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Can You Add a Brick Veneer to Your Steel Building?

Published April 21, 2017 by Whirlwind Team

 brick veneer for steel buildings

Can you add a brick veneer to a metal building? Short answer: Yes. Yes, you can.

For combined durability and beauty there is nothing like adding a brick veneer to the walls of your metal building. You receive the benefits of a hard wall, such as fire resistance, along with the moisture resistance of a cavity wall. This combination also includes better acoustical protection, thermal performance, and design weight.

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Face bricks and mortar

First, a word about face bricks and mortar. About 93% of all brick in the United States is covered by ASTM standard 216.

These bricks come in 3 types:

  • FBS: for common use
  • FBX: for tightly controlled brick sizing
  • FBM: for purposely non-uniform, or "rustic," looking brick

Also, choice of mortar is important to the durability of the wall. Lower mortar strength increases the tolerance for wall deformation before cracking occurs. ASTM C270 type N mortar is the best choice for this application, especially in extreme temperature and freeze/thaw conditions. Type S is better for higher flexural stress while Type M helps with load bearing.

What is brick veneer?

Brick veneer is a covering of one layer of brick over another wall material. The brick is not supporting the roof or any other part of the structure. A brick veneer is not the same as a brick wall.

You can distinguish brick veneer from a brick wall by the weep-holes required by veneer to shed moisture. A brick wall needs no drainage holes because it is fully sealed and self-contained. A brick veneer can collect moisture between itself and the inner wall. If left to pool, the frame and interior could be damaged.

Where do you see brick veneer?

Brick veneer is used over wood, concrete masonry units, and other framing materials but since the 1960s brick veneer over steel frame has enjoyed great popularity. In some circles, there is concern that it became too popular too quickly without establishing design processes. This has not kept it from becoming a common design for conventional building construction.

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How To install brick veneer to a metal building

  1. Space the steel frame. In general, the design requires steel frame members spaced 16 or 24 inches apart on the centers with gypsum wallboard building paper or other water proofing material for sheathing. The brick veneer creates a cavity wall with at least a 2-inch separation from the inner wall, necessary to retard moisture from traveling across the wall unit.
  2. Attach the brick to the frame with adjustable metal ties. The brick is then attached to the frame with adjustable metal ties and the space between the members can be filled with fiberglass batting. Flashing must extend beyond the exterior face and bent at a 45-degree angle to channel water away from the wall. The best flashing is made of stainless steel and lead-coated copper. The addition of weep holes is another method of channeling water to the outside of the wall cavity.

    The adjustable ties help to transfer lateral loads along the wall and are generally made of thick wire that is bent into a variety of shapes. For areas that are seismically active, a reinforcing wire is used for longitudinal bracing and is embedded in the masonry veneer then attached to the ties. This keeps the brickwork in place even if it cracks. 

    NOTE: Corrugated metal ties commonly used in home-building are not to be used for brick veneer and steel frame construction.
  3. Fasten the brick ties to the frame. Brick ties are fastened to the frame with screws. It is these same screws that introduce a weakness into the wall component. Keep in mind that these screws may only have a thin coating to delay corrosion. Over time the coating, if it was even present, wears down allowing the screws to be rusted by any moisture in the area.

Brick veneer performance

The performance of brick veneer over steel frame construction is laid out by objectives from the WSCPA Design Guide. Level 1 denotes a very high level of quality and longevity. Institutional buildings are mainly level 1. Level 2 indicates a good level of quality with an average lifespan, used for industrial and residential buildings.

Brick veneer and steel frame provide:

  • Moisture resistance. Properly sealed brick veneer resists moisture like any other brick wall or structure. If your steel wall is submerged underwater, a brick veneer sealed to the exterior can mitigate water damage to the frame. However, since the veneer is mounted to the steel wall, weep holes are required to drain water that gets between the veneer and the inner wall.
  • Thermal Performance. The thermal performance of your steel building is enhanced with a brick veneer because an air space is incorporated between the veneer and frame, blocking heat transmission through the wall system. Brick is prized for its high thermal mass; it stores heat and slowly releases it over time.
  • Fire resistance and ease of construction. Both brick and steel have high fire resistance ratings, preventing the spread of fire and reducing insurance premiums while the reduced design weight allows for a smaller, less expensive foundation. Ease of construction is one more item on the side of both brick veneer and steel building.
  • Acoustic insulation. The space between the veneer and inner wall is also a handy place to install additional insulation. Acoustic insulation helps regulate sound and some vibration within the building.
  • Reduced weight design. Your best investment, especially if your building is more than a single story, is to make certain the structural engineer is heavily involved in the design of the exterior wall system. A metal frame installer may be able to handle placing brick veneer a one story building without further design instruction, but anything more needs the expertise of the engineer.

Adding a brick veneer to your steel building is not only possible, but it can also give you a virtually maintenance-free exterior that looks beautiful in any setting. You will have an energy efficient structure that reduces your utility bills no matter the season. Weather and seismic activity are less likely to create structural damage to the building itself, while the brick veneer is easily repaired and replaced.

A brick veneer adds a warmth and ambiance that can be lacking in concrete or wood while increasing the strength and insulation of your facility.

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