Philly Brick 3 story - Bulge in brick front - structural issue?

1 Reply

Need help! Pictures below - Have a 3 story row house in Philadelphia, 950 sqft, under contract and have 10 days on inspection contingency. Just had inspection and the home inspector actually cut it short to sound the alarm bells and said the front brick seems to be bulging out and this could be a major structural issue and that i should get the opinion of a brick/stone mason. The liability he said could be the front brick wall falling on someone and would need to be addressed immediately. He also thought I should skip the structural engineer part since they will just tell me the same thing and go right to stone/brick masons for details on what I am dealing with. Now from my view, it all seems plumb to me, but I am obviously no expert. Only part that seems bulging a bit is the bottom left portion maybe 30 brick section bulging forward a bit. However, there is a hole in old left bottom wood window sill, and looking in the hole you can clearly see that the outer layer of front brick on lower left section ( front has 3 layers of brick) is peeling forward and separated from inner layer by at least 4 inches. Looks like they have newspaper material in the gap as well.

Now later that day - Had a brick mason contractor come by who said hes done hundreds of brick fronts mostly for store fronts and he didn't seem to think it was as big of a deal. He said the left bottom portion appears to be cracked up and bulging and he could brace and fix specifically that portion that for 5k, or repoint the entire thing for 15k, but he didnt seem to think it was some huge liability that needs to be addressed day one the same way that the inspector did. 

The details, its built in 1925. The front of building is 3 layered brick front. On bottom of front, it has a brownstone material which looks like holds the brick up. It has one star bolt above the first floor windows so assuming its going into the 2nd floor joists. Again, the large hole from rotted wood on one of the bottom windows, and i can look in the hole and see that the outer layer of the brick wall is separated by at least 4-5 inches from the second layer of brick at least on the lower left side of the front. 

What I am thinking is that I have to speak to a structural engineer to tell me exactly what kind of liability I am looking even though inspector said to skip that step. Question I think I need answered from struc engineer is what is the liability here? Is this something that needs to be done day 1 otherwise it can fall and kill someone, or can I wait a year or two to get this done with a tenant in place since the wall has been there for like 100 years?

@Chris Miller , I cannot really see the bulge you speak up how ever I have a great deal of experience with masonry and brick. Based on the information you've provided, you have a 3 wythe wall with the outer veneer that has become disconnected from the interior 2 wythes. IF there's deterioration at the joist and separating brick, you may be looking at quite a bit of work to restore the front facade. Depending on the severity, this may very well be the first item needing repair. 

I would advise an engineer still visit the site and provide their professional opinion.  The home inspector is not taking any liability in telling you what they have. You retain a engineer, they're professional liable for the recommendation they give you, therefore they are going to be more thorough and specific. I've dealt with many engineers and they will give you more info than what the home inspector has said. Let your engineer walk you through repair options and cost. 

This sounds very severe. I would not do this work with a tenant in place. The repair itself will be very destructive and could be a few weeks to a couple months to complete depending on your city's inspection process and the level of deterioration encountered when the brick is removed.   

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