Up to the early part of the twentieth century walls were generally built as solid brickwork of adequate thickness to resist the penetration of rain to the inside face and to safely support the loads common to buildings both large and small.
At the time it was accepted that the interior of buildings would be cold during winter months when heating was provided by open fires and stoves, fired by coal or wood, to individual rooms. The people of northern Europe accepted the inevitability of a degree of indoor cold and dressed accordingly in thick clothing both during day and night time. There was an adequate supply of coal and wood to meet the expectations for some indoor heating for the majority.
The loss of heat through walls, windows and roofs was not a concern at the time. Thick curtains drawn across windows and external doors provided some appreciable degree of insulation against loss of heat.
From the middle of the twentieth century it became practical to heat the interior of whole buildings, with boilers fired by oil or gas. It is now considered a necessity to be able to heat the whole of the interior of dwellings so that the commonplace of icy cold bathrooms and corridors is an experience of the past.
In recent years an industry of scare stories has developed. Ill considered and unscientific claims by ‘experts’ that natural resources of fossil fuels such as oil and gas will soon be exhausted have been broadcast. These dire predictions have prompted the implementation of regulations to conserve fuel and power by introducing insulating materials to the envelope of all new buildings that are usually heated.
This ‘bolting the stable door after the horse has gone’ action will for very many years to come only affect new buildings, a minority of all buildings.
A consequence is that the cavity in external walls of buildings, originally proposed to exclude rain, has been converted to function as a prime position for lightweight insulating materials with exclusion of rain a largely ignored function of a cavity wall.
Resistance to weather
A solid wall of brick will resist the penetration of rain to its inside face
by absorbing rainwater that subsequently, in dry periods, evaporates to outside air. The penetration of rainwater into the thickness of a solid wall depends on the exposure of the wall to driving rain and the permeability of the bricks and mortar to water.
The permeability of bricks to water varies widely and depends largely on the density of the brick. Dense engineering bricks absorb rainwater less readily than many of the less dense facing bricks. It would seem logical, therefore, to use dense bricks in the construction of walls to resist rain penetration.
In practice, a wall of facing bricks will generally resist the penetration of rainwater better than a wall of dense bricks. The reason for this is that a wall of dense bricks may absorb water through fine cracks between dense bricks and dense mortar, to a considerable depth of the thickness of a wall, and this water will not readily evaporate through the fine cracks to outside air in dry periods, whereas a wall of less dense bricks and mortar will absorb water to some depth of the thickness of the wall and this water will substantially evaporate to outside air. It is not unknown for a wall of dense bricks and mortar to show an outline of damp stains on its
inside face through persistent wetting, corresponding to the mortar joints.
The general rule is that to resist the penetration of rain to its inside face a wall should be constructed of sound, well burned bricks of moderate density, laid in a mortar of similar density and of adequate thickness to prevent the penetration of rain to the inside face.
A solid 1 B thick wall may well be sufficiently thick to prevent the penetration of rainwater to its inside face in the sheltered positions common to urban settlements on low lying land. In positions of moderate exposure a solid wall \\ B thick will be effective in resisting the penetration of rainwater to its inside face.
In exposed positions such as high ground and near the coast a wall 2 B thick may be needed to resist penetration to inside faces. A wall 2 B thick is more than adequate to support the loads of all but heavily loaded structures and for resistance to rain penetration a less thick wall protected with rendering or slate or tile hanging is a more sensible option.