I would like to create a suspended brick soffit above an opening. How can this be accomplished? I don't want to create an arched opening and I don't want any exposed steel.

There are several methods of creating brick soffits over openings. One methods is to use prefabricated reinforced brick panels, which may be constructed offsite, with the bed joints on a horizontal plane. In this position the reinforcing rods would be inserted in the cores on the units and grouted into place. Only units with large cores can be used for this purpose.

The panel likely would need to be vibrated to properly consolidate the grout. Bed joint reinforcing should be used for wider panels. You also should consider using galvanized epoxy-coated or stainless steel reinforcing in these panels because of the limited cover and the potential for voids in the grout. These panels would be rotated 90 degrees when installed above the openings.

For fairly short spans, prefabricated reinforced brick panels can be supported by the masonry at the window jambs. The panels can be designed either to carry the masonry above the opening or to support only their own weight across the window opening or to support only their own weight across the window opening. In the second case a structural lintel would be provided to support the masonry above the opening.

At larger openings the panels can be hung from the structure supporting the masonry above the opening. Special hangers would be provided to engage the reinforcing that is installed in the cores of the units, or anchor bolts can be built into the panel much like with precast concrete members.

Built-in-place reinforced masonry beams sometimes are used for this purpose. In these elements brick masonry is constructed on wood forms at the opening, much like the centering used when fabricating brick arches. The brick masonry is constructed to form a U-shaped cross-section with U-shaped bars in the mortar joints.

Ties also are built into the mortar joints to engage the grouted core. Reinforcing is installed as necessary in the center portion of the ôU,ö depending on the span. The grout must be vibrated properly to ensure proper consolidation of the grout.

Often the wood forms used in creating these beams contain raised ribs to assist in placing the units so that a recess is provided to permit pointing and tooling the joints after the beam is completed. Pointing these joints in this fashion helps the soffits match the appearance of the surrounding masonry.