpose. And, if you follow the line of the mortar just above the DIY mortar installation, you should be able to see the steps starting to drop down on the right hand side. What can cause this?

Well, like the hint above indicates, mortar is porous and can allow water to penetrate and cause problems inside the brick structure. Usually that shows up in loose bricks, not bricks caving in. Another possibility is the slab that the steps rests on has started to fail and drop down, taking the brick step system with it. But I happen to know that in this case that slab had already been repaired and lifted back into the correct position. So what else can be wrong? You would never guess unless I showed it to you. What do you think is holding those bricks up? Concrete? Look below.

In the pic above you are looking down into the area below the top step in the earlier pic. What is holding the brick steps up is more brick. But loose brick. Most of the bricks below the steps are just laid in place to add vertical support. No mortar was used to put the bricks in place permanently. So over time they can move due to vibration, weight, or poor installation. And that is what happened. When the slab dropped first, separation between these bricks was present. Without vertical pressure to keep them in place, they were free to react to vibrations and weight. Then, when the slab lift was completed, some of the bricks were knocked out of place. So they did not do anything to support the brick steps. Look at the closeups in the following two pix.

Can you beleive it? Nothing but pressure held the support bricks in place. How do you think this should have been done? For the answer, see below.

ANSWER: The correct way to support brick steps is with poured concrete and metal rebar reinforcement. Above is the first layer of concrete and rebar going into postion. Below is a closeup of how the rebar connects into the porch behind the steps.

Now these steps are not going anywhere!

Thank you,

Richard Acree

HABITEC Home and Building Inspections, LLC

Richard Acree is the author of the HABITEC Home and Building Inspections blog at ActiveRain, WordPress and Blogger and founder of the ActiveRain Group Tennessee Home and Building Inspectors. All are welcome to join and see more blogs like this one. You can also follow HABITEC on FaceBook or Linked. Thank you!