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The Sky is Falling! A Case for Galvanized Lintels in Masonry Construction

Greetings, fellow masonry enthusiasts and valued clients! This is the first blog post our company has decided to write, and the images you'll see are from a site visit, March of this year.


I'm Rachel Hessler, the proud manager of Sound Brickworks, and I'm thrilled to share a the details that unfolded during one of our recent jobsite visits. This narrative not only highlights the importance of quality construction craftsmanship but also emphasizes the critical role that galvanized lintels and fasteners play in ensuring the longevity and safety of your buildings.


View of Lake Washington in Seattle, WA
A view of Lake Washington from the parapet of the following location's story...
 

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When the message came in from the apartment manager, our initial understanding was that "some bricks fell out of the building this weekend," as conveyed by a concerned tenant's text message. Little did we anticipate the true severity of what we would find. My first thought, "Sure! Let's see where these couple of bricks need to be popped back into place. Wonder what popped them out. Justin will figure it out."


Upon arrival, what unfolded before our eyes left us not only shocked but deeply grateful that tragedy had been averted. The reported incident wasn't a minor inconvenience – it was a potential catastrophe.


Pile of bricks laying on the ground after falling from a brick apartment wall at its 3rd story
Bricks that fell three stories. We only see what bricks did not burrow into the ground

The Perilous Discovery

During a routine assessment on a 1920s red brick apartment building, our owner, Justin Brusasco, stumbled upon a scene that could have been catastrophic. A substantial section of this otherwise nondescript Seattle apartment building, had lost some weight with its recent battle with gravity. Brickwork fell from the roofline on the side of this apartment building, plummeting three stories down to the ground below. The culprit? Failing lintels.


A Closer Look

Upon closer inspection, it became evident that the lintels, and the wall ties, used in the construction were not galvanized. While initially cost-effective, and though they did work for a time, these lintels proved to be insufficient, compromising the structural integrity of the entire wall. The incident served as a stark reminder of the importance of choosing the right materials for masonry work.


So, what happened exactly? The lintel of the window shown in this photo failed, meaning that it gave way under the weight of the bricks stacked on top. This could have been because of the weight itself, but it was clear the compromising factors also included the extreme amount of weather damage, or, rust. Because the lintel could no longer support the brickwork, the brickwork started to heave away from the wall, in turn shearing wall ties that were also meant to hold the wall to the building as reinforcement. The reason these failed? The same thing: weather caused the wall ties to rust.


View from roofline of bricks missing near roofline, bricks ready to fall to the ground, and sheared wall ties
Bricks missing, wall ties sheared away from wood, bricks likely to continue falling to the ground

 

The Historical Significance of Lintels in Masonry

To truly appreciate the significance of lintels, let's delve into their historical role in masonry. Lintels, those horizontal supports above windows and doorways, often a length of material shaped like an L or a T, have been a fundamental component of construction for centuries. Traditionally made from wood or stone, lintels evolved to incorporate various materials to enhance durability.


The Evolution & Case for Galvanized Lintels

Galvanized lintels emerged as a game-changer in modern masonry. Galvanization involves coating the lintels with a protective layer of zinc, providing resistance to corrosion and rust. This added layer of defense ensures the lintels can withstand longer lengths of time and environmental elements than before, preventing catastrophic failures like the one we witnessed at the 1920s apartment building.


The Domino Effect

In our recent case, the absence of galvanized lintels proved to be a costly oversight. As the lintels failed, the repercussions were felt throughout the structure. Wall ties, meant to secure the bricks to the building, were sheared off, potentially compromising the stability of the entire section. And the concern is not just the wall of this building. It's people's lives.


Section of apartment building where bricks have fallen out of the wall near the roofline
Compromised brick wall bowing away from apartment building

 

Why "The Sky is Falling!" Matters

The title of this blog post, "The Sky is Falling! A Case for Lintels in Masonry Construction," is not just a catchy phrase. As masonry contractors, we understand the intrinsic responsibility that comes with our craft. Beyond bricks and mortar, our duty extends to first ensuring the safety and security of the spaces we work on. This incident served as a powerful reminder of the impact our choices, materials, and craftsmanship can have on the lives of those who inhabit these structures.


Brick wall of apartment building showing bricks missing where lintel failed near roofline
Brick wall of apartment building showing bricks missing where lintel failed near roofline, 3 stories high (45' from ground)

And with that thought, we left only after securing the entry points to this scene with caution tape.


 

Conclusion

At Sound Brickworks, we believe in not just fixing problems but also in preventing them. The case we've shared underscores the critical role proper materials play in construction and highlights the importance of opting for safe solutions to ensure the enduring strength and safety of our built environments, and our neighbors.


Thank you for joining us on this visually compelling journey into the world of lintels. Stay tuned for more insights, tips, and stories from the heart of Sound Brickworks!


Justin Brusasco, Owner & Lead Mason
Justin Brusasco, Owner & Lead Mason

For inquiries or our safety-first masonry services, reach out to us at soundbrickworks.com, soundbrickworks@gmail.com, or give Justin a call at 360-989-4837. Quotes and site visits are, and will always be, free.


Let's build a safer, stronger future together!


Rachel Hessler

Manager, Sound Brickworks

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