Does the brick on your home have a hangover?

Does the brick veneer on your home hang over the foundation wall?  If so is it a problem or not?  If your brick has a hangover read on to find out more.

Brick hanging over foundation wall front view.

This brick is hanging over the foundation wall. But is it a problem?

Occasionally when inspecting homes we find the exterior brick hanging partially over the foundation wall (see picture to the left).  Among the many other building and home issues found this particular issue has many buyers concerned.  However there is a time for concern and sometimes this particular condition is not a concern as far as the integrity of the home’s wall or the remainder of the structure.  But other times it can be a costly problem.  Before we discuss the problem and its causes/cures first we will discuss how the exterior brick wall is constructed.

For the discussion of this issue we will use a brick veneer wall over typical wood frame construction.  By definition a “veneer” is a decorative covering no different than the veneer surface of a nice set of kitchen cabinets.  Without a doubt the vast majority of homes’ outer brick walls are a veneer covering.  A home’s brick veneer wall does have important purposes other than just as a veneer.  However a veneer brick wall has no structural support significance to the home.  With the exception of its other important purposes it is just a decorative covering over the wood framing of your home.

Typical brick ledge construction

This is a typical brick ledge construction.

The diagram at the left is used to display how your home’s foundation is poured to include a “brick ledge”.  There are more details in the construction that have been left out here to obtain a clearer picture.  The foundation form boards are put in place to form this ledge during the pouring of the concrete.  The homes framing is placed on the higher level (surface) of the foundation and the brick is started on the lower level “brick ledge” that was created.  Between the brick and the upper ledge is a minimum 1″ air gap purposely put in place for various other reasons we won’t discuss here.  The brick veneer wall is then created above, and resting on, the brick ledge.

Moisture can occur behind the brick even though it is not a desired action.  The main purpose of the brick ledge is to help by providing a place for the moisture to settle without affected the wood framing components behind it.  There are various “flashing” materials used to cover the sill plate, and other framing members, to also help protect against moisture damage to them.  When the moisture settles to the brick ledge it will run along the ledge until it finds a “weephole” in the bottom course of bricks to drain out of the brick veneer wall assembly.  The weepholes are those intentional openings where no mortar is placed between the ends of bricks to create the opening.

The depth of the brick ledge (from the upper wall to the foundation outer edge) is determined by the size of the bricks used, size of the foundation form boards used, as well as other potential factors.  Brick does come in different sizes but the typical brick nominal width is 3″ – 4″.  The lumber used to create the foundation forms also comes in nominal lengths.  As a result the typical brick ledge depth is approximately 5 1/2″.

Creating a proper brick ledge sounds like such a simple process and it really is.  If it is so simple then why does the brick have a hangover?

There are standards written for everything in the building world.  Sometimes there are more than one standards body but typically one takes the lead and is used as the main standard for construction requirements.  In the case of concrete construction and materials the main standards body is The American Concrete Institute (ACI).  This standards body also covers the tolerances for the creation of concrete foundation footers (the brick ledge is part of the foundation’s footer) that support masonry (bricks) above it.  The ACI standards document for this is ACI 117-90, Standard Specifications for Tolerances for Concrete Construction and Materials.  This is a very extensive standards document and for the cases of the foundation ACI specifies that the foundation should be constructed so that the “lateral Alignment” of the foundations footer will cause no more than a 1/2″ hangover of the brick.  That standard is assuming that the Architects and Engineers properly designed and specified all materials for the homes construction, the builder is following the Architect and Engineers specifications, the foundation construction crew/sub-contractor performs their job properly, the framing crew also performs their job properly, and the brick mason performed their job properly.

This is the brick from the picture above

This is the brick from the picture above displaying it hanging over.

As you can see there are so many ways for the process to go wrong with that many different people involved.  When this error occurs it really does make you wonder who had the “hangover”?  Was it the brick or one of the people involved in the process of the build? Shown at left is the brick from the previous picture clearly hanging over the edge.

With so many possibilities we will only discuss the most prevalent causes of this error.  Typically the most common causes of this error comes with the contractors building the foundation itself.  There are a multitude of errors they can make if they just don’t understand how a foundation is used or don’t pay attention to their work.  Of the possibilities these are generally the most common.

  • They did not add the additional form boards on used to create the ledge itself.  This might have occurred because they did not read the foundation plans closely or they just forgot to do it.
  • They misinterpreted the plans and instead of adding the ledge they thought the home would use siding instead of brick.  Siding does not require the brick ledge.
  • During the construction of the foundation forms they used the incorrect size of boards for the ledge size needed.
  • The form boards they used were damaged or warped causing issues with the form board sizes.
  • They tried to re-use form boards from a previous foundation and the boards were dirty/damaged which caused concrete problems and damage to the ledge.
  • They did not properly square the corners where the form boards meet causing the foundation to drift out of its original dimensions.  When the framers try to frame squarely it causes placement problems and might lead to framing overhanging the ledge and reducing its size.
  • The foundation people did not properly set the form distances and were off by several inches possibly making the slab slightly smaller than designed.  This can cause an error with the framers later and if not corrected can compound the errors during the whole building process.

The framers can also cause issues with the brick ledge.  These causes are mostly related to other errors such as the foundation errors noted above.  These are some of the potential causes of brick hangover from framer/framing issues.

  • If the foundation was poured slightly smaller (by a few inches) than designed the framers might not catch it before they start framing.  When they do reach the shorted wall section they might attempt to drop the sill plate on the brick ledge just to make up for the errors it can cause in framing.
  • Some framers think they do not need to snap chalk lines to mark framing points, don’t need to read plans, etc., and wing their framing.  They might follow the edge of the foundation when they lay their sill plate.  If the foundation form boards were skewed that can cause the sill plates to be out of square and the remainder of the wall as well.
  • The framers do not properly square a wall at the corner.  This can cause the wall to drift out over the brick ledge or into the rest of the slab causing issues.
  • If the framers themselves do not read the home plans they might not be aware of any special requirements for required spaces between the sill plate and the top edge of the brick ledge.  The framer might mount the sill plate at the very edge of the foundation surface.  If specialty exterior sheathings are used requiring additional space that can cause the brick to be pushed out slightly over the edge.

The problems caused by the builder most relate to lack of communication with sub-contractors and poor quality control/supervision of the sub-contractors.  No matter what the problems noted above are they simply would not happen if the builder or their construction supervisor is doing their job!  To begin with if on a new home the buyer makes changes that can affect the brick ledge then the dirt for the ground should not even be broken until the home’s plans are corrected to account for the changes.  After that the builder should be checking foundation form boards for correct placement and construction before the concrete is poured.  Once the foundation is correct they should be watching the framers, the masons installing the brick, as well as every other trade building the home.  If they do their job then this problem, as well as many others, would not happen.

We mentioned the Architect and Engineer issues that can cause this problem.  These issues rarely happen but they do occur.  The Architect and Engineer are responsible for designing every aspect of the home as well as specifying all the structural materials to use.  The plans should include detailed foundation form board diagrams, placement of framing to account for special and thicker exterior sheathings, as well as a whole host of very specific details.  The plans should also indicate that if the builder chooses to use alternate materials and placement the plans will require review to ensure these different materials are accounted for.  Sometimes mistakes are made in the plans or non-standard and very specialized materials are designed.  Non standard or specialized materials might not be available as needed and the builders just wing it and cause problems.

So what happens if the bricks are hanging over the foundation ledge?  Well there are corrections and wider tolerances than that defined by ACI.  First off the ACI tolerances are very tight, they deal with the foundation itself and providing perfect conditions to mount your brick veneer wall.  It is possible 100% of the time to meet these ACI requirements.  However unexpected issues can occur which would cause the brick to potentially hang over the ledge.  Because a brick veneer wall is not structural in nature it only supports the weight of the brick above it.  Wider tolerances are acceptable for brick hangover and defined by various organizations.

This 3" brick hangs over only 7/8"

In the previous brick example this 3" brick hangs over only 7/8".

The most widely accepted standards are issued by the Brick Industry Association (BIA).  The BIA does specify that under proper conditions up to 1/3 of the brick can hang over the foundation edge.  Beyond the 1/3 point the brick itself might not have sufficient bearing on the ledge to support the wall and could potentially tilt and damage the veneer.

The picture on the left Is the same brick wall shown in previous pictures.  It is a 3″ wide brick and it extends over the brick ledge by 7/8″ which is just inside the 1/3 rule.  This home was built 12 years ago and there is no indications of wall problems at this brick overhang area.  This wall and its brick are doing just fine!

There are corrections that can be performed both during a new home build and even well after a home has been built.  Some corrections are very simple and others more elaborate.  I will not detail them here but do want to let you know that all is not lost if your brick has a hangover with problems.  It is important to know that even the simple corrections can go very badly wrong if not properly implemented.  It should also be understood that there is not a “One Size Fits All” correction, and each case should be looked at separately and handled based on its own needs.

So if your brick has a hangover, and you are concerned about it, take two aspirins and call a foundation specialist and/or licensed Professional Engineer for a consultation.  They are the best to speak with for designing a solution for this issue.  But remember your brick veneer wall is not structural in nature and is an aesthetic exterior covering so do not worry that your home is going to fall down around you as it won’t!

Links and References

American Concrete Institute

The Brick Industry Association

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Brick ledge brick hanging over brick hangover poor foundation bad foundation form boards incorrect form boards bad builder bad framing bad framer bad foundation crew

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