If you’re building a new home, an apartment complex, or even something like a high-quality shed, one of the things that you are going to run into are lintels. In fact, when it comes to the construction of buildings, lintels are extremely important.
That said, what exactly are they lintel, what are they used for, and what are the different types that you might run into? Let’s find out right now.
What Is Lintel and Why Is It Used?
First and foremost, a lintel is a beam that is placed across the top of openings such as doors, windows, and other such structures. This beam can vary in length and thickness, not to mention that there are many different materials that lintels can be made of.
Generally speaking, the width of a lintel beam is equal to the width of the wall, with both ends of the lintel beam being built into the wall. Keep in mind that horizontal lintels are much easier to construct than arches. The main purpose of a lintel is to support everything on top.
In other words, a lintel placed above the door is designed to bear the weight of the walls above, while also transferring some of that weight to the walls. In simplest terms, a lintel is a structural support beam used to support walls that have openings in them (doors and windows), by transferring a lot of that weight to the surrounding walls.
Lintel vs. Header: Are They the Same Thing?
Yes, generally speaking, these two things are the same. This is particularly the case in the USA, where the words lintel and header are often used interchangeably.
Now, this terminology really does depend on where you live, because in some cases a lintel is seen as a structural support that transfers the weight from above to the walls on the sides of the openings. A header sometimes refers to a structural support beam that transfers the weight from above to the foundation and soil below.
However, for the purposes of today’s article, particularly where people in North America are concerned, lintels and headers are the same things.
Types of Lintel: Spans and Materials
What is important for you to know here is that lintel can be classified based on two different criteria. These criteria include the span of the lintel as well as the material that it is made of.
First off, let’s figure out how lintel is classified based on its span, followed by how it is classified based on the material it is made of.
2 Types of Lintel Spans
The first lintel classification that you need to be aware of has to do with their spans, or in other words, how far they span from one side to the other.
1. Cut Lintel or Lintel Beam
In terms of span, the first type of lintel to know is cut or beam lintel. This type of lintel features a single beam that spans the width of the opening underneath. In other words, a lintel that only spans the width of the door frame underneath, but no more, is considered beam or cut lintel.
This type of lintel is most often used in load-bearing constructions where weight needs to be properly transferred from the above space to the frames of the doors and windows below. This is the simple type of lintel out there, the most common type that you will find in houses and other small structures.
2. Continuous Lintel or Lintel Band
The second type of lintel is known as a lintel band or continuous lintel. Instead of the lintel only spanning the width of a single door or window frame, continuous lintel runs throughout the span of the walls of a building, kind of like a tie beam that connects all of the pillars or columns in a structure.
This type of lintel is generally made out of reinforced concrete, but may also be made out of different materials. Continuous lintel is generally used for framed structures, buildings that sit on expansive soil, and in areas that are prone to earthquakes. When it comes to producing the best stability and structural soundness, the continuous lintel is the better option.
6 Types of Lintel Materials
Alright, so now that you know what the different types of lintel are based on their span, let’s take a look at the different lintel classifications according to the materials that they are made of.
1. Wood or Timber Lintel
Perhaps the oldest type of lintel out there is the wooden lintel. Wooden or timber lintels are made out of solid and natural wood, generally hardwood due to its durability. The most common type of wood used for this purpose is redwood. Single large beams of wood may be used, or multiple planks can be combined into one lintel.
One of the advantages of using timber for lintel is that wood is very easy to work with, thus making a timber lintel easy to construct. Moreover, timber lintels are great for temporary structures, they don’t require any foam-work, and they don’t require curing time either.
On the other hand, timber lintels are susceptible to rot and decay if they are not properly water treated and maintained, they can be very costly to build, they are vulnerable to fire, and they don’t do the best job at handling large amounts of tension, stress, and pressure. This type of lintel is not often used in permanent structures. If it is, it is only used for smaller structures.
2. Flitched Lintel
A flitched lintel is simply a modified timber lintel that incorporates steel plates at the top and bottom of the lintel. The advantage here is a clear increase of strength and a much better ability to handle tension and pressure when compared to regular timber lintels.
Additionally, flitched lintels are very easy to construct, they are much stronger than timber lintels, they don’t require any frame work, and they don’t require time to cure either. That said, this is quite the costly type of lintel, plus both the wood is susceptible to fire.
3. Brick Lintel
If what you need is a lintel for relatively small structures, one designed for small loads, then brick is the way to go. Now, brick lintels are only ideal for short spans and for a little bit of weight. Moreover, this is by far the cheapest and most cost-effective type out there, not to mention that it resists cracking due to temperatures quite well too.
On the other hand, bricks are not very strong and they make for some of the weakest lintels out there, particularly where weight and tension are concerned. This type of lintel is not ideal for long spans, they require at least two weeks to cure, and they require frames to support the bricks during construction.
4. Stone Lintel
Yes, masonry is a popular option for lintels, but that said, stone is the much better type of masonry to use for lintels when compared to bricks, particularly when single large pieces of stone are involved, as a single piece of high-quality stone is far more durable than several bricks that have been stuck together using mortar. What is also nice about stone lintels is that they don’t require frames, they look super nice, and they work well for short spans.
On the other hand, stone lintels, although they are stronger than those made of brick, as still very weak when it comes to tension. Stone can handle more weight than brick, but both are poor in terms of tension resistance. Stone also does not perform well when it comes to shocks and vibrations, plus it does not work well for long spans.
5. Steel Lintel
When it comes to durability and strength, particularly for large structures, one of the best options to go with is steel. Steel is ideal for larger projects, it can deal with a lot of weight and tension, it is ideal for long spans, it can be fabricated into virtually any shape, it is comparatively lightweight for its strength, and it does not require curing or framing either.
The only real downside to steel lintels is that they are vulnerable to corrosion, not to mention that they don’t look all that nice either.
6. Concrete and Reinforced Concrete Lintels
The final lintel material out there is concrete, which, realistically, is quite similar to stone. Concrete lintels are great at handling a lot of weight, but cannot handle much tension. Concrete lintels are good for short spans, they are cost-effective and very easy to build.
On the other hand, besides being weak in tension, concrete is not ideal for long spans, it does not handle vibrations well, it needs a frame, and it requires about a month to cure. Of course, if you need to support a large structure, and you need to handle both weight and tension with ease, then reinforced concrete with rebar is the way to go, although definitely not cheap.
Before you make a choice, be sure to consider all of the options very wisely. Once you build your lintels, they are going to be permanent fixtures, so they need to be built properly the first time around.
If you want to learn how to drill into lintel, read this article.