Brick Wall Lining Served as Insulation, Wind Barrier, Fire Blocking Brick Lined Walls in Wood Framed Homes
How to Detect Brick Wall Liner, What to do About "Brick Insulation" in Building Walls

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Brick filled cavity walls in wood frame buildings:

This article describes brick wall lining or "insulation" in buildings, why it was used, what problems may occur, and the inspection methods and clues to detect brick lined walls in older homes (sometimes called Brick Nogging) and discusses the implications of brick wall liners in buildings.

What are the insulating properties of brick used in wall cavities? Why were bricks used to line the interior of some wood-framed buildings?

How to identify the presence of brick wall lining materials and how to inspect this system for defects. How to repair brick-lined walls. What to do if part of your brick lined wall has fallen into the attic.

Non-structural bricks were used to line the exterior walls in some pre-1900 wood frame buildings primarily an air infiltration or wind barrier, possibly as "insulation" or for thermal mass, and possibly as a "sound proofing" method.

We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.

Brick Wall Lining in Older Homes: how to identify brick nogging

Brick Wall Lining Served as Insulation, Wind Barrier, Fire BlockingBrick wall "insulation" or brick nogging may be found in wood framed buildings built up to about 1900. Usually these homes have exterior clapboards and interior plaster walls.

Often these brick-lined wood-framed homes were built with balloon stud framing, no exterior sheathing (they used diagonal bracing), and exterior clapboards right on the studs. In homes framed in this manner, if the exterior wall cavities were left empty, the walls were drafty and uninsulated.

Some homes, such as the Weisman home in Montgomery NY (shown above) and another home photographed by Arlene Puentes (shown below), were built with brick-lined walls, bricks being mortared in between the studs on all floors and even extending into the attic.

Other benefits of this design included fire stopping effects and added thermal mass to the building, making temperature changes less rapid and thus the house more comfortable.

The presence of brick in wood frame wall cavities, such as in the photograph shown at the top of this page (Courtesy Joe and Beth Weisman) may help determine the age of a building.

The condition of the brick "nogging" may also be an important indicator of the building leak history.

Also see BRICK VENEER WALL AIR LEAKS for a discussion of modern insulation methods for brick veneer walls.

An owner of such a home usually finds out about the brick in the home walls at the first renovation or wiring or plumbing project. But a home inspector and home buyer might also be able to detect brick-lined walls and should be interested in what this construction method might mean to the new owner.

These bricks are not structural, and they were simply mortared in place between wood framed wall studs and rested on the sill plates of each floor. It would be unusual to find brick wall linings in interior walls unless at one time the "interior" wall was at one time a building exterior wall structure.

Visible in the attic, Brick Wall Lining Served as Insulation, Wind Barrier, Fire Blocking

Brick Nogging was generally not intended to be exposed to view, and served the purpose of blocking wind that blew through older homes constructed without an exterior sheathing - clapboards were nailed directly to the structural frame.

Typical wall construction was stud framing, 16" o.c., diagonal wood bracing in walls, clapboard exterior, rough masonry wall filler on all floors and extending into the attic. Interior walls were covered by plaster on wood lath.

Opening walls filled with brick nogging or other masonry will often reveal rough and varying styles of masonry (as it was not intended to be seen) that went in fast.

The masons may have used a variety of bricks and rubble. I [DF] suspect that this construction method may have been adopted by builders who had observed the short life and pest infestation problems that followed colonial and later attempts at wall insulation using natural materials like straw and corncobs.

Websters Dictionary gives this definition: "Nogging: (?), n. Rough brick masonry used to fill in the interstices of a wooden frame, in building."

Wordnet Dictionary gives this similar definition: "Noun 1. nogging - rough brick masonry used to fill in the gaps in a wooden frame". "Nogging" is a term also used by some to describe exposed brick lining in timber framed walls in which the brick is left in view on the building exterior for aesthetic reasons.

Because brick (or other masonry) placed in building cavities as a wind barrier and thermal mass source was in that use not intended to be exposed, you can expect to see the workmanship quite rough in appearance and inconsistent from one building area to another (as any and various masonry material at hand might be used) compared with masonry intended to be left exposed to view.

Features of Homes with Brick Lined Walls - Brick Nogging

Brick lined wall with water leaks, rot, insect damage (C) DanieL FriedmanPhoto: we opened this brick-lined clapboard-covered wall in a home in Poughkeepsie, New York, to show some remaining brick nogging or lining along with extensive rot of the clapboards and wall framing.

Where Will You Find Clues Suggesting the Presence of Brick Lined Walls

Visible in the attic, Brick Wall Lining Served as Insulation, Wind Barrier, Fire BlockingAge of the home: if the home was built before 1900 and is a wood frame structure, especially in cold climates where people care more about wind blowing through walls, brick nogging may have been used.

This photo shows the wall-cavity or interior surface of the exterior clapboard sheathing used on this home.

The draftiness of walls constructed in this manner was a reason that some builders used brick wall lining as not only insulation but as "wind barrier".

I you look closely at the exposed side of the clapboards in this photograph where some wall lining bricks have conveniently fallen away, you'll see circular saw cut marks - an indicator that this house is not one of the older instances of brick wall lining.

I estimate that this house dates from 1890.

New York State had circular saw lumber mills sooner than some other states, and saw marks are not a precise dating method, but had this been a home from 1840-1850 we may have seen that the saw blade had left straight blade marks across the clapboard - indicating a power-operated vertical "pit saw."

Had the saw blade marks been straight but alternating in a tight "X" pattern across the clapboard the board would have been cut on a hand-operated pit saw, and this would be a still-older home.

Brick Wall Lining Served as Insulation, Wind Barrier, Fire Blocking

In the basement, bricks may be visible between floor joists sitting atop the building sills, especially in balloon-framed homes. Arlene Puentes' photograph (above) shows how subtle this clue may be as very little brick may be visible from the basement.

In the living area - bricks may be discovered in wall cavities during renovations or remodeling

Mold on Walls: while certainly not a sure bet, the presence of mold behind wall hangings occurring on exterior walls may indicate the effects of brick lined wall cavities. The brick lining can mean that the surface of this wall stays cooler longer and has more condensation on the wall surface than will be seen on the surface of interior walls.

Visible in the attic, Brick Wall Lining Served as Insulation, Wind Barrier, Fire BlockingSagging at Sills: At the interior side of exterior walls, usual degrees of sill or rim joist crushing in areas of rot or insect damage could include the added effects of the extra weight of bricks in the building exterior walls.

In the attic - (photo above / left) bricks may be visible between wall studs extending up into the attic.

In this photograph of a brick-lined wall you can see that some of the bricks have fallen out of the wall cavity and onto the attic floor.

This is not itself a structural problem but it may indicate a history of roof leaks at this spot. Roof leaks may in turn track to rot or insect damage.

Based on this theory and buttressed by leak stains visible in the photograph, I'm guessing that these fallen bricks were on an eaves wall not a gable end wall.

We discuss this further below at "Repairs".

Arlene's photograph of this brick-lined wood framed wall in an attic (below) shows the diagonal bracing commonly used in this generation of wood frame brick-lined construction.

Brick Wall Lining Served as Insulation, Wind Barrier, Fire BlockingThe care with which the mason filled-in with brick and mortar even around the diagonal bracing confirms the intention of this usage as an air barrier.

Exterior Renovations: From the exterior - bricks may be visible if siding is removed for repairs or other building work

What to do if Portions of Your Brick Wall Lining Have Fallen into the Attic

Question: How feasible would it be for me to tear down the wall from the inside, remove the brick, insulate, and then sheetrock?

2018/01/23 Peter said:


I have an old 1830's home in Kingston NY which has brick lined walls.

One area of our home (which most likely used to be a porch) is especially drafty. It's not large... perhaps 10'x20'.

How feasible would it be for me to tear down the wall from the inside, remove the brick, insulate, and then sheetrock? Is that a crazy idea?

Reply: suggestions when replacing brick nogging with modern insulation


It is certainly not a crazy idea to open a brick lined wall, remove bricks, add insulation, and re-sheathe the wall, working all from the inside. I have done that exact task successfully working just south of you in Poughkeepsie, NY.

This is a labor intensive approach but it has advantages of permitting an inspection of the condition of the wall structure, checks for leaks, insect damage, rot, need for orther repairs or reinforcement, addition of electrical and plumbing lines if needed.

Leaks into a clapboard covered wall at 28 West St., Wappingers Falls NY (C) Daniel FriedmanIn my photo below I show not just the discovery of an improperly abandoned wood-stove flue pipe connection into a brich chimney (upper left in the photo) but also wood clapboards nailed directly to the wall studs of this 1865 home in Wappingers Falls, NY.

The walls of this home might have been brick-lined at some point but probably not. Someone had blown-in cellulose insulation, which I removed. Click to enlarge the image and you'll see the many water stains from rain that had entered this clapboard sheathed home's wall cavity.

Just adding insulation into the wall means having wet insulation after the next wind-driven rainstorm.

But in a gut renovation to add insulation to a brick lined wall by removing the brick there are some things to watch out for.

1. Before removing bricks in a stud bay, inspect the studs for rot or insect or other damage.

The brick infill might actually be holding up the wall if the framing is damaged. In that case you'll need to support the top plate and replace bad studs, sills, and possibly to add let-in diagonal bracing.

2. When removing the brick look at the inside surface of the exterior wall for extent of water leakage.

Often brick lined walls were in homes built with diagonal stud bracing but no exterior sheathing, just the clapboards.

The bricks may have tolerated getting wet but fiberglass or open-celled foam do not like water (risking mold and other damage). In that case I would consider closed cell foam.

3. While the wall is open that's a great time to consider adding any necessary electrical circuits, such as to add receptacles.

An alternative approach to gutting the wall cavity is to leave everything in place and to laminate solid foam insulation on the interior walls, covering that with a new layer drywall.

In my opinion that ends up being just about as much work, as you have to build out trim around windows and doors, replace window and door trim, and you give up the advantages shown above.

There are also risks of creating moisture traps in the wall structure.

Use the "Add Image" button next to the Comment button below on this page to post some photos of what you find and we may be able to offer other suggestions.

Comment: removing brick, adding foam in a brick-lined home, Newburgh NY

Brick wall lining in a home in Newburgh NY2018/06/19

John said:

I am in the process of replacing the bricks in my house with insulation. There is a 1920s addition that we found to be full of bricks when we tried to have insulation added last year.

We contracted to have the siding removed so the bricks could be pulled from the outside - spray foam is scheduled this week followed by reinstallation of the original siding.

We were able to salvage the majority of the bricks as well. They were held together with plaster instead of mortar/cement and separated easily. They were a mixture of older handmade bricks and newer, formed ones.

The construction is post and beam with mortise and tenon joints (with some pegs) but was added after the house was built in 1869.

It appears that another building was moved or taken apart to be used for this addition and the bricks were installed at that point.

The attached picture is one of the three walls opened up.

This building is in the Orange Lake area of the town of Newburgh New York.

[Click to enlarge any image]

Reply: follow-up questions to consider

Thanks for the excellent photo and description of brick wall lining, John. I've seen similar homes elsewhere in the Hudson Valley including in Dutchess county.

Replacing the brick nogging with spray foam will give up thermal mass in exchange for an air-tight, highly-insulated home. Ultimately that will reduce your energy costs.

Be sure that you also run any wiring or plumbing in walls where needed before adding the insulation.


Are you using open celled or closed-cell foam? See FOAM SPRAY INSULATION TYPES

Did you consider leaving the brick and adding solid foam sheathing on the building interior or exterior?


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