Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 1: Introduction2020-02-19T04:07:00-07:00
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Fig.1-1 Dairy Block
Photo by Todd Winslow Pierce

For over a century, masonry has been used successfully as a primary structural system and as a cladding in building construction in Colorado and southern Wyoming. Masonry has withstood the test of time not only because of its natural resistance to fire, water, impact, and organic growth but also because of its design versatility.

Historically, load-bearing mass masonry wall systems were commonplace, primarily due to their superior fire resistance, durability, and weatherability. Over time, such systems have given way to alternative structural or framing materials with separate cladding and additional layers that provide a variety of functional purposes. Mass structures inherently address the many above-grade functions of walls, including control of water, air, heat, sound, and fire. Modern walls include increased complexity such as:

  • Wall cavity and/or exterior insulation may be necessary for thermal and sound control.
  • An air barrier is necessary to limit the uncontrolled exchange of air—and consequently the uncontrolled exchange of moisture, heat, sound, and pollutants that move with air—between the interior and exterior environments.
  • Water vapor and liquid water barriers and drainage systems are necessary to ensure that moisture-sensitive structural and insulation components are protected.


Traditional decorative and durable cornice and cornerstone elements and built-in drip edges at strategic locations, such as those shown in Fig. 1-2, are typical of the mass masonry structures that have lasted the test of time. These elements deflect much of the water cascading down the face of these buildings away from the wall, including away from wall penetrations (e.g., windows, doors, and vents) that are most sensitive to water entry. Fig. 1-3 shows a typical modern brick veneer wall where rainwater-deflecting face elements have been eliminated or traded for a more modularized and economized veneer.

Fortunately, most veneer wall assemblies can accommodate the added moisture ingress due to a concealed drainage plane and flashings. The result is a wall with similar fireresistivity and weatherability that reflects a modern design.

Wall design has evolved to more complex overall systems, product selection, and code compliance than in previous years. The successful performance of masonry wall systems has demonstrated their durable, accommodating nature and suitability for the local climate conditions of Colorado and southern Wyoming.

Fig.1-2 Common historic water-deflecting elements including cornice, belt course, and sill elements

The focus of this guide is to provide comprehensive design and construction detailing information for clay or concrete masonry as anchored veneer or single-wythe concrete masonry unit (CMU) above-grade wall systems for Colorado, southern Wyoming, and similar geographic locations. The discussion and design guidance for each system is focused on managing moisture, air, and heat transfer between the interior and exterior environments, with an emphasis on constructability to promote long-term durability.

Each system within this guide is addressed specifically to Colorado and southern Wyoming and considers local climate, codes, and building preferences and practices. The systems in this guide have been developed for application to occupied multistory, multifamily residential or commercial structures with typical indoor environments. Although some of the systems discussed within this guide may be applicable to structures with special indoor environments (e.g., natatoriums, refrigerated and freezer warehouses, nonconditioned spaces, etc.), these applications are not the intended scope of this guide. The information in this guide is not meant to be exhaustive of all system variations, product performance properties, or detailing approaches but rather provides a selection of successful enclosure design and construction practices executed in Colorado and southern Wyoming.

This guide is not intended to replace professional advice. When information presented here is incorporated into the specifications of building projects, it must be reviewed by the design team and reflect the unique conditions and design parameters of each building, in addition to conforming with local building codes, standards, and bylaws.

Fig. 1-3 Contemporary masonry building
Photo by Joseph Deshler Photography

How to Use This Guide

The masonry-based wall systems that are the focus of this guide are introduced in Chapter 2. The content of this chapter is provided to facilitate initial selection of a masonry wall system and provides a high-level comparison of each system relative to key performance attributes. Assembly examples of these wall systems are graphically depicted in Fig. 1-4 and Fig. 1-5. 

General building enclosure design concepts and design concepts specific to masonry systems are presented in Chapter 3 and Chapter 4, respectively. These concepts provide the basis for discussion of specific designs in later chapters.

Quality control and quality assurance measures for both masonry and general building enclosure design and installation are presented in Chapter 5. This chapter includes discussion and recommendations for improving the aesthetic appearance as well as long-term durability of both anchored masonry veneer and CMU wall systems.

Anchored masonry veneer wall systems and mass wall systems are presented in Chapters 6 and 7, respectively. Within these chapters, building enclosure design principles, as they apply to specific wall systems and material selection, are discussed. These materials and principles may differ based on backup wall variations or insulation strategy for each type of masonry system. The chapters include two- and three-dimensional details and cutaway wall sections for illustration.

Chapter 8 provides thermal performance discussion, energy code compliance discussion, and thermal performance design tables that cover the masonry wall systems presented in Chapters 6 and 7. This chapter includes specific factors and assumptions made for the thermal modeling exercise for which the design tables are based. The thermal performance insights within Chapter 8 can be used to inform the selection of insulation material types, thicknesses, and location as well as veneer attachment options.

A glossary of commonly used terms is presented here.

Fig. 1-4 Typical anchored masonry veneer wall assembly with wood-framed backup wall structure
Fig. 1-5 Typical CMU wall assembly with interior insulation

Online Availability

Downloadable two- and three-dimensional system details and cutaway sections and additional resources are available here.


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