Why Do Lintels Fail and How Can They be Repaired?

Why Do Lintels Fail and How Can They be Repaired?

As experienced structural engineers and chartered surveyors in Cornwall, we know how essential lintels can be to the structural integrity of a building. They are an important structural element; if they begin to fail or show signs of damage, you may need to consult a professional to maintain your building’s stability.

What Are Lintels?

A lintel is a supportive beam that is placed across openings like doors, windows or even fireplaces to support the load of the structure above. Lintels rest horizontally atop the vertical supports on the sides of the opening in the wall.

Types of Lintel

Lintels are most commonly comprised of concrete and steel rods but, depending on the age of your building, they can also be made from a range of materials.

The lintel material types include:

• Timber
• Stone
• Reinforced concrete
• Brick
• Reinforced brick
• Steel

Older houses will often have timber lintels, but modern solutions have become more desirable as wooden lintels are less durable and more likely to fail sooner. Lintels made with reinforced concrete are currently the most desirable type as they are durable, fire-resistant and more economical.

Signs of Failure

Lintels play a role in holding your house up, so knowing how to spot signs of damage is important. If you start noticing vertical cracks above your windows or doors, you may need to look into repair or replacement options.

Cracks in the brickwork are the most obvious evidence of a corrupted lintel. The structural elements may also start to bend, forcing the brickwork to become bulged.

Before installing new windows, professionals will usually check the condition of these supports to thoroughly assess any signs of damage.

Two windows showing signs of cracking and damaged lintels

Reasons for Failure

Most lintels will last for decades, but failure can occur sooner than that. One of the most common reasons for broken lintels is corrosion.

If weather conditions are persistently bad, you may experience some problems with damp penetration. This will cause corrosion and rot, which will weaken the support and trigger the formation of cracks.

If there are other issues relating to the structural integrity of your house’s walls or foundations, lintels can also become affected. Shifting ground levels can disrupt your foundations; this can increase the load on your lintels, causing them to bow and crack under the additional weight.

If you are alarmed by the appearance of any sudden and serious cracks, you may want to contact a structural engineer so they can advise you on how to approach the repair.

How Can Lintels Be Repaired or Replaced

The kind of repair you need will depend on the type of lintel that supports your house. Modern solutions do not have to be invasive or expensive, and they can save you time and money in the long run.

Concrete Lintels

Most concrete lintels are reinforced with steel; this increases structural strength, but corrosion and expansion of the steel rods can cause problems.

When repairing concrete lintels, the cracked area is removed, and the rust is stripped away. The lintel is then rebuilt and reshaped with fast-curing concrete.

Brick Lintels

Brick lintels are often built in an arch shape. To repair a damaged structure, cracked segments are removed, and a remedial steel bar is inserted to provide new support.

Timber Lintels

Wood is more prone to damp or wood-destroying insects and fungus. If lintels are affected by these kinds of problems, they can be replaced by reinforced lintels. If the desired solution is to repair rather than replace, this can also be achieved. Resin and steel rods can be used to reinforce existing timber lintels.

A door and two windows with visible lintels

Many lintels will not require complete replacement and can be repaired simply, with minimal disruption to the rest of a property.

For more guidance on structural support or design, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our experienced engineers here at Martin Perry Associates!

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