2nd issue of home inspection items: brick masonry vs. brick veneer

I’ve decided for my 2nd installment of this new series on home inspection item tips to talk about the differences between brick masonry vs. brick veneer.  I’ve talked with many clients and realtors alike who were unsure or unaware of such differences, so I thought it would be helpful to give a brief explanation on the subject.

First off, most homes that appear to be made out of brick, since the late 1950’s to today, are actually a brick veneer.  I say “appear to be made out of brick” because this is a facade, or veneer, and in fact this brick adds precisely nothing to the structural integrity of the home.  That’s right! The vast majority of those “solid brick ranchers” you see advertised are actually NOT made out of brick!  How can that be?  Well, it’s simple; around the mid-to-late 1950’s, some clever builder figured out that you could sheath a stick-built house in one layer of bricks, and call it a brick house.  There is actually a small air gap between this brick veneer and the actual structure of the home.  The only thing attaching the brick to the structure are little pieces of corrugated-looking metal called masonry ties.  Another important fact is that these veneer walls are only one course wide.

True masonry brick houses, by comparison, use the brick as structural members, where the brick is the actual construction, and acts as the integral support in construction.  The outer brick walls are actually 2 courses (or “wythes”) thick, with no other framing materials behind them, and the brick is either the actual foundation, or else it rests on the foundation of the home.

So, how can you tell the two apart, you ask?  Great question! And I’m glad to report that in most instances it is easy! To begin with, the age of construction should be your starting point.  If it was manufactured prior to about 1955, then there is a good chance it will be structural masonry.  Conversely, if made from 1955 to the present date, it’s probably just a veneer.  But either way look closely.  Is the brick wall a homogenous row of long bricks (aka “stretchers”)?  Are there “weep holes” between bricks near the bottom of the wall?  Then you’re looking at a veneer.  On the other hand, are there rows of bricks that are short, staggered in amongst the rows of long bricks?  Are there no weep holes visible?  Then it’s most likely true brick masonry.  I say “most likely” because some higher-end homes actually put these short rows (“headers”) into the veneer to give it the appearance of true masonry.  Usually the age of construction, or some other clue, such as the appearance of other types of siding mixed in with the brick, will alert you to the fact that it is actually siding/veneer and not true masonry.  The reason for the short runs of brick in true masonry walls is to tie the second course of bricks into the first – an actual brick structure has walls that are two bricks deep, in other words.

So there you have it!  Sorry this was a bit long, but hope it was helpful!