By Daniel da Chão
When inspecting masonry, it is important to first understand the climate, environmental issues, and the terrain and vegetation around the home, and then carefully observe the exterior wall and foundation walls to look for and find problems or conditions of concern.
Homes in cold climates endure changes in temperature that could be dramatic within hours. Couple that to humidity or water/ice within the exterior veneer wall, and the problems can be more dramatic.
It is always important to ensure that the soil around a home’s foundation be dry, and that surface water be efficiently diverted away from the home. This protects the foundation from water infiltration issues, freeze-thaw issues, the deterioration of the foundation and related problems stemming from there to the masonry and structure above.
Salt water bodies, extremely humid climates, acid rain, vibrations caused by vehicles, railways and construction practices, are other examples of environmental factors that can damage both masonry and mortar.
With the above-cited issues on hand, then an inspector can evaluate what he/she observes and come to some kind of conclusion to what he sees before him. But for example, if he sees cracks in a foundation wall and damage in the masonry above, he must then evaluate the type of cracks these may be. Are they shrinkage or expansion cracks, sweeping or horizontal cracks, cracks resulting from uneven settlement, or other types or causes of cracks?
Acquiring that type of knowledge is important if you are to be of service and at least orient your client into either re-pointing the masonry, further evaluating the damage by qualified professionals, or just stating that this type of damage is normal given the age of the home and that monitoring the situation, performing certain acts to maintain the masonry and eventually having the masonry re-evaluated for maintenance and repair sometime in the future.