By: Rebecca Reilly

Steel lintels are an extremely common component of most brick masonry buildings. Since they support the facade above a window, it is extremely important that these crucial steel members are well maintained.

The simplest method to maintain steel lintels that are not severely deteriorated is to scrape, prime and paint them on a regular basis. Installing exterior primer and paint on the lintel will help protect it from corroding elements. Before the steel lintels are scraped and painted, the existing paint on the lintel must be tested for asbestos and lead containing material. Paint often contains lead, and while less common, asbestos is occasionally found in paint. If lead or asbestos exists, the paint must be abated by a licensed contractor.

Painting will only prevent additional damage to a lintel, and does not correct any existing damage to the steel. If the lintel is showing signs of more significant deterioration, it should be replaced. For example, if the lintel is bowing or bending, a gap can form between the lintel and and the brick masonry above. Another sign of a deteriorated lintel is rust jacking or oxide jacking, which occurs when the rust on the lintel expands and causes the mortar in front of the lintel to crack or break loose. These conditions can threaten the structural stability of a masonry wall.

To ensure their long and useful life cycle, it’s imperative that steel lintel replacement be properly performed. Steel lintels should be primed and painted with exterior grade paint before they are installed, and any cracked brick masonry units beneath the lintel should be replaced. Waterproofing should be installed from the edge of the lintel onto the backup brick masonry. This waterproofing prevents water infiltration and adds another layer of protection against corrosion. Brick ties should be utilized to secure the brick masonry above the steel lintel in place. However, brick ties penetrate the lintel waterproofing. Any seams or voids in the waterproofing should be sealed to ensure water cannot permeate to the interior wythes of m

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Improper drainage is another factor that can lead to the deterioration of steel lintels, and should be addressed as part of any lintel replacement project. In some cases, the joint between the facade and newly installed lintels is incorrectly sealed to attempted to prevent water infiltration. Unfortunately, this detail often does more harm than good. Although sealant will prevent water from entering the wall, it will also trap any moisture within the wall at the lintel level. This water sitting on the steel lintel will expedite it’s deterioration. Weep vents or weep holes should be installed at the bottom of the mortar joints to ensure that any water within the brick masonry exits the facade

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