Brick Veneer and the Consequences of Improper Size-up

Brick veneers have been around for a long time. They are used on both new construction and old construction. They are basically, as I heard someone say, brick siding.  We see it on many older buildings of wood frame construction, but it is also the exterior front wall covering newer homes and townhomes. In addition, many noncombustible strip malls are also being given the treatment of brick on the exterior block walls. This has often caused a misread during size-up. Many size-up reports immediately declare a building ordinary construction just because there is brick on the front. This can have detrimental consequences to firefighter safety and the outcomes of the incident. 

Unfortunately, what looks like and is mistaken for an ordinary building will be fought with ordinary construction mentality and ordinary construction tactics and that is dangerous when we are dealing with lightweight building components. The ability to conduct the prolonged interior operations we utilize in ordinary constructed buildings will put firefighters unnecessarily in harm’s way. Especially in newer lightweight wood truss and wood I-beam constructed wood frame buildings, mistaking the building’s construction can and has caused firefighters to be caught in sudden collapse of the lightweight floors or roof.   

A couple of ways to spot a veneer wall:

  • Age: There are virtually no building being built today of ordinary construction. Any building that is relatively new (up to 30 years old) should raise a flag of suspicion to its true identity.
  • Lintels: True ordinary construction will have lintels that span past the edges of the windows. Many times there will either be no lintel or a lintel that is only as wide as the windows. While veneers can be engineered to be wider than the window, seeing ones that are not or are not there at all is a tip-off to the use of a brick veneer.
  • Brick Coarsing: In true ordinary construction, especially on older buidligns, look for a coarse of headers for every 5 to 7 coarses of stretchers. (always an odd number) Again, while this can be engineered into the wall, we must also take into consideration the other indicating factors that we are discussing here.
  • Is the wall only partially brick? -- Partial brick with a combination of siding or stucco is popular in many townhouse and estate homes. If the wall is not all brick, it is probably veneer.
  • Look down the sides: Most people, when they give the house a facelinft, only put brick on the front. Look down the sides (in addition to the other clues). If it is sided or covered in shingle, you are dealing with wood frame construction. This holds true for both renovated homes and new homes

As always, the pictures tell the story, so lets’s look at some.


AA photo 1.jpg

Only portions of this A side wall are brick. The others are vinyl siding.  This is an indicator that this is not an ordinary construction. The lintels are suspicious too. This is lightweight wood truss (floor and roof) (Photo:  AA)



A non-combustible strip mall is getting the brick veneer treatment over its block walls. These will be all stretchers. Mistaking this for ordinary construction can have disastrous consequences. There is all lightweight steel on the interior. (Photo: AA)



Here is one of the first clues you should look for. If there is brick on the A side, look down at the B and D sides. In wood frame construction, they are usually sided or in this case, covered by asphalt shingle. The two-tone brick on Side A as well as the absence of a lintel over the window confirms the suspicion. If the building is attached, check the C side for the siding. Another clue is the presence of attached identical or similar buildings that have wood frame fronts (siding or shingle).  (photo: AA)


AA Photo 4.jpg

Here, a brick veneer is being added to a wood frame wall. The entire A side will look like an ordinary constructed building. Your clue -- Note the vinyl siding on the B side next to the third-floor windows (and the false lintels on the first floor windows) (Photo – AA) 


AA Photo 5.jpg


This condominium complex is getting its brick siding added. After that, it will look like an ordinary construction. Even the masonry lintels above the window look legit. A big clue here is its age – and the fact that you see it going up. If a building is being built or renovated in your response area and you don’t know all about it – shame on you.   (Photo -- AA)


AA Photo 6.jpg

This fire building has a decorative stone veneer on it – no lintels either. The same issues with brick veneers apply to stone veneers. Because these stones are usually embedded in a mesh and mortar blanket, a collapse may be more extensive as it will all “stick together” and peel away from the original wall. The D exposure is ordinary – check out the lintels..….and it’s old.  (Photo by Ron Jeffers)


AA Photo 7.jpg

I don’t even see the metal connectors that are supposed to be here to keep the brick veneer connected to the wood exterior wall. This brick siding just peeled away. This is a garden apartment complex built in the 70’s. (Photo: AA)


AA Photo 8.jpg

Note the absence of a lintel over the top of these windows. They are all stretchers too. This is a brick veneer covering a wood frame structure, in this case, platform construction (Photo: AA)

When you are out in the field, see how many of these you can spot. Once you can tell the true construction, you can apply the necessary strategy and tactics to address the issue.  Don’t go in half-cocked with incorrect information. Know your buildings.

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