Mexican bricks blamed for crumbling North Texas homes



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Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:46 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 11:53 AM

"You can easily crumble the brick in your hand," said Tina Belcher describing the condition of her home's exterior.

Crumbling Brick

Shelly Slater reports

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GRAND PRAIRIE - When you think about brick, the word "sturdy" probably comes to mind.

Yet hundreds of North Texans are running across a similar problem: The brick surrounding their homes is crumbling.

If you don't have the problem yet, don't think you're safe, either. Experts say what they've seen is just the start.

Builders bricked Tina Belcher's new home in southwest Grand Prairie with Mexican brick. In no time, she noticed something odd in the backyard.

"You can easily crumble the brick in your hand," Belcher said. "I would hit the brick with the lawnmower, and I'm like, 'Okay, where are these bricks coming from?'"

It turns out they were falling off the side of her house - piece by piece.

"The bricks in the back, like I say, were just like a cracker - they would just crumble," Belcher said.

"We've had homeowners tell us they could actually stick a knife through the brick," said Gregory Graze, who represents the Brick Industry Association Southwest. He says hundreds of homes - from McKinney to Fort Worth - have seen this problem.

"It's just a matter of time before the brick fails and turns to powder," Graze said.

Brick was in short supply during the housing boom around 2004, so builders brought in brick made in Mexico to make up the difference, according to Graze.

The problem: Not all Mexican brick is treated for severe weather. Belcher's brick, like so many others, was only good for moderate weather conditions.

"Because the brick has not been cured properly, moisture gets in the brick, then it freezes, it expands, and then it thaws," Graze explained. "It destroys the integrity of the structure; it's as fundamental as that."

"I was just really waiting for something to cave in," Tina Belcher said. "I was not safe, I didn't feel safe at all."

It took four months, but Belcher's builder replaced the brick for free. Now that builder is suing the brick manufacturer for not reimbursing the cost to repair homes.

City inspectors and the North Central Texas Council of Governments are working to close a loophole in the law that permits moderate brick to be installed on North Texas homes. That way, in the future, putting homeowners like Belcher through this would be illegal.

"You put a lifetime into a home - a lifetime - and then you discover your home is faulty," Belcher said.

Experts suggest before buying a home, ask the builder if the brick is American-made severe weather grade brick, then get the answer in writing.