Masonry consists of building structures from single units that are laid and bound together with mortar. Brick, stone and concrete blocks are the most common materials used in masonry construction.
Masonry is a popular construction technique around the world, due to its many advantages. However, like with any construction method, there are also limitations. This article summarizes the pros and cons of masonry construction.
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Advantages of Masonry Construction
These general advantages apply for all types of masonry units (brick, stone or concrete blocks):
- Masonry is non-combustible, so improves fire protection for the building and its occupants. Fireplaces are commonly made of masonry for the same reason.
- Masonry offers a high resistance against rotting, pests, weather, and natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes.
- Masonry structures provide an attractive rustic or elegant look for a home or building, depending on the material used and the workers’ expertise.
- Being durable and resistant, mansory can withstand large amounts of compressive weight loads.
- Masonry units increase the thermal mass of a building.
- Masonry buildings have longer lifespans than any other building type.
Limitations of Masonry Construction
- Masonry construction involves heavy materials such as bricks, stone and concrete blocks. These cannot be transported in conventional vehicles, and in some cases they must be ordered from special catalogs, especially stones.
- The stability of masonry structures depends completely on their foundation. If any settling of the foundation occurs, cracks are likely and they must be repaired to prevent moisture infiltration and damage.
- Masonry activities cannot be done during heavy rain or freezing conditions, since mortar will be severely affected.
- Masonry construction requires a good amount of time and adequate project planning. Depending on the type or masonry, specialized manpower may be necessary.
Now that the general advantages and disadvantages of masonry have been established, let’s discuss the pros and cons of the most commonly used materials: brick, stone and concrete blocks.
Pros: Brick masonry does not require highly skilled labor, since the shape and size of the masonry units is uniform. Bricks are also lightweight (lower dead loads), easy to handle and transport, and cheaper that stones and concrete blocks. Brick walls are thinner, and units can be adhered with different types of mortar, depending on structural requirements. Openings for doors and windows are easily made with bricks, and costs are also reduced because the joints are thinner.
Cons: Bricks have a low resistance against tension and torsion loads, making them more susceptible to seismic damage. Compared with stone and concrete blocks, bricks are also less strong and durable, and limited in sizes and colors. Plasterwork is required as finishing, which raises construction costs.
Pros: Stone masonry is the most durable, strong and weather resistant, thanks to the natural durability of the material. Stone is recommended for buildings with high foot traffic, since it does not bend or dent. One of the main advantages of stone is its aesthetic look, with a variety of colors, sizes and textures - the design possibilities are endless. Finally, stone masonry requires little maintenance and repairs, thanks to its durability.
Cons: Stone walls are thick and heavy, reducing floor space. It also has a high self-weight, combined with low flexural strength, tensile strength and seismic resistance. Stone masonry is time-consuming and it requires skilled workers, since it cannot be altered, repaired or relocate easily. When using stone masonry, a careful installation will make the final structure safer for occupants.
Concrete Block Masonry
Pros: Concrete blocks are resistant against weather, pests, mold, and fire. Transporting concrete blocks can be quite expensive, but this material can be found locally in most cases. Concrete blocks are available in many sizes, finishes and colors. These units can also be manufactured to meet any set project requirements, and some concrete blocks are made using recycled materials. In addition, concrete blocks have good insulating properties against heat, sound and moisture.
Cons: Large concrete blocks are heavy and difficult to handle, requiring more manpower. Concrete blocks also increase the amount of steel required in reinforced cement concrete structures. The price of concrete blocks can vary depending on the region, cement costs and availability. Plumbing issues are harder to solve when they occur in a concrete masonry structure, since they can cause internal flooding. Concrete blocks must be cut open in this case, leading to material waste and expensive reparations. An effective drainage system is very important when dealing with concrete block masonry.