A Crumbling Foundation

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copyright G.G. Alonzy

Dear NH,
I have an 1888 Victorian home with a double-thick brick foundation. The brick is red and somewhat soft. Someone had tried to insulate the brick with sheets of plastic and other stuff. I think all it did was promote retention of moisture and further deterioration of the brick. The process of cleaning up the brick caused entire chunks of brick to fall off… sometimes half a brick! The grout lines are even further recessed. What should I do? I have heard that painting or sealing brick does not allow them to "breath" naturally, but I want to arrest the deterioration and/or repair it.
JC from Denver, CO

Your foundation sounds as if it is on its "last legs." To be blunt, there is no simple repair for a crumbling brick foundation so put the paintbrush away. There are two possible solutions. The first… have a mason rebuild the foundation to its original condition, which will be the more expensive choice by far. The second solution is not as expensive but is strong and permanent... reinforcing the brick with a new, "sistered" concrete foundation. In general, a new foundation is poured on new footings on the inside of the old foundation, if possible, to preserve the appearance of the exterior of the home.

Each job is unique and requires a different approach depending on the structure of the home and the condition of the brick. A professional on-site appraisal is required. Here is a link of a site that has some good pictures of the process: preservation.org

for tools and supplies for your home improvement project Shop at AceHardware.com

Expect a long loading time if you don't have a high-speed Internet connection. Both these jobs were "seismic retrofits," meaning that the foundations had incurred or were likely to incur earthquake damage that could be catastrophic. I don't think you have too much earthquake activity in Denver, but nonetheless your concern should be to preserve the value of your home. So have a few contractors out to look at the problem pronto.

Have a small home repair question for THE NATURAL HANDYMAN? Just click here naturalhandyman.com/aitikia. For more home repair information, visit NH's growing list of original home repair articles and quality links naturalhandyman.com. If this information has been valuable to you, please consider making a small donation to support NH's free service to the home repair community! For more information, please visit our "Friends" page naturalhandyman.com/friends.

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