This is the final part of a seven-part series of blog entries about the benefits of specifying and building with manufacturer-tested and warrantied wall systems compared to specifying individual components. Benefits include a much faster design and specification process, proven component compatibility, faster component installation and better performance, plus the peace of mind that comes from knowing all components are proven compatible and will perform as specified. This part concludes the series with a look at the structural components of masonry cavity walls and a wrap-up of the entire series.

Structural components
Structural components anchor the masonry veneer to the structural wall. These critical elements must:

  • provide a solid connection between the structural backup and the veneer;
  • be sized properly so they span the cavity and make the proper connections in the right dimensions;
  • penetrate the nonstructural elements and make a positive connection to the steel stud backup wall;
  • provide a water- and airtight seal where they penetrate the nonstructural elements;
  • be flexible enough to allow for wall movement due to thermal variation and seismic events; and
  • be hot-dip galvanized, stainless steel, or zinc alloy so they will not corrode.

Concrete masonry unit walls often employ ‘hook and ladder-style’ joint reinforcing, which also includes eyes into which wall ties connecting to the masonry veneer can be inserted. For steel and wood stud wall systems, the best anchor types are barrel-style. The barrel makes a single penetration that creates a very stable connection, and includes a self-drilling head and a thick shoulder that engages the face of the stud and stabilizes the anchor.

When using a combination of anchors, ties, and washers, it can be useful to include a barrel-style anchor with a specialty sealing washer around it and a thermal break where the brick tie attaches to the anchor. This combination creates just one penetration, is sealed air- and watertight with the washer, and the thermal break reduces thermal conductance by breaking the steel-to-steel connection. Experiments show this system increases thermal efficiency by one to three percent. (The thermal benefit of the thermal clip, and the estimation of thermal benefit, was determined by ad-hoc testing conducted by a manufacturer. The masonry anchor is a three-component assembly—the barrel, a low-conductivity thermal clip, and a wire tie. The steel barrel that screws into the structural stud has a loop on the outer end to receive a wire tie, or, to receive the optional thermal clip. The thermal clip is an engineered plastic structurally capable of holding the pintle legs of the wire tie; it is low in conductivity, breaking the steel to steel connection that reduces thermal transmission compared to when a clip is not used between the barrel and the wire tie.)  Mortar Net Solutions recommends anchors and ties from Heckmann Building Products. Learn more at

Since it is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve true building performance by specifying individual components, it is important to think holistically and look for a wall system tested and warrantied to work together as a whole. Building and energy codes are replete with requirements for structural performance, multiple aspects of fire performance (e.g. containment, resistance, and propagation limits), as well as energy, water, and air management performance requirements.

All these code requirements are mandatory and based on system performance. No single component can be tested to ensure overall system performance requirements are achieved. Therefore, it is incumbent on specifiers to ensure all the components they choose have been tested together to document system performance requirements. It is very difficult for a design professional to research data verifying a given collection of components has been tested together. It is much more efficient and reassuring to work with manufacturers that cooperate and collaboratively test complete wall systems to make certain a complete wall system meets mandatory building and energy code requirements.

The industry’s leading masonry cavity wall system is CavityComplete, which includes products from five leading companies whose products have been extensively tested together, and are proven and warrantied to be compatible and to perform as specified. To learn more about visit

Thanks for joining us for this series of blog posts. All posts are available at Please check back often for more useful, actionable information about moisture management in masonry construction, including masonry cavity walls, single-wythe CMU walls, and adhered veneer walls.

This is part six of a seven-part series of blog entries about the benefits of specifying and building with manufacturer-tested and warrantied wall systems compared to specifying individual components. Benefits include a much faster design and specification process, proven component compatibility, faster component installation and better performance, plus the peace of mind that comes from knowing all components are proven compatible and will perform as specified. Part six continues the discussion of insulation that was begun in part five, and includes continuous and fire-safing insulation.

Continuous insulation
Continuous insulation can be semi-rigid (in the form of fibrous boards), rigid (in the form of plastic boards), or SPF. As water will get into the cavity, all continuous insulation should be highly water-resistant and not rely on facers to keep water out of the insulation.

It is important to note not all rigid continuous insulation is alike. In the Brick Industry Association’s (BIA’s) Technical Note 28B, “Brick Veneer/Steel Stud Walls,” it specifies a water-resistant, closed-cell, rigid foam insulation to keep water from penetrating into the sheathing. Although many types of insulation are said to be ‘closed-cell,’ when water absorption levels, molecular structure (i.e. hydrophobic versus hydroscopic), and cell structures are compared, there are differences. Extruded polystyrene is one good option for minimizing water penetration and absorption, because:

  • the polystyrene molecule is hydrophobic, compared to the polyisocyanurate (polyiso) molecule, which is hydrophilic; and
  • the XPS cell structure is truly small and ‘closed cell,’ compared to the larger and often-interconnected cells of polyiso.

Specialized fasteners, including corrosion-resistant screws, are required to install rigid continuous insulation, plus specialized washers with enough surface area to pull the insulation tight against the substrate and create an air- and watertight seal around the screws. Since the wrong fasteners can pull out and the wrong washers can allow air and moisture infiltration, these components should be specified rather than left to the insulation contractor or mason. While these specialized types of fasteners and washers are available from several manufacturers, Mortar Net Solutions recommends Rodenhouse, Inc., as the best source for them. Learn more at

SPF is also an effective insulator when properly applied, but because it is essentially manufactured in the field, it may have variable insulation quality, both between the studs and as continuous insulation. The installer must ensure the application temperature, nozzle pressure, rate of wand speed, and foam thickness are all correct to deliver the specified R-value. Since semi-rigid and rigid continuous insulations are factory manufactured, quality is consistent and reliable.

Fire safing insulation
Fire safing insulation is highly fire-resistant mineral wool insulation and is often required at the floor line on buildings designed with curtain wall systems, especially mid- and high-rise structures where smoke and fire must be prevented from spreading between floors. In situations where the floor assembly must be fire-resistance-rated, one route for the fire to spread is through and up the exterior curtain wall.

Fire safing insulation and smoke-sealed joints must be installed to limit fire spread up into and through the exterior curtain wall. Fire safing insulation is installed between the floor slab edge and the curtain wall insulation to contain the fire, and must be compression-fit to ensure a tight seal. As part of a firestopping system, this insulation does not have a fire rating on its own. Only complete firestopping systems have fire resistance ratings determined by ASTM E2307 and define the perimeter fire containment standard specifically designed to extend the rating of the floor assembly out to the exterior skin.


[7] Water-resistant, closed-cell, rigid-foam insulation helps keep water from penetrating into the sheathing.

Be sure to come back for part seven to learn about a masonry cavity wall’s structural components and to read the wrap-up to this informative series.

This is part five of a seven-part series of blog entries about the benefits of specifying and building with manufacturer-tested and warrantied wall systems compared to specifying individual components. Benefits include a much faster design and specification process, proven component compatibility, faster component installation and better performance, plus the peace of mind that comes from knowing all components are proven compatible and will perform as specified. Part five provides a look at sealants and an introduction to insulation.

Sealants must be compatible with all materials to which they are applied and must also be function-specific. For example, while butyl sealants are perfect for sealing overlapping materials such as flashing membrane joints because they are extremely long-lasting and aggressively adhesive, they must never be used in vertical butt joints because butyl never ‘sets’ and will ooze out of the joint. Butyl also remains ‘tacky’ throughout its lifetime, so it is not paintable, and should not be used where it is exposed and visible because it has the potential to hold dirt and debris. (The specific sealant will be dependent on the materials specified for each project. For assemblies like the one with which the authors are most familiar, a silyl terminated polymer [STP] works well due to its moisture-cure properties, color availability, and flexibility while still being compatible with any incidental asphaltic-based products in surrounding areas. Butyl will also work with many of the system’s installation procedures, including on the brick ledge, at panel overlaps, and at points where membranes overlap corners and end dams, and on top of the termination bar. Other sealant types, such as modified polyether, may also work well, but their effectiveness and compatibility can be material-dependent. A designer should always check with the manufacturer of the sealant they want to specify to ensure the chosen sealant is compatible with the other components.)


[6]The wrong fasteners and washers can pull out and allow air and moisture infiltration. These components should be specified.

Depending on the design, one to three types of insulation may be needed in complete masonry veneer wall systems.

Framed wall insulation
If the structural backup wall is framed wood or steel, then insulation can be installed between the studs. It can be fiberglass, mineral wool blankets or batts, or sprayed polyurethane foam (SPF). Which to specify depends on the needed performance and the jobsite conditions. It is important to keep in mind all framing members—but steel studs in particular—act as thermal bridges between the inside and outside of the building, and will reduce the framing insulation’s effectiveness by up to 50 percent. This is one of the reasons why energy codes such as International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) 90.1, Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-rise Residential Buildings, and ASHRAE 189.1, Standard for the Design of High-performance Green Buildings, prescribe continuous insulation over the studs as well as inside the cavity.

Be sure to come back for part six to learn more about insulation, including continuous and fire-safing insulation.

This is part four of a seven-part series of blog entries about the benefits of specifying and building with manufacturer-tested and warrantied wall systems compared to specifying individual components. Benefits include a much faster design and specification process, proven component compatibility, faster component installation and better performance, plus the peace of mind that comes from knowing all components are proven compatible and will perform as specified. Part four provides a look through-wall flashing, mortar dropping collectors and weep vents.

Through-wall flashing
Through-wall flashing is a three-part moisture management path consisting of a flashing membrane, mortar dropping collection, and weep vents. When properly specified and installed, this system captures and directs water out of the wall, no matter where or how water penetrates it.

A flashing membrane must:

  • be attached to the sheathing;
  • run continuously from the front of the brick ledge to at least 305 mm (12 in.) up the substrate;
  • be behind the continuous insulation; and
  • be fastened with a termination bar sealed at its top edge with a compatible sealant.

The membrane should also include a drainage mesh to prevent the possibility of mortar damming. Including a drip edge is highly recommended to prevent ultraviolet (UV) exposure from degrading the flashing membrane edge.

TotalFlash® from Mortar Net Solutions is a complete flashing system for masonry cavity walls that includes the membrane with a termination bar, mortar dropping collector and drip edge fastened to the membrane in the factory. It comes in 5’ long (installed length) panels that can easily be installed by one person, and Mortar Net Solutions will custom cut TotalFlash panels at no charge to fit perfectly over multiple wall openings. Learn more at

A mortar dropping collection device is the second component of the three-part moisture management path. Various techniques have been employed over the decades, but specially designed mesh products were introduced in 1992 by Mortar Net Solutions and have become mandatory in a well-designed wall.

These products should be:

  • shaped with two levels; (For example, MortarNet™ employs a two-level trapezoidal shape that breaks up and suspends mortar droppings above the flashing. This trapezoidal shape also prevents mortar dams as the top is wider than the bottom, acting as an overhang to prevent droppings from covering the entire lower level. Learn more at
  • placed in a single continuous row on top of the flashing membrane at the bottom of the cavity;
  • able to suspend mortar droppings on two levels to prevent mortar damming; and
  • made from 90 percent open-weave mesh (allowing water to flow through the mesh to the flashing membrane and the weep vents, as well as letting air circulate through the device to promote drying).

Weep vents are the third part of the complete moisture management path. They prevent the weep holes located in masonry veneer head joints—both low at the flashing level and high near the top of the cavity—from being clogged by insects or debris. Located low, they allow water to run freely off the flashing and out of the cavity. Located high and low, they allow air to move through the cavity to enable drying. WeepVent™ from Mortar Net Solutions is a weep vent insert made from mesh that is slightly compressible so it fills the head joint, replacing the mortar so the mason need not apply mortar to fill gaps between the vent insert and masonry. They are also available in colors to match mortar choices. Learn more at

It is extremely important to specify weeps that do not block the flow of water off the flashing membrane. Weeps such as tubes and some rigid weeps form a barrier at the flashing level, which means water has to rise behind them in the cavity before it can run out. Rope weeps are not recommended because they provide no ventilation and can rot over time. It does not matter how good the rest of the moisture management path is—if water cannot get out through the weeps, it will not work.

Be sure to come back for part five to learn about the importance of proper sealants and for an introduction to insulation.

This is part three of a seven-part series of blog entries about the benefits of specifying and building with manufacturer-tested and warrantied wall systems compared to specifying individual components. Benefits include a much faster design and specification process, proven component compatibility, faster component installation and better performance, plus the peace of mind that comes from knowing all components are proven compatible and will perform as specified. Part three provides a look at vapor barriers.

Vapor barriers
Vapor barriers control the rate at which moisture moves in and out so the wall can dry. Many variables go into choosing and placing the correct barrier. For example, should it be located on the warm or cold side of the cavity? Since vapor will always move into the wall from the high-vapor-pressure (moister)
side of the wall, and migrate to the low-pressure (drier) side, the rule of thumb is the barrier always goes on the high-pressure side. This generally means the barrier goes on the interior or ‘heated’ side in northern locations, and on the exterior ‘high humidity’ side in the south. In the middle states, vapor barrier placement and the question of whether one should be used are a bit ambiguous. In such situations, further hygrothermal evaluation should be done by a qualified expert—often consultants or insulation manufacturers—using tools considering climate, building materials, HVAC systems, and building function.

In addition to placement, it is equally critical to decide between high- or low-perm barriers. Part of the vapor management consideration also involves the absorptive capability of the other components in the wall itself. All building materials absorb water, reservoir it, and then release it as conditions change, so one must account for these conditions as well.

A good place to start researching vapor barriers is the International Building Code (IBC) Section 1405.3, “Vapor Retarders,” which has definitions of and perm ratings for vapor barriers. The higher a material’s perm rating, the more permeable it is to water vapor. A Class I vapor barrier is a material with a perm rating of less than 0.1, which is at the level of polyethylenes or trilaminates like foil scrim kraft materials. Class II barriers have a permeance of greater than 0.1, but less than or equal to one, which is typical of fiberglass facers like a foil or kraft paper facer. Finally, there are the Class III barriers, which include all barriers with a perm rating greater than one and less than or equal to 10, such as common wall paint.

When it comes to placing the vapor barrier, IBC says a wall with continuous insulation is more tolerant of moisture because it stays warmer; therefore, condensation inside the wall becomes less of a possibility. If the cladding is back-ventilated, as it is in a masonry cavity wall, the wall can dry faster and more completely, which influences the vapor barrier choice. Given there are so many interdependent variables, and because each building and region creates a dynamic and unique set of conditions, a hydrothermal analysis, such as can be provided by WUFI software, is often helpful.

WUFI allows realistic calculation of the transient coupled one- and two-dimensional heat and moisture transport in walls and other multilayer building components exposed to natural weather, enabling a full understanding of how all the layers of the wall perform together to manage vapor and air movement under thermal conditions that vary by hour over years.

In addition to understanding the way vapor barriers handle moisture, it is necessary to consider their flame spread ratings. Typically, steel stud/brick veneer construction is classified by IBC as Type I or II construction and its insulation must use a facer with a flame spread less than or equal to 25 when tested in accordance with ASTM.

Be sure to come back to part four of this blog to learn about through-wall flashing, mortar dropping collectors and weep vents.

This is part two of a seven-part series of blog entries about the benefits of specifying and building with manufacturer-tested and warrantied wall systems compared to specifying individual components. Benefits include a much faster design and specification process, proven component compatibility, faster component installation and better performance, plus the peace of mind that comes from knowing all components are proven compatible and will perform as specified. Part two includes an introduction to moisture management, including the definition and functions of water resistive barriers and air barriers. Part three will continue the discussion of water resistive barriers with a look at vapor barriers.

Moisture management
Moisture management means not only getting water out of the wall, but also allowing air into the wall so it can dry quickly and completely. Since water infiltration poses a significant danger to walls, it is wise to take a redundant approach to moisture management. Redundancy means there are multiple planes of defense against moisture intrusion.

These multiple planes include first the watershed at the face of the cladding or veneer. Behind that is an air space encouraging water to drain out of the wall, breaking the directly connecting path for water to enter the wall. The third redundancy is the use of a highly water-resistant, continuous insulation layer such as extruded polystyrene (XPS), which will shed rather than absorb any water that makes it to the board’s face. (Another insulation option would be polyisocyanurate [polyiso]. Expanded polystyrene [EPS], sprayed polyurethane foam [SPF], and mineral wool could also be used as continuous insulation, but they are not as water-resistant as XPS.) The final line of defense is the water-resistive barrier itself, often installed behind the continuous insulation and over the exterior-grade gypsum sheathing. All the redundant layers are a natural part of masonry veneer construction.

Water-resistive barrier
Air- and water-resistive barriers are often a single product, the same layer in the wall which resists bulk water penetration and wind-driven rain penetrating the exterior cladding. This contrasts with vapor, which either enters the wall system by permeation or is carried into it by air leakage. In a complete wall system, depending on the regional design considerations, the functions of the air barrier, vapor barrier, and WRB are sometimes combined in one product—frequently, a liquid product that is roller- or spray-applied. Greater efficiencies can be achieved if only one trade is involved in applying the all-in-one type of product instead of multiple trades applying each of the air-, vapor-, and water-resistive barriers.

Air barriers
Air barriers have a strong influence on energy efficiency. It is estimated air leakage is responsible for about six percent of total energy used by commercial buildings in the U.S. About 15 percent of primary energy consumption in commercial buildings attributable to fenestration and building envelope components in 2010 was due to air leakage. (For more, visit[3].) Air barriers are often also weather-protective and water-resistant. They allow the building envelope to prevent accumulation of water in the building and establish a drainage plane inside the wall.

Be sure to come back to part three of this blog to learn about vapor barriers.

This is part one of a seven-part series of blog entries about the benefits of specifying and building with manufacturer-tested and warrantied wall systems compared to specifying individual components. Benefits include a much faster design and specification process, proven component compatibility, faster component installation and better performance, plus the peace of mind that comes from knowing all components are proven compatible and will perform as specified. Part one describes the components of a masonry veneer wall system and the tests a wall system must pass to provide optimal performance.

A masonry cavity wall system must successfully perform multiple functions throughout the life of the building. A proper wall is expected to manage moisture, air, and heat, contain fire, and hold up the structure itself. For a wall to perform all these functions, specifications should include all the products necessary for the components to work together.

For the contractor, building a masonry cavity wall is just as challenging as specifying it is for the architect. Contractors rely on the architect for highly precise drawings and specifications so they can produce an accurate bid. They want to be able to build with familiar, proven methods and materials that are compatible and readily available through distribution.

For these reasons, specifying a complete wall system with all the components tested and warrantied together can offer many advantages to the design professional, such as helping support risk management. The design professional’s ability to thrive depends on his or her ability to provide timely documentation for the building’s performance.

Components of a masonry veneer wall system
The structural components forming the basis of the substrate may be steel or wood studs or concrete masonry units (CMUs). On the outside is the weather-resistant component—the cladding or masonry veneer. Between those are three functional component categories that complete the wall system and make the wall perform: moisture/air, thermal, and structural management.

Moisture/air management relies on:

  • an air- or water-resistive barrier (WRB);
  • a vapor barrier;
  • through-wall flashing (including mortar dropping collection and weep vents); and
  • water- and air-sealing washers on fasteners.

Thermal management involves:

  • insulation between the stud framing;
  • continuous insulation (CI) outside and over the framing; and
  • fire safing insulation.

Structural management depends on:

  • masonry anchors;
  • wall ties; and
  • water- and air-sealing washers on fasteners.

Having all the right components in the wall is not enough. A true wall system must have passed extensive testing proving the components, as a system, meet the code-mandated performance criteria and are physically and chemically compatible. Further, the system must pass industry-standard tests, such as:

  • National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 285, Standard Fire Test Method for Evaluation of Fire Propagation Characteristics of Exterior Nonloadbearing Wall Assemblies Containing Combustible Components;
  • ASTM E119, Standard Test Methods for Fire Tests of Building Construction and Materials;
  • ASTM E2307, Standard Test Method for Determining Fire Resistance of Perimeter Fire Barriers Using Intermediate-scale, Multistory Test Apparatus
    (used only for joint firestopping);
  • ASTM E331, Standard Test Method for Water Penetration of Exterior Windows, Skylights, Doors, and Curtain Walls by Uniform Static Air Pressure Difference; and
  • ASTM E2357, Standard Test Method for Determining Air Leakage of Air Barrier Assemblies.

Individual product components of the system can also provide the protection of a warranty that covers them against defects. In the event there is a problem, unified and cooperative solutions are best rather than multiple companies acting separately.

Be sure to come back to this blog for part two to learn about moisture management, including a discussion of water-resistive barriers and air barriers.

hurricane ravaged houseWhen the dust settles after a natural disaster, one of the first questions we ask is what could we have done to have been more prepared? How could we have built our residential and non-residential buildings to weather the storm better than they did? As many cities are finding in the wake of tropical storms, hurricanes, and other disasters, one of the best options we have to keep ourselves and our loved one’s safe from the elements is masonry.

When it comes to resisting the impact of natural disasters, masonry provides builders and owners with a lot of advantages. Masonry is strong, durable, and it provides superior resistance to dangerous weather. Reinforced masonry, which uses steel to provide additional structure and strength for the masonry, is essential for ensuring that the building completed today can weather the storms that will come tomorrow, according to Florida’s Bureau of Recovery and Mitigation.

In addition to its strength, masonry offers another key advantage in disaster recovery; it is not a water sensitive material. Common building materials like wood, drywall, and oriented strand board (OSB) will swell, warp, and rot when exposed to water, requiring them to be partially or fully replaced, which increases the cost of disaster recovery and rebuilding efforts. Masonry, on the other hand, is indifferent to water’s presence. Even more importantly, though, when properly constructed and ventilated, masonry will dry thoroughly and completely after storms, flooding, and other disasters. This is one of its greatest strengths, and it’s one that contractors and masons can point to when considering the long-term costs of either building or rebuilding in an area prone to natural disasters.

Changing Standards Make Masonry More Desirable

As Building Science Corporation points out, more cities and states are altering their building standards and requirements in the aftermath of serious natural disasters. That only makes sense, as disasters that have happened at least once are now the benchmark that construction standards must meet to be safe the next time such an incident occurs. And these new standards are embracing masonry as a solution to the problems posed by increased threats from natural disasters. While the specifics will change from one place to another, the material of choice is always the one that resists the force of a storm, can shrug off moisture and water, and which will stand for years as disasters come and go.

These solutions take different forms. From a resurgence in rustication (a medieval technique where the ground floor is built from stone, and the second floor from wood and other materials), to a wider-spread use of steel reinforcing, there is a definite movement to ensure that once cities and homes are rebuilt after a disaster that they can successfully resist the next ones. And it doesn’t look as if masonry is going to stop being the solution any time soon.

To see how Mortar Net Solutions can help you design and build weather-resistant masonry walls that drain and dry rapidly and completely, contact us today at 800-664-6638. For free product samples, click here.

It’s easy to expect that a callback to a completed job can double your cost for the installation – once for the installation, and once more to fix it. Unfortunately, callbacks can actually cost up to five times as much as the original installation. Here’s why, by the numbers:

  1. The cost of the original installation; in other words, the amount you originally bid for your crew to do the installation correctly minus your profit.
  2. The cost of demolition. When you have a callback on a masonry job, chances are good you will have to disassemble or demolish the damaged part of the masonry structure to prepare it for repair. This can be a time-consuming task, especially if materials that are applied by other contractors are involved, such as windows, electrical or plumbing pipes, landscaping and other types of siding. You may have to work around their schedules which can make it hard to schedule the repair efficiently.
  3. The cost of lost business because your crew is doing the demolition instead of working on a paying job. With today’s labor shortage, your crew is probably spread pretty thin. If you have to give up a new job because your crew is tied up on a repair on an older job, that costs you double – once for the cost of the labor on the repair, and again for the money you didn’t get because you couldn’t do the new job.
  4. The cost of the labor and materials to do the repair. This might include also scaffold and equipment rental.
  5. The cost of lost business because your crew is doing the repair instead of working on a paying job. Same doubling of labor cost as in number 3 if you have to pass up a new job to repair an old job.

There’s one more cost that’s hard to put a dollar value on but one that can put you out of business – the cost of a bad reputation. Lots of callbacks can permanently damage your reputation, while eliminating them can improve it.

You can see that a callback has multiple costs that not only eat up your profit but will almost always cost more, sometimes a lot more, than the initial installation. So how can you minimize your callbacks?

  • Don’t short cut on materials. Even small items, like fasteners or brick ties, should be very high quality. Saving a few bucks in the short run could cost way more than the money saved if it results in callbacks.
  • When the tricky parts of a job are being constructed, spend the extra management time to ensure the work will function and appear as planned.
  • Stay up to date on new materials, tools, building techniques and project management software by reading masonry as well as other construction-related magazines, visiting construction-related websites, and joining your local masonry and construction-related trade groups.
  • Request product samples from manufacturers and try them out on test walls when your business slows during the winter. You never know when you might run across something new that reduces your costs while improving quality.

Most call backs are because of either poor design or poor labor and materials management during installation. While you might be able to get the architect to improve a poor design, you usually only have some control over the design. But you have lots of control over work and materials management. Spend a few extra dollars for quality materials, and a few extra hours on site management, and you’ll eliminate more callbacks, save yourself their 5X cost, and build a reputation as the go-to builder in your area.

3D printer, 3D home, computer screen and blueprints, large-scale automated construction conceptDo you think of a 3D printer as a kind of office machine that prints small objects in a confined boxy space? During the last few years, they’ve proven extremely helpful in making construction-related objects such as architectural models and prototypes of tools, fasteners and other small objects, even in designer new brick shapes. These desktop printers usually use plastic as their medium, although some larger printers can use glass, ceramic or special metals. 3D printers are more formally called additive printers. Unlike traditional tools like lathes that remove material to create an object, additive printers add thin layers of material on top of each other to create objects. Now additive printing is leaving the desktop and moving onto the construction site where it can be used to print large building components or even entire buildings.

Construction Scale:

The technology of building-scale printing is just getting started, but a number of different techniques have already been developed for both off-site and on-site construction. These large-scale machines use industrial robots, gantry crane systems, and tethered self-driving vehicles to create the printed structures.

The types of massive 3D printers necessary to print out a building look like hoses attached to a computer-controlled articulating arm, and they use familiar building compounds like concrete. The building construction robot is a dome-like structure 12 feet high and 50 feet in diameter. It is designed to construct an entire building in less than 14 hours. The prototype, designed in the MIT laboratory, is essentially a vehicle with a large industrial arm for reach and a smaller, more dexterous arm for detail. The smaller arm can be fitted with welding systems or a spray head that extrudes building materials like foam.

History of Large-Scale Automated Construction:

Attempts to automate construction are not exactly new. Robotic bricklaying was explored as early as 1952 with Hadrian, the brick-laying robot. Hadrian was supposed to be able to “[scan] its surroundings to work out exactly where to place bricks,” using the simple computer technology of its time. A family of technologies was tried that were forerunners of 3D printing during the 1960s, with pumped concrete and isocyanate foams. Early experiments in robotic assembly of components were tried in Japan during the 1980s and 1990s. Many of these experiments foundered because of economic conditions in the construction industry and because of their inability to adapt to novel architectures.

Real experiments in 3D printing on a construction scale began in 1995. One method, never actually demonstrated, used a sand/cement forming technique that applied steam to “selectively bond” the material in layers. Contour Crafting was patented in 1995 by Behronk Khoshnevis and a team at USC Vertibi. They used ceramic and cement pastes. The technology was never tested beyond laboratory scale.

State of the Art:

In 2003, Robert Soar’s freeform construction group at Loughborough University, UK, moved outside the laboratory and built a large-scale 3D printing machine using concrete pumps, spray concrete, and a gantry system to test ways additive printing techniques could meet the demands of real-world construction. In 2014, the Loughborough technology was sold to Skanska which began the actual construction of building components using 3D printing techniques. These include a mansion style villa, a five-story office tower, and a 2,700 square-foot Museum of the Future in Dubai. This year, Skanska is working on a “printed skyscraper” (with details unspecified).  Meanwhile, FreeFAB is using 3D printing technology to make precision molds to economically create customized concrete components for use in building construction.

Practical Applications for the Masonry Industry:

Many companies are offering off-the-shelf equipment to 3D print architectural detail and structures made of concrete or concrete-like materials that can be custom designed and installed into construction at a fraction of the cost of hand cutting or molding. Structural details can be designed in novel forms that increase their rigidity and strength to fit exactly into ongoing projects. Hollow, interlocking masonry-like construction components can be specifically designed to include electrical, plumbing and air passage spaces in one unit to simplify construction. Developers are working on novel designs of “emerging objects” that can be 3D printed and incorporated into buildings. A team of California-based designers, for instance, have invented earthquake-proof columns built of 3D printed sand to withstand the harshest seismic activity.

3D printing in the construction industry opens the field of custom component design to all professionals in the construction industry who want to add unique detail and novel features into their buildings. For designers who are looking for new ways to express their design visions, 3D printing makes it possible to create shapes and structures that are impossible using traditional building techniques.

For masons who are looking to expand their value in the marketplace, look at how you can become expert at installing 3D printed masonry details and walls. As the shortage of masons continues, designers will look for alternatives to traditional masonry structures, so any mason that can expand his or her capabilities into areas like 3D printed buildings is much more likely to prosper.

Mortar Net Solutions is the industry leader in moisture management solutions for masonry walls, including cavity, single-wythe CMU and adhered masonry walls. Every masonry wall type, whether formed traditionally or by 3D printing, will need to have a system for collecting and removing moisture that gets behind the veneer to keep it beautiful and a source of pride for the designer, contractor and building owner. Please contact us to learn how we can help you keep the masonry walls you build dry and trouble-free.