MOST BRICK OR STONE HOME EXTERIORS ARE SKIN DEEP
The house is framed in wood; then the builder uses brick or stone (masonry) to create a cladding or veneer, similar to the way other homes are clad in wood, fiber cement or vinyl siding.
Although they’re just a veneer, heavy masonry materials need support over door and window openings. That’s where lintels come in. Lintels require a visual inspection because of the heavy weight they’re asked to carry.
In home construction, lintels can be made of cast concrete, stone or angular steel. In most residential construction involving stone or brick veneer, an angular steel lintel supports the masonry above windows and doors.
Usually, a steel angle extends over the opening and is supported at the edges of the openings. In the ideal situation, installers allow an air space between the masonry and the wood frame, and the wood frame is covered by a moisture-resistant barrier. Builder’s paper was the barrier used in older homes. In newer homes, the barrier consists of a housewrap such as Tyvek HomeWrap.
This moisture barrier is lapped over the lintel, perhaps with a flashing that drains water over the top of the lintel to the outside. In some cases, you will see lintels with weep holes and visible flashing. Some experts recommend flexible neoprene flashing, which adapts to differing expansion rates between the masonry veneer and the underlying material.
During inspection, you’ll see the outer edge and the lower side of the lintel over the opening. The lintel should be painted to limit rust. Rusted lintels should be reported as an issue.
Caulk should not be placed between the top edge of the lintel and the masonry it supports because caulk interferes with necessary water drainage. This area is a common site of incorrect caulking and painting.
Watch out for rust
Seriously rusted lintels will expand – in fact, metal expands to as much as 10 times thicker when rusted. Expansion leads to cracking of the masonry edge and you may discover step cracks. Extensive cracking requires replacement of the lintel, which is a costly repair.
Badly rusted lintels will also sag and fail beneath the weight of the masonry. This serious defect requires another costly repair: lintel replacement by a mason.
Unpainted lintels that are otherwise in good condition constitute a maintenance item for the seller or buyer.
Tom Feiza has been a professional home inspector since 1992 and has a degree in engineering. Through HowToOperateYourHome.com, he provides high-quality marketing materials that help professional home inspectors boost their business. Copyright © 2015 by Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It, Inc. Reproduced with permission.