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Brownstone lintel in brick wall (C) Daniel FriedmanBuilding Facade Damage, Lintel Damage & Falling Hazards in Masonry Walls
Water & frost-damaged brownstone or steel lintels over windows & doors: dangers, causes & cures

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Steel or Brownstone Lintel Damage in Brick or other Masonry Walls:

How do caulking or improper installation cause damage at window & door openings in masonry walls: caulking a steel lintel or failure to protect a brownstone lintel from water or frost damage can result in not only damage at the lintel and wall opening but even severe cracking, settlement or failures in the wall structure.

This article series explains types of damage to structural brick walls & how that damage is identified & repaired. We explain how to recognize, diagnose, & evaluate movement and cracks in brick walls and how to recognize brick wall bowing or bulging and cracking failures.



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Lintels: Water, Frost, & Rust Damage at Steel Lintels over Windows or Doors in Brick Walls

Steel window lintel in brick wall (C) Daniel Friedman[Click to enlarge any image]

Article Contents

Our photo (above/left) shows a rusting steel lintel in a brick wall. Luckily in this case, the worst rust damage and exfoliating (flaking rusting) steel is over the window itself (at the right side of the photo).

But in the 1980's we examined a New York City high rise building that had very expensive damage to nearly all of its brick exterior walls.

Spalling and cracking had rather suddenly occurred at almost every window and door in the building not long after a new building maintenance superintendent had been employed.

The new maintenance supervisor had ordered that all window and door lintels should be caulked where he had observed a gap between the upper surface of the steel lintel and the brick above. Unfortunately that caulk job trapped water above the lintel where frost (short term rapid damage) caused severe brick spalling and cracking.

On other brick buildings whose windows and doors use steel lintels (to support bricks that must span over the opening), rusting steel lintels can also cause severe brick cracking and spalling. The lifting power of exfoliating steel (flaking rust) is very great.

Don't caulk between the bricks and the steel lintel that supports them on a masonry or masonry-veneer building.

Steel lintel in brick wall (C) Daniel Friedman

On the other hand, it is usually ok to caulk on the underside of the lintel where it contacts the top of the window frame itself - our photo at left.

Steel lintel in brick wall (C) Daniel Friedman

A different steel window lintel problem is shown in our photo at left. It looks as if the window lintel is too short, extending less than an inch into the brick wall to the left of the window.

Especially if there is any evidence of cracking or brick wall movement, some careful inspection and further investigation would be needed in this area (perhaps there is a hidden window lintel or support not visible from the building exterior.

Masonry & Brownstone Building Facade, Window & Door Lintel or Sill Falling Hazards, Damage & Repair

Brownstone lintel in brick wall (C) Daniel Friedman

Our photo (above-left) shows spalling and cracking damage in brownstone lintels in a brick building in Hudson, New York. It appears that leaks at the roof parapet wall, itself now replaced, damaged the brownstone lintel over the white entry door.

In addition to the risk of damage throughout the brick wall as this deterioration continues there is a potential hazard from falling masonry fragments. Special installation & repair methods are needed for these water-vulnerable stone materials.

Protect People from Falling Building Facade Components

Watch out: for falling cornice parts, lintels, & window sills on brownstone buildings & all old structures. Casual inspection from ground level may fail to detect loose building facade, cornice, or window components that can fall, injuring or even killing someone. A casual inspection from ground level and even an inspection using binoculars from ground level cannot find all loose building facade components.

A close inspection from scaffolding, ladders can more thoroughly detect frost damage, rusted cast iron cornice parts, loose building facade components, or cracked, loose window lintels or sills. But even then, a complete detailed inspection of "every inch" of a building facade is cost-prohibitive. Still, if loose components are found or even suspected on a building facade, the area below should be closed off from access to prevent injury until the urgency of need for repair can be assessed or until repairs are made. And an experienced inspector may be able to spot conditions such as leak stains from roof defects, improper flashing, or wind-driven rain, cracks in masonry facade from rusting steel lintels, or out of plumb and level conditions that are telltale signs of an unsafe building facade.

In some cases it may be feasible to construct safety netting, or to construct scaffolding with plank or corrugated steel roofing to protect pedestrians at ground level from being struck by falling building components.

The risk of falling building facade parts is a real hazard not just a theoretical one. For example, on Sunday, 17 May 2015 a two year old girl, was killed by a falling section of a windowsill in Manhattan. On the following day she died from that injury. The New York Times reported that Greta Greene and her grandmother, Susan Frierson, were struck by a piece of decorative terra cotta windowsill that fell from the Esplanade Luxury Senior Residences from a height of eight stories above where they were walking. The facade had been inspected and deemed safe in 2011. Terra cotta facades require special maintenance to avoid falling hazards. (Hoigard 2004).

While New York City has a law requiring the inspection of building facades for just such hazards, the law alone cannot prevent all such accidents. The New York City law requires that a facade inspection is required every five years for buildings taller than six stories. That law covers about 13,500 buildings in New York City. - The New York Times, 2015.

The same Times article reported a similar death in 1979 when Grace Gold was killed by a falling fragment of a building cornice that came away from a Morningside Heights apartment building. Nine deaths and 250 falling building facade objects occurred in New York City between 2009 and 2014.

Also see BRICK VENEER WALL LOOSE, BULGED

Research on Brownstone, Sandstone, Stone Building Restoration & Repair

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Continue reading at BRICK WALL THERMAL EXPANSION CRACKS or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Or see BRICK FOUNDATIONS & WALLS for a photo catalog of types of structural damate to brick structures

Or see BRICK STRUCTURAL WALLS LOOSE, BULGED - damaged brick structures in danger of collapse

Or see BRICK VENEER WALL LOOSE, BULGED - damaged brick veneers in danger of collapse

Or see FOUNDATION CRACK DICTIONARY for evaluating foundation cracks and signs of foundation damage by examining the crack size, shape, pattern, and location.

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MASONRY FACADE / WALL, LINTEL & BROWNSTONE DAMAGE at InspectApedia.com - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

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