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Masonry veneer is a construction material used on the exterior walls of homes and commercial buildings. It is comprised of thin pieces of brick or stone, and gives the appearance of solid masonry without the associated weight and cost. The masonry veneer is attached to the building's structure, but is self-supporting, and places no additional loads on the building's structural components. Because it is primarily used for its appearance, and is non-load bearing, masonry veneer walls are often referred to as “curtain walls.”
There are two basic methods of constructing walls using masonry veneer. The first is known as an anchored system, and relies on brick ties and angle brackets to anchor the veneer wall to the building's structural framing. The second type of masonry wall construction is an adhered system. Using this technique, the veneer is attached to the structure using a thin layer of mortar, without the need for brick ties. Many local building codes specify when each of these systems may be used, based on the building design and the risk of high winds or other weather-related factors.
The outermost layer of these walls is made from the masonry veneer and mortar. Depending on the type of veneer being used, the stone may be installed against a backer board made from dense foam or plywood. In the case of brick veneer, the masonry exterior may simply be self-supporting, with no backer board required. An air cavity is typically maintained behind the veneer, and is used for drainage. At the innermost layer of the wall is the building's structural system, which may consist of masonry blocks or traditional steel or wood framing.
Masonry veneer offers a number of advantages over other types of construction. The air cavity in these walls allows for effective drainage, which keeps water or moisture from damaging the home. The water is able to travel freely to the base of the air cavity, where it is drained to the exterior through tiny holes in the veneer called “weep holes.” The air cavity also provides room for insulation, which can help improve the thermal resistance of the walls.
Walls built using veneer can be built more quickly and affordably than traditional masonry walls. Veneer costs are typically lower than that of brick or stone, and the light weight of the veneer allows for more efficient installation, which can lower labor costs. The comparatively low weight of veneer also means that the building's foundation system can be smaller and less complex. Finally, because the veneer walls are non-structural, they can be installed after the building's walls and roof, providing a great deal of flexibility for builders.