What Is A Masonry Wall? | Types, Pros & Cons

A masonry wall is a wall constructed from traditional cemented materials. Masonry walls can be utilized as structural walls in buildings, tunnels, bridges and may also be used to separate property lines or various parts of a property.

Work of masonry, or mason work, is a construction trade that involves building structures out of parts constructed from various materials. The term “masonry” is commonly used to describe the work done by masons, the trade itself, or the actual materials used in construction. Common materials used for this type of construction include brick, block, or stone. 

Generally, masonry units are sized to be laid by one person. However, it has become increasingly common to have them delivered to a construction site in prefabricated panels craned into position. Using this construction method, a structure is often formed by laying a given number of interlocking units. These units are bound together by mortar (a workable paste made with a mixture of cement, fine sand, lime, and water that hardens when dried to bind building blocks). However, dry set masonry achieves binding by relying on the friction between the units to prevent movement. As a result, mortar is not required.

What are examples of masonry walls?

Masonry walls are well-represent in architecture – in fact, some of the most significant structures today are constructed through masonry. Here are some of the most famous examples of masonry walls in buildings and structures:

1. The Colosseum in Rome

This iconic piece of Imperial Rome, Italy, aptly displays how durable masonry can be even when it is not maintained for centuries. The structure was completed over 2,000 years ago and contained 80 arched entrances. Over time, natural erosion has impacted the structure, but it is still sound and easily distinguishable.

2. The Taj Mahal 

Widely regarded as one of the world’s wonders, the Taj Mahal was immaculately crafted in soft white marble and detailed with a variety of precious stones. An interlocking arabesque concept was used, crafted by over 20,000 masons. The bricks used to construct the interior walls were sourced locally. 

3. The pyramids of Egypt

The earliest known examples of masonry walls are the pyramids in Egypt. There are over 100 pyramids in the country, with estimates of no less than 100,000 workers believed to have had a hand in constructing each one. 

Types of Masonry walls

Depending on the type of individual units used for construction and their functions, the different types of masonry walls include:

1. Load-bearing masonry wall

Masonry walls that are made to be load-bearing carry the weight that is transferred from the structure’s rooftop to the building’s foundation. This determines how thick the wall should be to reduce the risk of instability in the wall’s foundation works. For example, a load-bearing in a building with just a ground floor can have exterior walls of 230mm. On the other hand, a building with one or more floors above the ground floor may require a thicker load-bearing masonry wall. 

These walls can be found on both the exterior and interior of the structure. They are typically constructed with concrete blocks, stone, or brick. Load-bearing walls are relatively more economical than varieties that have a framed structure, and you can have load-bearing walls that are reinforced. 

Non-load bearing walls are intended to support themselves as well as the weight of the cladding or sheathings attached to them. They offer no structural support and may be interior or exterior walls. 

2. Reinforced masonry wall

This type of masonry wall is constructed with concrete, brick, or other types of masonry materials that increase the building’s resistance to deterioration due to weight-bearing or other forms of pressure. Unreinforced masonry walls are susceptible to cracks because they have little ability to withstand tension forces and heavy compressive loads. They also have little resistance to lateral forces during windstorms and heavy rain.

Reinforcement masonry walls can be load-bearing or non-load-bearing. A prevalent example of this type of wall involves exterior walls constructed using clay bricks or concrete blocks. Along with these materials, reinforcements are worked into the structure in the form of steel rods. Often, a vertical framework is used to allow the structure to bear the weight of connecting walls and floors. 

This masonry wall greatly reduces the risk of cracking and ensures the structure can withstand unexpected earthquakes and similar natural disasters. The quantity and spacing of reinforced elements are based on the loads on the walls and the structural conditions. In both vertical and horizontal order, reinforcement in walls can be used at a provided layoff. Depending on the type of materials used, as well as how they are located, reinforced masonry walls can be divided into several subcategories:

  • Confined masonry
  • Reinforced cavity masonry
  • Reinforced grouted masonry
  • Reinforced hollow unit masonry
  • Reinforced pocket-type walls
  • Reinforced solid masonry

3. Hollow/cavity masonry wall

These masonry walls are made with cement blocks. They are used to prevent moisture from reaching the interior of the building by providing space between both the inside and outside faces of the masonry wall. 

Hollow/cavity masonry walls also help in the regulation of the internal temperature of a building; the hollow space between the walls restricts the heat from passing through them. When these walls are exposed to moisture for a sustained period (to a point where it starts to penetrate the outer face), the moisture/water will flow down upon reaching the cavity. 

Afterward, it will be drained through openings known as weep holes that take the water to the exterior. These hollow spaces are usually coated with water repellent or damp-proofing to alleviate the risk of any moisture-related damage to the structure. 

4. Composite masonry wall

Composite masonry walls are constructed with at least two different building materials, such as bricks and hollow bricks or stones and bricks. This type of wall is an excellent option for those looking to reduce the cost of construction without compromising the structure’s durability. 

When working with composite masonry walls, a mason puts together two wythes of units by bonding them together. One of the wythes can be brick or stone while the other can be hollow brick. The wythes are interconnected using steel ties or horizontal joint reinforcement to make sure that they stay bonded.

These masonry walls can significantly improve the appearance of a structure by covering up undesirable work. This is because superior quality material is strategically added to the building to the visible areas. Subcategories of composite masonry walls include:

  • Brick backed ashlar
  • Brick facing rubble or concrete backing
  • Stone facing brick, concrete, or rubble backing

5. Post-tensioned masonry wall

This type creates an additional axial load for masonry structures and subsequently increases resistance to lateral force. Post-tensioned masonry walls are superior to traditionally reinforced varieties because they have increased in-plane strength, plus they also don’t experience residual post-earthquake wall displacements. They are extensively incorporated in bridges, elevated commercial and residential buildings, and parking structures. Post-tensioned masonry walls also allow architects the freedom to create more open spaces within a building or structure. 

How is masonry work done?

How masonry work is carried out has greatly evolved. In ancient times, masonry work was done by hand – the masons had to prepare all the materials at the site. They also had to transport items to the work area themselves, which usually meant their construction projects took quite some time to complete. 

In building masonry walls, scaffolding was assembled to its full height in an often cumbersome task. Furthermore, masonry work could only be completed in the warm seasons. With the introduction of machinery in the early 20th century, the delivery of materials and mortar preparation was much quicker and effortless.

In modern masonry, building structures are distinguished based on the materials used. Here is a brief description of the process of brickwork to help you get a better understanding of how it’s done:

1. Gather materials

You will need the following:

  • Bricks

Make sure the bricks you use are of standard specifications. They should be free from chips, cracks, lumps, and other flaws.

  • Mortar 

Mortar should have a specified grade and the material you use to prepare your mortar should be of standard specifications. 

2. Soak bricks

Bricks have to be fully soaked in clean water for approximately 12 hours immediately before use. 

3. Laying of bricks

Bricks should be laid in courses that alternately consist of headers and stretchers unless specified. 

4. Curing of brickwork

Keep your brickwork wet for at least 20 days after laying. After completing your laying task for the day, flood the tops of walls with water by carving small weak mortar edging to contain at least 1-inch deep water.

5. Protecting the brickwork

Keep your brickwork well protected from rain, sun, frost, and other elements to prevent damage. 

6. Scaffolding for brickwork

The scaffolding used to facilitate the construction of a brick wall should be strong enough to withstand any loads that may be placed upon them.

7. Taking measurements

Measure your brickwork in cubic meters or cubic feet.

How do I know if my home is masonry or frame?

If your home is a work of masonry, it will have brick, cement block, or stone between the drywall on the interior and the exterior material. On the contrary, if your home has a framed structure, it will feature wood studs between the exterior material and the interior area. 

What are the benefits of masonry walls?

1. Increases thermal mass

For starters, a masonry wall increases the thermal house of a structure, making it easier to regulate the internal temperatures of the building. This means that it can store energy and subsequently delay the passage of heat. As a result, masonry buildings can be designed without additional insulation.

2. Aesthetically pleasing

Depending on the type of material used and the expertise of the mason, a masonry wall can add an elegantly rustic look to a building.

3. Stable and long-lasting

Masonry walls generally provide solidity, permanence, and structural durability. They can withstand significant amounts of compressive weight loads. As a result, buildings with this type of construction tend to have a longer lifespan. 

4. Soundproof

A masonry wall is an ideal sound barrier. This is because it provides reduced sound transmission relative to its size more efficiently than building materials such as timber. 

5. Requires little maintenance

Thanks to their enduring qualities, masonry walls require relatively minimal maintenance. Many buildings featuring this wall type are still in considerably good condition. 

6. Fire-resistant

The materials used in masonry are non-combustible, which greatly improves fire protection for the building as well as its residents. The extra ability for these types of structures to resist fire comes from the type of aggregate used and the equivalent solid thickness of the masonry units. 

7. Cost-effective

Masonry walls are one of the most cost-effective options in the construction industry. For example, using reinforced masonry walls (as opposed to other materials)  for buildings of up to ten stories can result in substantial savings due to the simplicity of the structural frame and the exterior skin. 

8. A masonry wall can improve a property’s resale value

Incorporating masonry walls in your construction can drive up its resale value. This is because these constructions are highly valued and in demand in the housing market.

9. Resistant to natural disasters

The materials used in masonry are resistant to adverse weather – they can survive through blistering heat just as well as heavy storms. This quality makes them suitable for a wide variety of locations and projects.

What are the disadvantages of masonry walls?

1. Masonry construction requires the use of heavy materials

Masonry construction involves the use of hefty materials such as stone, brick, and concrete blocks. These cannot be transported in a standard vehicle due to their weight, and in some cases, you might have to order them from special catalogs. 

2. Mansory has a poor tensile strength

As previously mentioned, masonry walls can support large loads without being crushed. However, masonry has low tensile strength and is unable to deflect far when it’s subjected to lateral loads such as those resulting from the wind. To deal with this issue, many masonry structures are usually combined with materials such as steel or braced and buttressed with large piers to provide lateral support. 

3. The stability of masonry walls is reliant on the foundation

Masonry structures entirely rely on their foundation for stability. Therefore if there’s any settling on the foundation cracks may occur and they must be repaired as soon as possible to reduce the risk of moisture infiltration and damage.

4. Masonry construction projects can be expensive and time-consuming

Due to the time-consuming nature of masonry construction, it can be a costly project to embark on. 

A factor that can add to the consuming nature of a masonry project is that mortar cannot cure if the conditions are too wet or the temperature is too low. If you live in a rainy climate, you will have minimal building times. This can have a domino effect on a construction project as work inside of the building will have to be put on hold until the structure is weathertight. 

If natural stone is used to construct masonry walls, the cost of labor will be astronomical. This is because it requires a highly skilled construction method and a limited workforce available. 

5. Masonry requires a large foundation

Solid masonry structures generally have larger foundations than timber-framed buildings due to the additional loads. That being said, using combined methods can help alleviate this issue. 

What is the difference between brick and masonry?

The main difference is that brick is a construction material that is used in masonry, while the latter is a building practice that involves the use of other materials. There are different types of brick masonry work:

1. Brickwork in mud

This subcategory of masonry involves the use of mud to fill up various joints. Brickwork in mud is used for constructing walls with a maximum height of 4M, and the thickness of the mortar joint used is 12 mm.

2. Brickwork in cement

Cement mortar is used in the laying of bricks. There are three main classes of brickwork in cement:

  • First class

The surface and edges of the bricks used are smooth and sharp respectively, and the thickness of mortar joints is a maximum of 10mm.

  • Second class

Bricks are slightly irregular in shape and have a rough surface. The thickness of mortar joints is 12mm.

  • Third class

The bricks used are not hard, and they have a rough surface with an irregular shape. 

What is the difference between concrete and masonry?

Some distinguishing factors between concrete and masonry include:

  • Composition

Cement is created by mixing cement, water, and some type of aggregate material such as sand or stone, masonry requires the use of brick, stone, or blocks interlocked together. Furthermore, concrete is one of the materials that may be used in masonry.

  • Preparation 

Both concrete and mortar used in masonry can be prepared in a mixer. However, it’s not uncommon for manufacturing companies to supply ready mix concrete to eliminate the need for lengthy preparations.

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Zoltan Szatmari

Zoltan is a test and industrial engineer from Europe who loves learning anything new and working on small projects. When he is not working, he is usually hiking or going to the cinema.

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