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Technical Notes

on Brick Construction
Brick Industry Association 11490 Commerce Park Drive, Reston, Virginia 20191



This is the third in a series of Technical Notes devoted
to brick masonry cavity walls. Other Technical Notes in
this series cover areas of cavity walls in general, including
properties, design, material selection, and insulation; this
Technical Notes is concerned with proper detailing.
The cavity wall can be correctly designed, and properly constructed using the best materials available, but if
improperly detailed the wall will not function as it should.
Every structure must meet particular requirements
and must be detailed accordingly. Details that are satisfactory on one structure may not be workable on another.
However, certain details can usually be found that will
minimize the possibility of damage to masonry walls from
cracking, efflorescence, and water penetration. This
Technical Notes will suggest some details which can be
followed to achieve satisfactory cavity walls.
In many areas there are significant foundation movements which can cause severe cracking in walls rigidly
attached to the foundation. If these walls are left free of
the foundation, they tend to span the low points and thus
reduce the cracking. In general, differential movements in
foundations supporting cavity walls must be kept to a minimum, or serious distress may result. Differential move

ment of 1/4 in. (6.4 mm) in 15 ft (4.572 m) has been considered sufficient to cause cracking in masonry walls.
However, observations on cavity type and other masonry
walls have shown that differential movements in the foundation of more than 1/2 in. (12.7 mm) in 15 ft (4.572 m)
could occur and yet the walls remain in good shape and
have no cracks.
Figure 1 illustrates a typical foundation detail. In this
case, the bond is broken between the base of the cavity
wall and the top of the concrete beam by building paper.
The transfer of movements in the foundation to the wall is
thus minimized. Bond breaks also permit differential thermal and moisture movements without distress to either
the brick wall or the concrete foundation. In addition, a
bond beam or tie beam can be formed at the bottom of
the wall by placing reinforcing bars and filling the cavity
with grout. This will tie the inner and outer wythes of
masonry together and distribute any strain over a longer
length of wall. This can also be accomplished by a closer
spacing of the horizontal joint reinforcement at the bottom
of the wall. The above procedures will tend to contain
any vertical cracks that may originate at the bottom of the
When it is necessary to anchor the masonry wall to
the foundation, it is still possible to detail the wall in a
manner which allows some differential movement. Such
anchorage may be required for load-bearing structures of
high slenderness ratio or in earthquake design areas.

Concrete Roof Slab Detail

FIG. 2
Foundation Detail
FIG. 1
* Originally published in January/February 1978, this Technical Notes has been reviewed and reissued.

Concrete Slabs
Thermal strains or other movements are often blamed
for cracking in masonry walls when the actual cause is
the expansion or curling of the concrete slabs bearing on
the walls. The curling of a concrete slab has even been
known to pick up the brick bonded to it. Unfortunately,
this behavior of concrete is frequently overlooked by the
designer in detailing the structure. Figure 2 illustrates a
typical detail that will relieve this condition. In this design,
the bond is broken between the concrete slab and the
brick wall by building paper. This permits the slab to have
some freedom of movement with respect to the wall. In
addition, it permits the longitudinal thermal and moisture
movements to occur without distress. The slab is thickened into a beam over the interior wythe to help stiffen
the slab and minimize curling. Under certain climatic conditions, provisions must be made for insulation which has
not been shown.

Steel Joist Structural Floor Assembly

FIG. 3

Anchorage of Wood Floor to Cavity Wall

FIG. 4

Anchorage of Wood Roof Framing to Cavity Walls

FIG. 5

Wall Anchorage to Concrete Beams

FIG. 6

Wall Anchorage to Concrete Columns

FIG. 8

Wall Anchorage to Steel Beam

FIG. 7

Wall Anchorage to Steel Columns

FIG. 9

the steel members. The anchor bolts should be only

hand-tightened, or friction will prevent the necessary
Figure 3 illustrates a structural system using steel
joists bearing on a masonry wall.

Structural Steel
Steel has a coefficient of expansion approximately
twice that of brick masonry. If the temperature difference
in the materials is large, and the steel is firmly anchored
to, or confined within, the masonry, then cracking of the
masonry wall will probably occur. Normal practice has
been to positively anchor the joists or steel in the masonry. This design can be improved by lubricating the bearing surfaces and providing slotted holes in the seats of

Wood Floor Joists

Wood floor joists normally have a 3-in. fire cut end
and bear only on the interior wythe of a cavity wall. If the
ends project into the cavity, they can form a ledge which

may create a moisture bridge across the cavity.

All building codes require joists to be anchored to
masonry walls at specified intervals in a prescribed manner. Codes generally require an anchor at the end of
every fourth joist. Where the joists are parallel to a wall,
anchors engage 3 joists at intervals not exceeding 8 ft
(2.438 m). Cavity wall ties are usually required within 8
in. (203 mm) of joist bearing level. With such construction, the floor is considered to provide lateral support for
the walls, see Fig. 4.
Wood Rafter Plates
Wood roofs can be anchored to cavity walls by many
methods. two of which are shown in Fig. 5. The detail on
the left illustrates a method using solid units in both
wythes. The detail on the right may be used with vertical

FIG. 10

Anchorage Detail
Corner Concrete Column and Cavity Wall
FIG. 11
Plan Views
FIG. 12

frame structures, care must be taken to anchor the

masonry walls to the skeleton frame in a manner which
will permit each to move relative to the other. Skeleton
frames are more flexible than brick walls and will undergo
greater deflections under load. The frame and enclosing
wall differ in their reaction to moisture and in the magnitude of their thermal movement.
Where anchors tie walls to the structural frame to provide lateral support, they should be flexible, resisting tension and compression, but not shear. This flexibility permits differential movements between the frame and the
wall without cracking or distress. Figures 6 through 11
show typical methods for anchoring masonry walls to
columns and beams with corrosion-resistant metal ties.
These anchorage methods will permit both horizontal and
vertical differential movements.
Vertical Expansion Joints
No single recommendation for the positioning and
spacing of vertical expansion joints can be applicable to
all structures. Each building must be analyzed to determine the potential horizontal movements, and provisions
must be made to relieve excessive stress which might be
expected to result from such movement. The extent to
which precautions should be taken to prevent brick
masonry from cracking will depend upon the exposure,
character, and intended use of the structure. In some
instances, it may be economically desirable to provide
less than maximum protection as a calculated risk. See
Technical Notes 18A for more specific suggestions.
One additional consideration of extreme importance is
the distinction between control joints and expansion joints.
Control joints are placed in concrete or concrete masonry
walls, along with suitable joint reinforcement, to control
cracking by reducing restraint and accommodating wall
movement from shrinkage due to initial drying. Shrinkage
due to drying is not found in clay masonry construction.
This becomes obvious when one considers the clay units,
which comprise 70% or more of the total volume of a solid
brick masonry wall, are manufactured by a firing process
which drives off all moisture. As a result, control joints are
not necessary to brick masonry walls. Expansion joints
are placed to accommodate the movement of brick
masonry walls due to change in temperature and moisture. Concrete masonry walls also experience expansion
due to changes in temperature and moisture, but they
experience their shrinkage due to initial drying first, then
the control joints act in both contraction and expansion.
Further information regarding expansion joints can be
found in Technical Notes 18A.
Typical details of expansion joints and their locations
are shown in Figs. 12 and 13.

Plain Views
FIG. 13

cell back-up units. Anchor bolts are grouted into the hollow cells to provide positive anchorage. Regardless of
the method, anchor bolts holding roof plates should
extend into the masonry a minimum of 16 in. (406 mm),
normally about six standard size brick courses. After the
wood plate is installed, the nut should be hand-tightened.

Horizontal Expansion Joints

Cavity walls are successfully used as curtain walls in
concrete and steel-frame buildings. When cavity walls
are so used, the inner masonry wythe is usually supported by the frame at each floor level and laid to the column
faces. The outer wythe, supported by shelf angles, is tied


When masonry walls are used to enclose skeleton5

Double Hung Wood Window

FIG. 16

Reinforced Parapet Wall

FIG. 14

to the structure by metal ties to the inner masonry wythe

and the building frame. The shelf angle, which supports
the outer wythe of masonry at each floor, can be secured
to the spandrel in several ways. Care should be taken to
insure proper anchorage and shimming of the angle to
prevent deflections which might induce high concentrated
stresses in the masonry. Angles should be designed so
that total deflections are less than 1/16 in. (1.6 mm).
Even if galvanized shelf angles are used, continuous
flashing should be installed. Regardless of the type, shelf
angles should not be installed as one continuous piece.
Provide a space at intervals to permit thermal expansion
and contraction to occur without damage to the wall.
Where shelf angles are used in this manner, it is suggested that horizontal expansion joints be placed at shelf
angles, see Fig. 8, Technical Notes 21 Revised. This is
particularly important in concrete frame buildings. The
joints should be sealed with a permanently elastic sealant
of a color which will closely match the mortar joints.
Of all the masonry elements used in buildings, probably the most difficult to adequately detail is the parapet
wall. Designers have tried many different ways to design
parapets to minimize cracking, leaking, and displacement.
Experts generally agree that the only sure way to avoid
parapet problems is to eliminate the parapet. However,
they are frequently required by building codes, or architectural considerations.
The detail shown in Fig. 14 is suggested as one
method of building parapets. For cavity wall construction,
it is recommended that the cavity continue up into the
parapet, thereby providing some flexibility between the
outside wythe and the inner wythe. Expansion joints
should extend up through the parapet. In addition, the

Foundation Details
FIG. 15

Metal Casement Window

FIG. 17

Commercial Metal Window

FIG. 18

parapet wall should be reinforced and doweled to the

structural frame or have an additional expansion joint
spaced between those in the wall below. Expansion joints
should also be placed near corners to avoid displacement
of the parapet. Parapet copings should provide a drip on
both sides of the wall. Metal, stone, and fired clay copings of various designs usually provide this feature. The
back side of the parapet should be constructed of durable
materials, preferably the same material that is used in the
front side of the parapet. They should not be painted or
coated, they must be left free to "breathe." Unless copings are impervious with watertight joints, place through
flashings in the mortar bed immediately beneath them and
firmly attach the coping to the wall below with anchor

tooled mortar joints can retain water in the wall for longer
periods of time, thus concentrating the moisture at one
To prevent any possible moisture infiltration and to
promote cavity drainage, place the bottom of the cavity
wall above the finished grade, and avoid placing earth
over the weep holes during landscaping. With basement
construction, it is important to use through-wall flashing at
the bottom of the cavity to prevent moisture from penetrating the inside surface of the basement wall, see Fig. 15.
In basementless construction, the flashing at the dampproof course may also serve as a termite shield.
Stock sizes of windows and door frames are used in
cavity walls, although sometimes additional blocking is
needed for anchorage. Avoid solid masonry jambs at windows and doors in cavity walls. However, for steel windows, the jamb must be partially solid to accept most
standard jamb anchors. Wood or steel surrounds must be
used to adapt non-modular steel casement windows to
modular cavity walls. Cavity wall ties spaced at 3 ft (914
mm) or less should be placed around all openings not
more than 12 in. (305 mm) from the opening, see Figs.
16, 17 and 18.


Flashing is installed in masonry construction to divert
moisture, which may enter the masonry at vulnerable
spots, to the outside. In areas of severe or moderate
exposures, flashing should be provided under horizontal
masonry surfaces, such as roof and parapet, or roof and
chimney; overheads of openings, such as doors and windows; and frequently at floor lines, depending upon the
type of construction.
To be most effective, the flashing should extend
through the outer face of the wall and be turned down to
form a drip. Weep holes should be provided at intervals
of 16 in. (406 mm) to 24 in. (610 mm) maximum to permit
water accumulated on the flashing to drain to the outside.
If, for aesthetic reasons, it is necessary to conceal the
flashing, the number and spacing of weep holes are even
more important. In this case, the spacing should not
exceed 16 in. (406 mm) o.c. Concealed flashing with

Caulking and Sealants

Too frequently, caulking is considered a means of correcting or hiding poor workmanship, rather than as an
integral part of construction. It should be detailed and
installed with the same care as the other elements of the
Joints at masonry openings for door and window
frames, expansion joints, and other locations where caulk7

ing may be required, are the most susceptible areas for

rain penetration. These areas should be given proper
attention during detailing and construction Also, maintenance programs should be provided to inspect and
replace sealants or caulking which may have dried out, or
otherwise become ineffective, see Figs. 16, 17 and 18. In
all cases, the use of a good grade polysulfide, butyl or silicone rubber sealant is recommended. Oil based caulks
should not be used. Regardless of the type used, proper
priming and backing are a must.
It is possible to get double duty out of the cavity by
using it to carry short runs of conduit. This feature must
be used with caution so that a moisture bridge across the
cavity is not formed.
This Technical Notes has discussed and illustrated
the general principles that are involved in the proper
detailing of brick masonry cavity walls. The information,
recommendations, and detailed drawings contained in this
Technical Notes are based on the available data and
experience of the Institute's technical staff. They should
be recognized as suggestions and recommendations for
the consideration of the designers, specifiers, and owners
of buildings when using brick masonry cavity walls.
It is evident that all of the possible conditions and
variations cannot be covered in a single Technical Notes.
However, it is believed that the general principles and
considerations are covered here. The final decision for
details and materials to be used is not within the purview
of the BIA and must rest with the project designer and/or