Weathering the elements

 “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.”

Living in Oklahoma, you’re likely to hear this phrase frequently throughout the year, no matter the season. The Great Plains are home to weather patterns that change all the time. You might leave the house in the morning wearing a coat and want to change into shorts by the time you get home.

For people, adjusting to the weather is as simple as changing the amount of clothing you wear and the temperature of your air conditioning or heating. For buildings, it’s not that simple. The weather fluctuations that annoy us and make for water cooler conversation have a much deeper effect on structures.

In the construction industry, there’s a term for weather cycling between different extremes: the thermocycle. Masonry is highly affected by the thermocycle, especially if not properly maintained.

Water, water everywhere

One of the biggest issues that the thermocycle causes for masonry is cracking or spalling. As masonry ages, the compounds used to keep the elements from reaching into the joints wear out. Water begins to seep into cracks. As the water seeps in, the freeze-thaw cycle begins to do its work.

Water expands when it freezes and contracts when it reverts to its liquid form. When water gets into masonry, it exerts tremendous pressure as it freezes, tearing apart joints that were once solid. Brick is particularly vulnerable to this due to its porosity. Moisture makes its way through the masonry to the structure inside which was never meant to be exposed to the elements, rusting, corroding, and rotting interior parts of the building.

The movement of the earth

Another factor that the thermocycle affects is the ground. With temperature changes and moisture content, the soil around any structure will move, expanding and contracting. Stone and brick aren’t particularly flexible materials, and as the ground moves, so do they. Once-solid joints become loose, and weight that was once distributed evenly becomes concentrated. That stress wears out masonry over time.

The thermocycle is part of life for Oklahomans and anyone else who lives on the Great Plains. But with proper maintenance, its effects can be limited. Don’t delay on fixing cracks and masonry problems. Our weather can wreak havoc if left unchecked—keep up with your masonry maintenance and you’ll be able to battle the elements without a problem.