They Are Long Gone And I Hate Them Anyway

by Don Friedman on March 24, 2017

That is a picture of a condition exposed during demolition. If the people responsible for that condition were in the room when i first saw it, I’d be gulping down ice cream to sooth a throat made raw by screaming at the top of my lungs “What is wrong with you people?”

In short, this is one end of a lintel in an interior bearing wall. That’s a 16-inch (four-wythe) brick wall built in the mid-nineteenth century that someone cut a doorway into in maybe 1920. Then someone else decided to widen the door later, maybe 1950 or so. That picture is taken from one side, looking through the opening to the other side. The right third of the picture is part of the older narrower opening; the remainder of the opening to the left is the later expansion.

There are five pieces of steel present as parts of the lintel. Click on the marked-up version of the photo below:

Beams 2, 3, and 4 are the older lintel. They are smallish wide-flange beams. The reason there are three of them is that no single beam has a flange wide enough to support the full thickness of the wall unless it’s also very deep. Beams 1 and 5 are the lintels that were added later for the wide opening. They are channels, slightly shallower than the older beams, and nestled into the space on the side of beams 2 and 4, between the bottom of the top flange and the top of the bottom flange, and adjacent to the web. Careful observation of this photo will show that beams 2, 3, and 4 end well short of the supporting brick on the left side.

Stupid mistake number one: the brick in the center of the wall thickness is unsupported from the left end of beams 2, 3, and 4 to the right face of the supporting brick pier on the left. This might not matter, since the brick is supported at the edges by beams 1 and 5. On the other hand, mortar is not glue, and some of the bricks over that void space are really not properly supported. If one fell, the gyp-board finish that goes over this structure wouldn’t stop it.

Much more serious stupid mistake number two: beams 2, 3, and 4, which are directly supporting most of the load from above, are not supported by anything but the channels nestled into the side of beams 2 and 4. Snuggling is cute when it’s a puppy trying to get warm against your side, but less so when it’s the manner in which tens of thousand pounds of brick, floor joists, and occupants above are being carried. Worse still, beam 3 is complete unsupported. Even if the new beams 1 and 5 were designed to carry the full load and beam 3 was rendered superfluous when they were installed, which I really doubt, beam 3 is held in place by nothing much.

Whomever installed beams 1 and 5 and thereby left the lintel in this condition was wrong. Very wrong.

Very, very wrong.


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