Masonry constructions consist of individual masonry units (e.g. brick, concrete blocks, stone, etc.). The structure is then created by laying these individual components and binding them together with mortar; this is a mixture of sand, a binder such as cement or lime, and water. The masonry method is one of the oldest and most straightforward ways of building a structure. Today, masonry is still one of the most common building methods, but what are the benefits and drawbacks of this material?
Advantages of Masonry Structures
Masonry is extremely solid and can last a long time. If a masonry structure uses lime mortar, the useful life can last more than 500 years, compared to 30 to 100 years when using steel or reinforced concrete (depending on exposure and treatments). The material is also weather resistant; the exterior walls can hold up heavy storms and high temperatures. The ability to withstand these factors makes the material suitable for plenty of locations and projects. As masonry can survive through blistering heat, it is therefore rather fire resistant. Other materials, such as timber, do not share this capability and therefore, masonry is the favourable material. Masonry is incredibly soundproof; it can block out noise more efficiently than more traditional methods such as timber structures.
Where brick and stone are used, painting is not required, and the masonry provides the final finish. Being able to remove the job of painting the building means that this building method requires little maintenance once erected. Furthermore, with this method, you can use local materials and labour; therefore, creating a more economically-friendly project.
Disadvantages of Masonry Structures
The foundations of solid masonry structures are generally larger than for purely timber-framed buildings due to the additional loads, however, where combined methods are used the foundation size does not become a factor.
Masonry absorbs moisture, and modern construction methods generally utilise a cavity to break the structure, allowing moisture to evaporate before reaching the inside of a building. Masonry is liable to cracking due to thermal and sub-structure movement, and this can cause issues with moisture ingress which should be attended to as if left they can cause long term damage.
Masonry is very strong in compression, meaning it can support large loads from above without being crushed, however, it has poor tensile strength and cannot deflect far when subjected to lateral loads such as those from the wind. In order to overcome this, masonry structures are often braced and buttressed with large piers, or combined with other materials such as steel to provide lateral support.
Masonry can be expensive due to the time it takes to construct. Mortar cannot cure if the temperature is too low, or if the conditions are too wet, so this limits building times, especially here in the South West. This can have a knock-on effect on a project as buildings take longer to become weather tight and work to the inside of the building cannot commence until it is. If natural stone is used, the labour costs can also be high as this is a very skilled construction method, and there is a limited workforce available.
Overall, masonry is still a popular method of building material, even with its drawbacks, and in modern construction is often combined with timber and steel to get the best out of the materials. When choosing your material, be sure to consider the pros and cons of masonry as it may well be suited to your project. Here at Martin Perry Associates, we are experienced surveyors and structural engineers in Devon who can assist with your decision. If you have any questions about a particular project or require some advice, then please do not hesitate to contact us on 01579 345777.