Tag Archives: brick

Analyzing Historic Masonry Wall Performance

Wilmer-Davis Hall is a residential complex on the Washington State University (WSU) Pullman campus. Built in 1937 by Architect Stanly Smith, with John Maloney, the six-story structure is composed of masonry and concrete with a masonry/brick veneer in the classical and Georgian Revival architectural styles. For a recent feasibility study of the complex, PMA provided an exterior assessment and a limited moisture study utilizing Wärme Und Feuchte Instationär (WUFI), an industry standard application in predicting wall performance to determine how additional insulation may impact the existing constructions and wall performance.

The primary concerns of this analysis included increased potential for freeze thaw action and increased mold growth as a result of added insulation. When historic buildings are insulated the insulation is typically added to the interior of the structure to prevent alterations to the exterior appearance. This often causes the outer layers of the wall to be both colder and wetter as the materials are no longer warmed and dried by the interior heating system. The additional water and more extreme temperatures can result in an increase in freeze thaw action, corrosion of metal reinforcement, and/or increased mold growth.

Additionally adding insulation to a wall changes the location of the dew point within that construction (the point at which vapor in the air condenses into water). A dew point within the middle of the wall can also result in increased moisture within the wall cavity. If a wall has difficulties drying due to any of the above causes it is possible that over the course of several years the quantity of water within the wall will consistently increase. Accumulation of water will exacerbate reinforcement corrosion and mold growth and can result in increased freeze thaw action. This study focused on the following metrics to analyze proposed wall performance: quantity of water in the assembly, quantity of water in each material layer, relative humidity in layers susceptible to mold growth, and isopleths.

As in any simulation analysis a number of assumptions were made regarding the existing wall construction and the proposed design conditions. A variety of different conditions were analyzed in order to explore the range of conditions and variables. Below is a description of the inputs as well as an analysis of the results.

Four (4) proposed wall constructions were analyzed to determine how different types, quantities, and configurations of insulation would impact the existing constructions. The configurations were based on outlined solutions for meeting Washington State Energy Code (WSEC) or providing improved thermal comfort. Two of the proposed constructions meet WSEC (Option 1 and Option 2), while two of the solutions (Option A and Option B) fall short of fully meeting WSEC, but would provide improved insulation values. The options simulated included:

Base Case (Existing Conditions) (R-4.8)
3-1/2” Masonry
1” Air Gap
7-1/2” Hollow Clay Tile Back-Up Wall
1-1/2” Plaster

Option 1 (Meets WSEC) (R-15.4, continuous insulation)
3-1/2” Masonry
1” Air Gap
7-1/2” Hollow Clay Tile Back-Up Wall
1-1/2” Plaster
2” Expanded Polystyrene
Vapor Retarder (1perm)
0” Gypsum

Option 2 (Meets WSEC) (R-20.9, insulation is not continuous)
3-1/2” Masonry
1” Air Gap
7-1/2” Hollow Clay Tile Back-Up Wall
1-1/2” Plaster
3” Batt Insulation
0-1/2” Expanded Polystyrene
Vapor Retarder (1perm)
0-5/8” Gypsum

Option A (R 17.4, insulation is not continuous)
3-1/2” Masonry
1” Air Gap
7-1/2” Hollow Clay Tile Back-Up Wall
1-1/2 Plaster
2” Foamed-In-Place Polyurethane
Vapor Retarder (1perm)
0-5/8” Gypsum

Option B (R-18.4, insulation is not continuous)
3-1/2” Masonry
1” Air Gap
7-1/2” Hollow Clay Tile Back-Up Wall
1-1/2” Plaster
3-1/2” Batt Insulation
Vapor Retarder (1perm)
0-5/8” Gypsum

Materials It should be noted that no material testing was performed during this phase of the project – instead default material properties were chosen from the WUFI database. Materials used include:

  • Masonry: The material ‘Brick (Old)’ was used to simulate the existing masonry. The material is a generic historic brick material compiled from a variety of different bricks and included in the WUFI database.
  • Airspaces: All airspaces were modeled without additional moisture capacity which according to WUFI, models more realistic moisture storage in air cavities.
  • Hollow Clay Tile: The historic drawings indicate that behind the masonry is hollow clay tile. WUFI does not have a default material for hollow clay tile. Instead a masonry material ‘Red Matt Clay Brick’ was used to represent the solid portions of the clay tile. Air spaces were used to simulate the hollow portions of the tile.
  • Historic Plaster: The WUFI database does not have a default historic plaster material. The ‘Regular Lime Stucco’ material was used to simulate the existing plaster.
  • Batt Insulation: ‘Low Density Glass Fiber Batt Insulation’ was used in simulations.
  • Rigid Insulation/Expanded Polystrene: ‘Expanded Polystyrene’ was used in simulations.
  • Fomed-In-Place: ‘Sprayed Polyurethane Closed-Cell’ was used in simulations
  • Gypsum: ‘Interior Gypsum Board’ was used in simulations.

  • Weather/Interior Conditions In each simulation the model was set to mimic extreme situations to verify that the existing walls will perform in all conditions. The Spokane, Washington weather file indicates that the south elevation should have the most wind driven rain and moisture impacting the wall. Given this information the analysis used south exposure and the Spokane weather file to simulate exterior conditions. For the interior climate conditions the following profiles were used:

  • Interior temperatures ranging from 69 °F to 72 °F
  • Relative humidity ranging from 50% – 60%

  • The above values represent a relatively high moisture load which is consistent with the existing use as a residential facility.

    Water Intrusion Additionally as per ASHRAE 160 a small leak (1% of driving rain) was introduced into the exterior assembly to simulation a scenario where water was penetrating the exterior surface. This could occur at bondline failures in the mortar or penetrations through the wall assembly. The leak was placed past the masonry veneer on the face of the hollow clay tile backup wall.

    Initial Conditions Lastly the initial conditions of the materials were determined using ASHRAE 160. For existing wall materials EMC80 was used as the initial moisture content. (EMC80 is a value expressing an equilibrium of water and material masses at 80% humidity). For new components the expectation was that the materials would be installed from the interior and would remain dry during the construction process – thus EMC80 was used for new components as well.

    Four metrics were used to interpret and analyze the following WUFI results: Total Water Content/Water Content in Material Layers, Temperature, Relative Humidity, and Isopleths.

    Total-Water-Contents-WSU-Wilmer-Davis-WUFI-Report-6Total Water Content WUFI can predict the total accumulation of water over the time frame of the simulation, in this case five years. Over the course of each year a wall assembly will be wetted by the rain, and dry over the summer months. Differences in humidity and temperature between spaces may cause water condensation within the walls. If conditions do not allow condensation or other water to dry, materials may accumulate water over a period of time.

    The chart above shows how each of the different simulations performed. Note that total water content is measured per ft2 of wall. Walls that are thinner (existing construction) will inherently have less capacity to hold water. In general all of the walls performed in a similar manner – an indication that the retrofit strategies should perform in a comparable manner when compared to the existing walls. As can be seen in the chart, all of the simulations, including the base case showed some accumulation of water over the five year simulation. These results, however, do not conclusively show that the proposed walls will accumulate water. The results indicate that even the base case is accumulating water over time. During PMA’s site visit, however, the existing exterior walls appeared to be performing well – which would not be the case if they were consistently accumulating water. Additional analysis showed that the gradual accumulation of Total Water Content appears to be a result of initial instability within the wall construction that equalizes over time. A 20 year simulation showed accumulation over the first five years, after which the water content stabilizes.

    Water Content in Material Layers Each of the individual layers of material in a wall assembly have the capacity to hold and retain water. A high water content in any individual layer can indicate the potential for mold growth, the possibility for damage associated with freeze thaw, and a reduction in R-Value based on moisture content. Mold growth is possible when the moisture content is above 20% and if the material has the capacity to feed mold growth. The charts below show how each simulation performed for each layer within the wall.

    Water-Content-Materials-WSU-Wilmer-Davis-WUFI-ReportIn general most layers remained well below the 20% threshold for mold growth. The insulation layers, however, are an exception. Options 2 and B both had batt and/or foam insulation which yearly exceeded 20% water. This quantity of water is somewhat concerning for the batt insulation as it may reduce the material’s R-Value and/or contribute to mold growth depending on the composition of the material. Solutions that used foam insulation performed better than those with batt insulation.

    Temperature One common result of insulating a historic building from the interior is increased freeze thaw action. Insulation prevents the interior conditioned space from heating and drying the exterior masonry. As a result the masonry is typically saturated with more water and exposed to colder temperatures. The analysis looked at the temperature within the middle of the masonry to determine how added insulation would impact the material. A chart comparing the base case to the four options for insulation is located below. As can be seen the brick temperature remains consistent with the base case in all retrofit options. This is an indication that the masonry may not by exposed to additional weathering as a result of added interior insulation. It should be noted that not all masonry reacts to water saturation and freezing conditions in the same manner. To further analyze the masonry’s susceptibility to freeze-thaw action lab analysis is recommended to determine material performance. If results indicate that the masonry is susceptible to freeze-thaw it will be critical to ensure new constructions do not lead to a significantly colder/wetter exterior wall.

    Relative Humidity The relative humidity of the air within the wall construction also has an impact on material longevity and mold potential. A high relative humidity in plaster or batt insulation layers may indicate mold growth, while a high relative humidity in layers with reinforcement may indicate the potential for corrosion. A constant and high relative humidity (above 80%) indicates the potential for mold growth. The charts to the right focus on several susceptible layers, the existing plaster, batt insulation, and gypsum board. In general the majority of the layers susceptible to mold remained below 80% relative humidity, or consistently dropped below 80% relative humidity allowing the material to periodically dry. An exception was the existing plaster layer. The addition of interior insulation caused the relative humidity within the layer to increase approximately 15%, from 65% (base case) to just over 80% (all options for added insulation). This spike in relative humidity is concerning and could indicate the potential for mold growth within the layer.
    Isopleths WUFI can also predict mold growth by plotting isopleths on the interior surface. The isopleths are plots of the temperature and the relative humidity for every time period calculation. When the temperature and relative humidity both exceed the limiting lines calculated by WUFI there is the potential for mold growth. The simulations indicate that there is very little potential for mold growth. All of the simulations begin above the limiting lines, but over time equalize and remain well below the threshold calculated by WUFI.
    The results described above indicate that there could be some challenges to designing an appropriate insulation system for Wilmer Davis Hall. Three of the primary concerns noted in the above analysis are: increasing total water content quantities; high quantities of water in the batt insulation layers; and consistently high relative humidity’s in the existing plaster layer.

    In general Option 1 and Option A performed better than Option 2 and Option B – primarily because they relied on only foam/rigid insulation. This resulted in no risk of mold growth within the insulation layers and no reduction of the R-Value. Concerns were still identified with both Options in terms of total water content and relative humidity in the plaster layer.

    Prior to detailing a new wall for construction additional analysis is recommended. Minor changes in material properties can have significant impacts on wall performance. The above analysis has indicated that there is a potential for mold growth, but has not confirmed its likelihood. Most of the metrics indicated no risk of mold growth – however because some of the metrics showed a potential for mold, additional analysis is recommended. Testing of the existing materials and specific data on proposed products should be used to refine this analysis and determine extent of mold growth risk.

    Written by Halla Hoffer, Associate, Architect I

    When Field Performance of Masonry Does Not Correlate with Lab Results

    First presented at RCI 2015 Symposium on Building Envelope Technology, Nashville, TN


    When it was completed, Grant High School was typical of the high schools constructed by Portland Public Schools in the pre-World War II era. In addition to being an extensible school, including educational buildings constructed between 1923 and 1970, the school was also reflective of fire-proof construction through its use of a reinforced concrete structure with brick in-fill. (Portland Public Schools, Historic Building Assessment, Entrix, October 2009)

    Over the last fifteen years, Portland Public Schools (PPS) noted an accelerated degree of masonry face spalling on the original 1923 main building and 1923 Old Gym particularly when adjacent to concentrated sources of surface water. Other areas of spalling were not as obvious including protected wall surfaces. The masonry spalling was not occurring on later additions including the north wing (circa 1925), south wing (circa 1927), and auditorium building (circa 1927). Upon closer visual examination, it was observed that individual units were failing in isolated protected areas of the wall surface. Failures in such areas could not be accounted for under direct correlation of heavy water intrusion and typical failure mechanisms.

    The failure of the brick was potentially due to a number of separate or cumulative conditions including 1) excessive water uptake by the brick; 2) sub-fluorescence expansion of salts in the masonry, 3) freeze thaw; 4) low quality of the original 1923 brick; and 5) the application of surface sealers preventing water migrating to the exterior surface.


    Field Investigation
    In order to determine if the damage to the masonry was deeper than the surface, several wall-lets, an invasive exterior wall opening, were performed confirming the assembly of a multi-wythe masonry wall constructed in a typical fully bedded bond course with interlocking headers and no cavities between the first three brick courses. Hooked shaped, 3/32” gage, steel wire masonry ties in alternating courses and approximately twelve inches (12”) on center ties were found to be in good condition with no deterioration. The absence of corrosion on the in place brick wire ties indicated that little moisture was present inside the multi-wythe wall.

    As a result of the hypothesis and field observations, it was prudent to conduct a series of lab tests to the brick, mortar, and patch materials to assist in the determination of 1) the quality of the brick; 2) the physical composition of the brick; 3) the quantity of naturally occurring compounds in the masonry and mortar, particularly salts in the masonry; and 4) the quality of the mortar. The findings would help narrow the potential cause of the spalling and lead to a more focused repair and maintenance process. Bricks were removed for testing of Initial Rate of Absorption (IRA – a test for susceptibility to water saturation) freeze thaw testing, and petrographic analysis, a way to determine the inherent properties of the clay and manufacturing process. Both pointing and bedding mortar samples, as well as, the previous patching material were removed and also tested. To rule out damage caused by maintenance procedures, faces of the brick material were sent to determine if sealants were used on the brick and, if present, determine the sealant chemical makeup. The presence of a surface coating may lead to retention of water within the brick and thus prevent natural capillary flow, natural drying, and water evaporation.


    Testing & Results
    Samples sent to the lab for coating assessment were analyzed via episcopic light microscopy, and Fourier- Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) per ASTM D1245 and ASTM E1252. The results found no hydrocarbon or organic formulations used on the surface of the brick refuting the hypothesis of a surface sealer.

    Following modified ASTM standards, a 24-hr immersion and 5-hr boil absorption test on the brick were performed. The brick have a very low percent of total absorption at 9.5% for the 5-hr boil and 7.5% for the 24-hr test. The maximum saturation coefficient is 0.79 which is 0.01 over the maximum requirements for Severe Weathering bricks recommended for Portland climate (ASTM C216-07a Table 1). The Initial Rate of Absorption (IRA) is 5.7g/min/30in2 which equates to a very low suction brick or brick with low initial rates of absorption. The freeze thaw durability tests resulted in passing performance. All of these tests refuted the hypothesis that freezing temperatures were the cause of masonry spalling.

    A brick material analysis was performed in general conformance with ASTM C856, ASTM C1324 (masonry mortar) and included petrographic analysis, chemical analyses, x-ray diffraction and thermogravimetric analysis. Samples were analyzed under a polarized light microscope for information such as materials ratio and presence or absence of different deterioration mechanisms. These tests were used to assess the overall quality of material, presence of inherent salts, excessive retempering, cracking, ettringite formation, and potential alkali‐silica reactivity.


    The Petrographic Characterization resulted in the most unusual findings and the most relevant results related to the observed failures. The polarized light microscope indicated carbonate based salt crystals seeping into the masonry from the mortar. No sulfate based salts, typically associated with the clays used for making brick, were present. Furthermore the inherent properties of the brick showed very small rounded voids and interconnected planer voids. Planner voids result from poor compaction during the raw clay extrusion process prior to firing.

    Performance of brick in the field is a result of both material properties and resistance to micro-climates within the brick’s capillary void structure which cannot be repeated in the lab. Studies have shown a connection between small voids in the material property and susceptibility to longer water retention near the surface. With natural absorption properties, the brick is taking in a small quantity of water in very small pores. 24-hour immersion results are very low (7.5%). Publication of more in-depth studies correlates maximum saturation values for brick with low 24-hour immersion values. The effect of low immersion values and small quantities of absorbed water may increase the susceptibility in brick with small pore structure to freeze thaw failure.

    The presence of salt migration out of the mortar and into the brick, plus small pore structure and low immersion values, combining with a cleavage plane resulting from manufacturing are contributing to the Grant High School brick spalls. Brick with smaller pores are less capable of absorbing the expansive forces of freezing water and drying salts. Interlaced pores creating linear plains parallel with the face of the brick create stress failure points resulting in surface spalling. Since the characteristics of the brick resulted from the firing and manufacturing process, the brick will remain susceptible to the failure mechanisms.

    Field observations of masonry failures generally correspond with known failure mechanisms. However, it is not unusual that further analysis is necessary to confirm in-field performance and that typical laboratory test results are in conflict with in-situ performance.

    The best corrective action is to minimize the amount of surface water and proper mortar joints and mortar composition. Additional spalls are likely to occur in the future due to the accumulation of expansive forces over a long period of time. Replacement of the spalled bricks is recommended over further patching. Leaving spalled brick in place will continue to worsen the condition over time and affect adjacent brick.


    Written by Peter Meijer, AIA, NCARB, Principal

    The Challenge of Insulating Historic Buildings

    A Limited Moisture Study

    At its core, architecture in the Pacific Northwest is closely linked to moisture. The damp climate in Portland, Oregon has an impact on how we design new buildings as well as how we retrofit existing structures. Choices in construction, insulation, and flashing systems are always informed by our understanding of water. The success of any building envelope can be determined by how it performs against condensation, humidity, and water infiltration. Adding insulation to historic buildings is particularly challenging because the added material can change how a building envelope functions, leading to future moisture issues. At PMA we use WUFI to simulate and analyze how proposed retrofit strategies may impact the historic building envelope. For a recent project, we performed a limited moisture story of an unusual exterior brick wall that was to receive interior insulation. We studied how variations in insulative material and construction could impact the durability of both the brick and the interior wall structure.

    The challenge when insulating a historic building is to protect the masonry from excessive moisture and cold. In uninsulated masonry walls, the building’s heating system warms and dries the masonry from the interior. If insulation is added, the masonry typically stays colder and wetter for longer periods of time, which can lead to deterioration. The intent of PMA’s study was to evaluate the masonry for future deterioration and to also identify any potential for condensation/moisture in the insulation cavity. WUFI was used throughout the design process to provide feedback on potential constructions and inform critical material decisions.

    The building was built in 1921 and is unusual given that the original envelope consisted of a two wythe masonry wall with an interior plaster finish. A two wythe masonry wall is not common as it provides limited structure or protection from the elements. The renovation included an extensive seismic retrofit and the installation of new insulation to compensate for the existing wall’s limited structure. PMA was brought onboard to provide feedback on the building envelope detailing. We began our analysis by comparing the performance of the proposed envelope with that of the original building.


    As shown in the illustrations above the existing construction (small drawing) was: 8” of masonry on the exterior, an airgap where wood lath separated the masonry from the plaster, and approximately 1” of plaster on the interior. In comparison the proposed construction (large drawing) consisted of: the existing 8” of masonry on the exterior, a 1/2″ airspace, 1/2″ inch plywood sheathing, 6” of fiberglass batt insulation, a vapor retarder, and 5/8” gypsum with paint on the interior. The first step in our analysis was to accurately model each of these constructions in WUFI. Accurate material modeling is especially challenging in historic buildings. WUFI uses five different material properties to calculate moisture and heat movement. While an extensive built-in database exists for new materials, significantly less information is available for historic materials. PMA often tests materials to determine their properties and adds them to our expanding database of historic materials. The scope of this project didn’t allow for additional material testing. However, we ran several iterations of the analysis with different historic masonry materials to determine a baseline for our analysis. The remaining materials were chosen from WUFI’s building material’s database.


    ExistingBrick-RelativeHumidity The results of the initial analysis indicated that as might be expected the masonry was not only exposed to longer periods of cool temperatures, it rarely was capable of fully drying. The two charts at the right show the relative humidity in the original construction and the proposed construction where each vertical line marks a calendar year. Note that a relative humidity above 95% indicates a likelihood of condensation. As can be seen in the original construction, during the wet months the relative humidity hovers at about 95%, but drops off significantly during the warmer months. Alternately in the proposed construction the relative humidity rarely drops below 95%, indicating that moisture is present in the masonry almost year round. When the individual layers are examined it becomes clear that in addition to considerable moisture in the masonry itself, water is likely to condense within the wall cavity. As seen in the series of charts below the relative humidity remains high through the airspace and plywood only dropping off between the exterior and interior face of the insulation.

    ProposedLayers-RelativeHumidity-pmapdx-wufiGiven these initial results we suggested a redesign of the insulation system. The existing two wythe wall was not capable of adequately protecting the interior of the building, and the redesign had to accommodate for water infiltration through the masonry. Two options were discussed A) treat the masonry as a veneer wall and install waterproofing to the exterior face of the plywood as a drainage plane or B) install insulation that could be exposed to moisture and water. The constructability of Option A was significantly more complex than that of Option B so our initial analysis focused on Option B.


    Constructions-Hybrid-pmapdx-wufiSpray foam was identified as an alternative to the original batt insulation because it can both serve as a vapor retarder and insulate even when exposed to moisture. Two design options were investigated to determine the extent of closed cell foam necessary to adequately protect the interior surfaces from moisture. As can be seen to the right we investigated a construction filled entirely with closed cell polyurethane foam vs. a cavity filled with a combination of closed and open cell polyurethanes. Additionally we looked at the condition of moisture/heat transfer at the perceived weakest point in the structure, where the structural framing was only barely (1/2”) separated from the masonry. The structural integrity of the seismic upgrade depended on a minimal distance between the framing and the existing masonry, but concerns existed as to whether the wood would be exposed to enough moisture to cause mold.

    At the conclusion of the study the spray-foam hybrid option was chosen for further detailing and construction. The combination of closed and open cell foams effectively protected the interior from moisture and condensation. In each renovation scenario studied the exterior masonry was exposed to similar conditions; including increased moisture and cooler temperatures. Given every strategy resulted in similar conditions it was the combined performance of the hybrid system that stood out to the design team.

    When the assembly is studied at the structural members, the interior components (plywood and gypsum) retain their low relative humidity. It is important to note that in this scenario the exterior face of the structural wood members are at above 80% relative humidity year round. These conditions may facilitate the growth of mold according to ASHRAE 160-2009. It is recommended that moisture protection be applied to the outer potion of these members.

    When the assembly is studied at the structural members, the interior components (plywood and gypsum) retain their low relative humidity. It is important to note that in this scenario the exterior face of the structural wood members are at above 80% relative humidity year round. These conditions may facilitate the growth of mold according to ASHRAE 160-2009. It is recommended that moisture protection be applied to the outer potion of these members.

    This chart shows the hybrid option of using both open and closed cell polyurethane foam to insulate and weatherproof the building. The relative humidity remains high at the exterior components, but is reduced to well below 80% on the interior components.

    This chart shows the hybrid option of using both open and closed cell polyurethane foam to insulate and weatherproof the building. The relative humidity remains high at the exterior components, but is reduced to well below 80% on the interior components.

    When only closed cell polyurethane is used to fill the cavity the performance is similar to the hybrid scenario. This chart shows that the outer components are constantly at a high relative humidity while the interior components remain more closely linked with the interior conditions of the building.

    When only closed cell polyurethane is used to fill the cavity the performance is similar to the hybrid scenario. This chart shows that the outer components are constantly at a high relative humidity while the interior components remain more closely linked with the interior conditions of the building.

    Ultimately, the project serves to show how an iterative approach to designing building envelope retrofits is critical to achieving an effective solution. By carefully modeling and simulating the initial proposed system we were able to provide critical feedback that led to a more effective and responsive design. In this case, fully understanding the unique two wythe wall system was essential to providing adequate moisture protection for the wall cavity. While a typical masonry wall is capable of preventing water intrusion, the minimal depth of this masonry wall proved insufficient. Our analysis uncovered this flaw and allowed the system to be redesigned to work more effectively. Unlike new construction where the entire envelope system is designed simultaneously, with historic buildings we must work backwards from the existing to create a cohesive design that responds to and compliments the original elements. WUFI serves as an essential tool in understanding the existing and investigating the new.

    Written by Halla Hoffer, Architect I

    Masonry Sealers and Historic Exteriors

    masonry-test-pmapdxAre masonry sealers necessary on historic multi-wythe exterior walls? In general, likely not. Traditional exterior mass unit masonry walls, 3 to 4 wythes thick, leak. But rarely does the amount of water intrusion cause damage to the masonry, the masonry ties, or the interior finishes. Why wouldn’t a sealer be effective for these older walls?

    Traditional means and methods of construction multi-wythe walls consist of course work bonded and tied together with header courses, row-lock courses, hidden headers, and set in full beds and back beds of mortar. There is no direct pathway for water intrusion following the mortar beds. And most sealers do not bridge bond line cracks between the masonry unit and mortar bed.

    brick-test-pmapdxThe porosity and absorption rates of older masonry are often exaggerated because of the brick appearance. Many older masonry units show the results of imperfect firing techniques. It is not unusual to see older masonry with vertical and horizontal cracks due to low firing temperatures or impurities in the original clay mix. The surface cracks may lead to higher rates of absorption around the crack but rarely increase the overall absorption or alter the overall characteristics of the masonry. Masonry sealers will not bridge these firing cracks.masonry-water-test-pmapdx

    If older walls exhibit a level of moisture intrusion, the drying dynamics have traditionally been from warm interior side and evaporation towards the exterior. Interior insulation techniques will result in a colder exterior wall that will stay wetter longer. Masonry sealers can impede the natural drying process and movement of water towards the exterior. Vapor permeable “breathable” sealers limit the outward movement of water by natural capillary action impeding the drying dynamics. The major concern with applying sealers to masonry is related to drying.

    The Brick Industry Association, Technical Note No. 6A states: “Application of a water repellent coating is not necessary to achieve water resistance in brickwork subjected to normal exposures where proper material selection, detailing, construction and maintenance have been executed.” BIA goes further: “Application is not recommended on newly constructed brick veneer or cavity walls…” There is little to no research showing the effectiveness of sealers on reducing water intrusion in masonry walls. Sealers primarily reduce the initial rate of absorption at the brick surface. Sealers also cannot change water intrusion due to poor construction techniques. Wind driven rain is rarely impeded by sealer applications. “the use of water-repellent coatings to eliminate water penetration in a wall with existing defects can be futile.”

    WSU-DD-hall-building-envelope-pmapdxTo control water intrusion and to increase performance of a masonry wall, it is much more effective to maintain mortar joints through re-pointing process, assure that mortar joints have no voids, replace brick with spalled faces, replace brick that are cracked the full depth, and repair bond line failures. The use of masonry sealers should be based on known research and field tested success and not chosen as a means to remedy poor construction methods.

    Written by Peter Meijer AIA, NCARB Principal

    How to Determine the Cause of Masonry Failures

    Visual observations are not sufficient to determine the cause of failures in masonry walls. However, visual observations, combined with technical knowledge, provide a good direction for further investigation. In the Pacific Northwest, with the predominance of rainy winter weather, the effect of moisture saturation on masonry walls is readily apparent. Moisture is the primary cause of masonry deterioration. Horizontal surfaces will accumulate organic growth, mortar and masonry surfaces show rain water runoff patterns, and any discontinuity in roof runoff systems quickly cause further deterioration to the masonry walls. Severe masonry deterioration does occur in the northwest but its occurrence is considerably less dramatic when compared to harsher winter climates in the Midwest and East. For instance, brick spalls due to freeze thaw effect are a rare occurrence in the northwest.

    Masonry-Failures-pmapdx When severe deterioration of masonry walls is not a prevalent condition, what other non-visual processes are employed to determine the cause of deterioration? Two common techniques, well known to historic preservation professionals, are non-destructive testing (NDT) and material testing in the laboratory. NDE methods include RILEM tube water absorption tests, metal detector scanning, video scopes, infra-red photography, ultra sound testing, ground penetrating radar, and in some cases, x-ray diffraction. Common laboratory testing include petrographic examination, electron microscopy, and Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) methods.

    Masonry-Failures-pmapdxFTIR, when combined with the diagnostic RILEM tube field test, in particular is an effective evaluation to determine if masonry sealers have been applied to a wall surface impeding the capillary evaporation of trapped water. RILEM tests also provide an observation of a masonry wall’s initial rate of absorption under wind driven rain circumstances. Petrographic analysis of both masonry and mortars determines the material composition and will identify harmful natural elements and harmful additive elements like salts.

    Masonry-Failures-pmapdxA common misconception in the northwest is that surface spalls are a result of freeze thaw cycles. Freeze thaw susceptibility can only be determined through laboratory testing. Visual observations are insufficient to conclude masonry spalls resulted from freeze thaw forces. Since freeze thaw tests are graded either pass or fail, further tests methods are typically required for additional diagnostic evaluation. More likely sources of surface spalls are hard Portland cement mortars which exceed the strength of the masonry, salts introduced into the masonry through incorrect material selection, or surface sealers impeding the evaporation of water and thus creating a saturated sub surface layer which will freeze. (It is important to distinguish that the masonry unit may not be susceptible to freeze thaw but rather the sealer creates a dam like effect inducing a layer of water subject to freezing)

    Masonry-Failures-pmapdxBy combining visual observations with NDE and lab testing, most surface masonry deterioration can be determined and thereby implement proper repair, maintenance, and protection methods.

    Written by Peter Meijer AIA, NCARB, Principal

    The Challenges of Assessing Structural Brick Veneer Panels

    The origin of Structural Brick Veneer Panel dates back to the early sixties when new “tensile strength intensive” exotic mortar combined with steel reinforcing to create a 4-inch thick, single wythe brick panel. Developments continued to occur throughout the 1960s and 1970s, peaking in use during the 1980s. The system was relatively expensive due to the use of the high tensile strength mortar.
    Koin Center brick pane
    Developments in both the high tensile strength mortar and the clay units continued to reduce cost and allow the use of regular reinforcing and standard mortar and grout. Newer systems and manufacturing processes accommodated both horizontal and vertical reinforcing and permitted high-lift grouting. Later advancements in the connections of the brick veneer panel system to the building frame resulted in the use of brick veneer panels system on multi-story high-rise office buildings, schools, apartment buildings, residences and many other applications throughout the United States and the Pacific Northwest.
    cracked brick_design guide
    Major Failure Mechanisms
    There are two major failure mechanisms of Structural Brick Veneer Panels: water intrusion and mortar/grout additives. Water intrusion can occur from a lack of adequate flashing at the window head and sill interface, carbonization of the mortar, and structural cracking. Brick veneer panels are commonly designed to allow for limited cracking at the horizontal bed joints at the brick to mortar interface. Masonry veneer panels leak more through the mortar and brick interface than through the masonry unit itself. If the mortar and brick interface is cracked, as is permitted under structural design calculations, water infiltration will increase. A cement based material, panel mortar will carbonize over time decreasing the protective alkalinity environment surrounding the reinforcing bar and thus increasing the potential for corrosion. The largest volume of water intrusion is typically associated with inadequate window systems that fail to keep water out of both the structural brick veneer panel and the cavity interface.
    The durability of the wall is highly influenced by the quality of the mortar joints and interior cell grout. The specification should require reconsolidation of the grout or the incorporation of additives that balance expanding, retarding, and water reducing agents to provide a slow, controlled expansion prior to the grout hardening. Mortar/grout additives, particularly those developed in the 1970s, containing vinylidene chloride can initiate and accelerate reinforcing steel corrosion under the right conditions. The composition of the mortar/grout is determined through laboratory analysis of chloride content, vinylidene chloride, and pH level.

    Repairs to structural brick veneer panels is labor intensive and may involve panel replacement, panel encapsulation, window system replacement, and/or extensive individual masonry unit repair.

    Written by Peter Meijer AIA,NCARB, Principal

    Acknowledgement: Tawresey, John G. & John M. Hochwalt, KPFF Structural Engineers, Design Guide for Structural Brick Veneer, 3rd Ed, Western State Clay Products Association