What is Cost to Replace Rusted Steel Lintel that has Caused Step Cracks in a Brick Through Structural Wall?

Updated November 24, 2020
beige home with single driveway
Photo: Iriana Shiyan / Adobe Stock

Question by Guest_97789841: What is cost to replace rusted steel lintel that has caused step cracks in a brick through structural wall?

Get quotes from up to 3 pros!
Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you.

Looking at a house to purchase and understand that there are some major issues with the exterior, the biggest issues is the lintels have expanded on about 3 lintels, and a few more look in bad shape and need monitoring and a little prevention. The walls as a result have 2 stretches of cracks, one is about 10 feet vertical through stone and the other is 10 feet step wise in brick. What should I budget for this in the worst case and would it make sense to do a single wall at a time and do them over the course of 3-5 years if I can dryout and protect the ones in a bit better shape?

Answered by LCD: Hate to say it, but while a rusting (so swelling) steel lintel may crack through the grout on one or maybe two rows of brick or stone, 10 feet of crack definitely means settlement of the houseor facade - that is shear cracking, where one part is moving up or down relative to the other part so is cracking through the weak part of the wall - the grout.

Here is a typical image of that type of failure - which direction the cracks go fromthe door frame mostly dependent on which side is sinking relative to the other -


Google following search phrase for many more images (with articles) on types of cracking, causes, repair options - images for diagonal brick crack

I would definitely get a structural engineer to look at the house before making an offer, because while you may or may not be looking at structural issues that are serious enough to need actual replacement, this is definitely an indication that you have significant movement going on, and probably either in the foundation or the brick/stone, if a facade, is starting to come off the wall or the bottom supporting steel channels are failing. You would then need either a construction cost estimate from the engineer, or better yet contractor bid for the repair cost to be sure you actually had a realistic budget.

Worst case - potentially the total value of the house if caused by major soil conditions that basically make the house uninhabitable and replacement unbuildable. I remember one old southern mansion restoration job I was called in to look at - they had $500,000 into the renovations by the time I came on the job, and had to tell the owner that the house was a total loss because it was falling into a sinkhole.

One other option would be to make an offer contingent upon the repairs being made by the owner at his cost BEFORE closing, but would have to spell out what repair types are acceptable and probably be subject to an inspection during the repair by your engineer for suitability of the workmanship and repair - a sticky situation because the owner will bewanting to minimize cost so will want to go with cheapest fix (repointing) and lowest bidder, leaving you with likely a substandard result. Like the question here yesterday about a homeowner who was looking at recracking of work that was done before he bought the house.

Answered by LCD: One other thing I should have mentioned, which does not affect your decision but applies in case you did go ahead and buy this property. This lintel area problem (on a smaller scale - damaging only a couple of rows of brick above the lintel, or spalling of the brick over a lintel) is commonly caused by someone with good intentions making a mistake. Most people do not realize brick has to breathe (evaporate after being wetted) or it will spall - so they put sealer on it, and caulk the brick/lintel interface to try to keep the water out.

The problem with this is that some water always gets in to brick (and almost any other type) of wall surfacing/siding - with brick through cracks, weeping through the mortar, around windows, etc. Generally, exposed brick will wick and evaporate the moisture out OK unless in an always wet environment. However - putting sealer over the brick or mortar still allows liquid water in through pinholes and cracks, especially on the horizontal surfaces - which brick walls have a LOT of at joints, plus at the top of wondows and doors. However, once in the brick (or other type of walls too when vapor impremeable sealers or paints are used, especially on from standing water on horizontal surfaces like decks), that moisture can not readily evaporate through those same tiny cracks and pinholes because the operings are too small to have any substantial airflow through them to carry the moisture away. So, the brick gets saturated and starts spalling and/or getting soft because almost all brick is just surface fire-hardened clay blocks (some is only sun-dried), not is fully fused ceramic, so when it gets wet for an extended period of time and the water penetrates through the thin fire-hardened surface layer, it eventually (slowly, because clay itself is pretty impermeable) reverts back to clay - which both weaken the brick, and causes it to swell and spall or even crack or "explode" if tightly confined, which is a main reason why brick mortar is a weaker gypsum blend rather than using a stronger tight portland cement based grout.

The problem with the lintel caulking is that while stopping exterior water infiltration, it also traps water migrating down through or behind the bricks in the wall instead of letting it out. Old-school construction used angle iron for the posts and lintels around doors and windows - with the "angle" leg sticking in behind the brick, the "base" or long leg forming the opening. The lintel (top piece) also was sloped a bit to the front to drain. This angle iron had the brick mortared to it, so formed a mortar back seal to prevent rainwater hitting the post and lintel from getting into the wall. With modern construction that back leg would have the water barrier (house wrap) in the wall fastened to the outer facing face of it, or if there is no water barrier would be caulked or have compressible sealer put on the back angle leg just before putting the brick up against it to form a back seal. In modern construction, the metal would be prepainted with a rust-inhibiting paint, and there is commonly a "weep and stop" barrier put against the metal - which is an ice and water or bitumastic shield against the metal (which also reduces water contact so reduces lintel rusting) with a fibrous drain fabric (weep layer) over it contacting the brick so it can both drain and breathe.

Here a is a good illustration (Figure 2), of the lintel (a supporting angle iron here on a facade wall, but same principle and for in-contact brick facade or soild brick construction) showing the weep vent and putting the water barrier toward the back of the brick rather than at the front -

(Link Removed)

The Angie’s List Answers forum ran from 2010 to 2020 and provided a trusted space for homeowners to ask home improvement questions and receive answers directly from Pros and other users. Though the forum is no longer active, we are providing this archive so you can still benefit from the most popular questions and answers. Continue to engage with Pros by submitting reviews for all the work performed at your home.

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.