Are you looking into a remodel (or complete rebuild) and heard the word “masonry” thrown around all the time, but aren’t quite sure what it means? I mean, we don’t blame you – there are tons of different kinds! We’ll demystify the basics of masonry, so you can make informed decisions for your building process, whether it’s choosing between masonry or wooden structures, or simply deciding exactly what kind of foundation you want to use.

What exactly is masonry construction?

Masonry walls are the most durable component of any structure – it’s one of the oldest methods of construction known to humans. Any ancient structures you still see today are still erect due to their masonry – some are over 3000 years old!

Masonry refers to the process of laying down 1 masonry unit over another (brick, concrete, or stone) with mortar in a uniform manner to construct any element of a building.

What are the different kinds of masonry?

Masonry is classified in two ways – the type of material that’s used, and the use of its finished product:

Classification by Material

Masonry material includes brick, concrete, and natural stones including granite marble, and more. Tile is also considered masonry, depending on its use

Brick masonry: with readily available materials, brick masonry requires little skilled labor and is an economical solution for most construction projects. But it absorbs water easily, so it’s not recommended in wet, humid environments (you’ll never see a sea wall made of brick!)

Concrete masonry: concrete takes various forms in masonry:

  • Concrete hollow blocks, which have been replaced by fly ash breaks (FAB) recently due to environmental factors: made of cast concrete sand and fine gravel, they have a higher load capacity than bricks. They’re usually used for reinforcement.
  • Autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC): concrete based, but have a lower density than conventional concrete blocks, and generally are larger, meaning less joints and less mortar needed.

Stone masonry: uses natural stone, or concrete that has been manufactured to resemble natural stone. This masonry is more decorative rather than structural, and usually requires more skilled labor, as stones are not uniform in shape and size.

Classification by Use/Finished Product

Load bearing masonry walls: constructed with bricks, stones, or concrete blocks, load bearing walls’ specific purpose is to directly transfer loads from the roof to the foundation. They can be interior and exterior, and they’re what you’d see in place of a wooden frame or structure if a house were to be made of wood.

Reinforced masonry walls: can be load bearing or non-load bearing, but their purpose is to help the structure withstand heavy tension forces and compressive loads. When a wall is not reinforced, it can lead to cracks, which will eventually allow moisture in if not treated in a timely manner.

Hallow (cavity) masonry walls: these walls are the solution to preventing moisture from reaching the interior by providing hollow space between the inside and outside space of the wall, which also regulates temperature. When the structural wall is exposed to moisture for a sustained period, the water is captured within the hallow space, which travels down and is drained out of the building via weep holes – so it never damages the internal structure. The hollow spaces are often coated with water repellant coating

Composite masonry walls: constructed with 2 or more units, such as stones and bricks, they are usually for decorative or divisive purposes, and not load bearing.

 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of masonry construction?

The advantages: masonry construction is better suited for environments near bodies of water or high humidity areas, and in places where bug infestation is an issue – bugs don’t feast on concrete and brick! Concrete masonry is the best option for construction near the sea, as brick does still take on water (though not as much as wood). Stone masonry has a much longer life than wood, and it’s resistant to torque forces, such as wind, rain and tornadoes. In addition, stone doesn’t burn – it’s great for fireplaces and areas of high heat.

The disadvantages: masonry construction is significantly heavier than all other kinds, and relies entirely on the foundation for stability (unlike wood, which can bend slightly as foundations settle). As a result, it can sink the foundation more quickly than a wooden framed structure would. Because of its weight, it’s also highly susceptible to major damage during earthquakes.

 

What happens when stone or brick masonry needs to be repaired?

When you notice cracks in your brick or concrete masonry, it’s best to address it immediately, so that your contractor can “re-point” or “tuck-point” the joints and cracks. Simple patching and replacement in small areas will usually do the trick, but depending on the material, certain mortars and materials may be better than others.

When it comes to real stone, like marble, granite, and more, some may rely on short-term fixes such as compounds colored to look like the stone, but this may results in mismatching textures and shades. This quick, cheap fix can sometimes be more damaging in time – it will eventually fall off, taking other stones around it with it.  For this reason, if you’re building any portion of your home with natural stone masonry, it’s always a good idea to purchase a decent amount of square footage of the stone to keep on hand for repairs down the line. That way, it can be used for quality repairs that will not deteriorate the quality of the work.