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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    Chicago
    Posts
    45

    Default Basement Brick Crumbling

    I just moved into a house in Chicago which was built around 1915 and the basement walls are brick. For the most part the brick has a skim coat of cement or similar product over it. In a lot of places the cement is peeling off and the brick underneath is crumbling. It looks like it is covered in efflorescence. I was told by my inspector that this was common in this era house, and I have actually seen this in other houses in the area. I would like to clean off the crumbling cement and brick and refinish. My house is so close to the neighbors that digging and sealing from the outside is not an option. Is there anything I can do to fix this from the inside so the wall is stable and "clean". I would like to put up drywall but donít want to cover up a major problem. FYI, the brick is below ground.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Location
    Seymour - CT
    Posts
    60

    Default Re: Basement Brick Crumbling

    If you see efflorescence, there is some water seeping through the walls.

    Your best option to relieve the hydrostatic pressure against the basement walls, that is causing the water to seep in, is to install an internal perimeter drainage system.
    It consists basically of a drain tile, installed internally, along the basement walls that collect all the water seeping through the walls and all the water that comes trough the bottom of the walls, and diverting it to a sump pump.
    You don't have to dig the exterior at all.

    The good thing about those systems is that not only they address common foundation drainage issues caused by an over saturated back fill, but they also address other water problems that might cause basements to get wet or flood, such as plumbing leaks, burst pipes, leaky tanks. A must if you are going to finish the place.

    After that, I'd suggest you consider some waterproof, mold resistant basement wall, ceiling and flooring solutions rather than wood framing and drywall, for a worry free basement in the long run.

    If you insist in drywall, you will need a vapor barrier, placed between the brick wall and the studs, tied to your drainage system. This will keep the water from condensing over wooden frames and insulation, which can create a mold problem.

    Any eventual water buildup behind the vapor barrier will be diverted to the sump pump.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    Chicago
    Posts
    45

    Default Re: Basement Brick Crumbling

    That does make sense but what should I do for the brick that is falling apart? Should I sc**** the loose material away and skim it with some form of cement? I am concerned with the structural integrity of the basement walls.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Basement Brick Crumbling

    I would have a water-proofing spe******t (engineer) look at it. Putting a drainage system inside your basement will not stop the hydrostatic pressure coming through the walls. Whatever you do make sure you get everything in writing, understand your warranty, and make sure that once finished you can move forward with whatever plans you have for finishing your basement without worry of moisture and other degrading issues on-going. I'm not familiar with Chicago contractors, but I can tell you as an environmentalist that I've seen people spend a lot of money on those internal drainage systems only to have ongoing moisture intrusion and wall degradation. Allowing the moisture in is not the solution. You might try your local union hall for information on businesses in your area? (And before I get a bunch of criticism saying I'm promoting Union because I am - I'm not. I'm only trying to help.)
    Jason Yost, CIEC, CMRS, WRT
    Council-certified Indoor Environmental Consultant
    Council-certified Microbial Remediation Supervisor
    Water-damage Restoration Technician

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jun 2007
    Posts
    143

    Default Re: Basement Brick Crumbling

    I can't say that I am an expert on foundations as I am not however I have been doing a great deal of reading on the subject and have been watching a great deal of home improvement shows that have discussed your exact problem. In my neighborhood our neighbors have had water problems and I have talked with them as well.
    I remember in one home improvement show I saw someone had done a replacement of mortar with the wrong mortar. What many people don't realize is that you can't use regular cement on old bricks if you do use regular cement the bricks begin to crumble and will continue to crumble until the cement is removed. What you really need instead of cement on old bricks is lime. This was especially true with a This Old House project that was worked on in Washington D.C. as the outside brick was crumbling because concrete and not lime was used. So you definitely need a mason and maybe even a structural engineer to advise you on your wall especially if you floors upstairs are being affected. The structural engineer can even help you find a good water proofing spe******t.
    Don't wait too long as the problem will only get worse with time. As for drywall yes you can use it in the basement however not just any drywall get some with fiberglass as the top coat and not paper and use metal studs not wood. I think too since you are already having water problems you should leave this entirely to the professionals and people who are spe******ts in handling wet basements. Best advice is to talk to your neighbors look at association websites for engineers you can probably find them easy by doing an internet search on Google or Yahoo. Once you find that engineer then you can get things moving.
    It could be you have an underground stream that is affecting all of your neighbors. We had a friend once who lived downhill from an underground stream and so did her neighbors. Once they found that out they petioned the county and received relief from some improvements that the county made underground. Good luck to you and please keep us posted!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    Chicago
    Posts
    45

    Default Re: Basement Brick Crumbling

    Thank you all for the information! I think it is time to bring in the professionals

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Posts
    2

    Default Re: Basement Brick Crumbling

    I have a 160 year home with the interior basement brick walls crumbling. Someone at one time had cement coated them and it is cracking and falling off showing crumbling red brick underneath. Could it be caused by a humidity problem or just age? I have no problem with water at all getting into basement.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jun 2007
    Posts
    143

    Exclamation Re: Basement Brick Crumbling

    Hi Nancy S I subscribe to e-mail alerts about topics on the This Old House Blog and thought I should answer your question. As I said I am not an expert on brick foundations but think I know exactly what is wrong with your brick and Lot-So-Works brick. It is called spalding and it is when moisture starts attacking your brick.
    Basically from my understanding is that when cement is put over old bricks or in between the bricks this allows moisture to build up over time and the brick either crumbles in between or in both of your cases on the surface of the brick.
    My best guess is that in both cases they may have used cement between the bricks to re-point them and saw that they were crumbling and tried to patch the brick with a coating of cement. Or they did what I believe they call parging the brick to make the wall smooth by coating the front of the brick. Either thing is bad but when they are combined with parging and re-pointing then you have a very serious problem especially with old brick.
    In your case Nancy S you are more lucky than Lot-So-Work as you don't yet have water in your basement. I do think though that I would hire a mason to check my bricks If I were you and make sure this person has worked on old homes before so get plenty of references. I think you have more time than Lots-O-Work but not much more time. To speed things up I think you should try to carefully take the cement off of your bricks as it is just causing more and more damage as time goes by. Just be very careful when you do as you don't want to damage your bricks further. If you find you are causing more harm than good leave them alone for now and let the mason take care of them. I found the website of a home inspector as I was getting ready to blog you and think you should read that page as this person knows a little bit more than I do about brick. I think too that there is a brick manufacturers association that you could look up on Google or Yahoo and they could tell you even more anyway here is the link to the home inspectors website I am not endorsing this company and know nothing about them but what they have to say makes sense http://www.greatinspector.com/faq-ext-brick.html .
    I think you will agree that this is fairly informative. As I said with Lot-So-Work don't delay too long and please keep us posted as we will be interested in how you are doing. Good luck to you

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    Chicago
    Posts
    45

    Default Re: Basement Brick Crumbling

    I have been in my home for year now and am reviewing the basement brick issue once again. I live in a dense location in Chicago where the houses are 3' apart. I am only experiencing brick deterioration on one side of my home. It's on a side where my neighbors just recently put in a drainage system a few feet below grade, which should reduce the water pressure pushing through the basement walls. But I also notice that the brick is deteriorating above grade. I believe this is due to my neighbors not having gutters on the entire side of the house which causes splashing. There is a cement coating on the outside but this is starting to come apart and in the sections where it is, the brick behind it is also crumbling.

    So, when I speak with a mason do you think he/she will recommend just skimming it again with concrete or should we replace a entire layer of brick on the face? Remember that this house has a brick foundation probably multiple bricks thick.

    Obviously I am going to bring in a mason to fix this but was wondering if there is anything else I should consider.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Posts
    1,387

    Default Re: Basement Brick Crumbling

    Howdy, do you and neighbors have rain gutters if so make sure they all drain away from the foundations at least 6 ' better is to rout them out past the homes again by 6' make sure no sprinklers spray the house and the lot slopes away from your foundation. Do not plant and water this area . Consider installing 6 mil plastic on the grade to shed water 3 feet away from your foundation ( the plastic must be protected from sunlight). All this is to lessen the surface and ground water exposure to the foundation. The other posts about the mix of motor is valid. Having a few bids from foundation companies to tell you what and how $ repairs will enlighten you for free and give you added information..

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