Can you Add a Brick Veneer to your Steel Building?

Published May 15, 2013 by Whirlwind Team

Brick veneerCan 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.

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.

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

Brick veneer is used over wood, concrete masonry units, and other framing materials but since the 1960s brick veneer over steel studs 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.

In general, the design requires steel studs 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.

The brick is then attached to the steel studs with adjustable metal ties and the space between the studs 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, 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 stud construction.

Brick ties are fastened to the studs using self-drilling 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.

The performance of brick veneer over steel stud 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 is more for a good level of quality and an average life-span such as for industrial and residential buildings.

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 stud 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 means it is not only possible it can give you a virtually maintenance-free exterior that looks beautiful in any setting. For more information, feel free to contact Whirlwind Steel today!

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