Residential construction practices in the U.S. have a certain Wild West flavor. Quality standards vary widely from one area of the country to another. For example, while builders in some regions pay meticulous attention when lapping a water-resistant barrier (WRB) or installing wall flashing, builders in other regions ignore best practice recommendations and code requirements.
This article will focus on brick veneer over wood-framed walls. Although good details for this type of cladding were figured out decades ago, there are still areas of the country where these details are widely ignored. If you’re thinking about buying a house with brick veneer, it’s probably worth your while to learn about best practice recommendations for brick veneer.
Until World War II, most brick walls were multi-wythe load-bearing walls. In other words, the brick walls supported beams, floor joists, and roof rafters.
Eventually, someone got the bright idea to build a wood-framed building with one wythe of brickwork on the exterior of a 2×4 bearing wall. Brick veneer doesn’t bear any loads; in function, brick veneer resembles vinyl siding more than it resembles the brick walls of yore.
What happens when masonry is wed to wood framing in this manner? Is it marriage made in heaven or a recipe for disaster? The answer depends on the flashing and drainage details.
Before discussing best practice recommendations for brick veneer, let’s look at what happens when wind-driven rain soaks a brick-veneer wall. It isn’t hard for building scientists to study this phenomenon: all they have to do is remove the drywall and insulation from the exterior wall of a brick veneer building, and cut a few inspection holes in the sheathing. That way they can watch what happens when the exterior side of the wall is sprayed with a garden hose.