The masonry veneer of a 20-story building is supported at each floor by shelf angles. Though a horizontal expansion joint was designed beneath each shelf angle, the expansion joints were not installed. The masonry wall has expanded upward 1 to 2 inches at the roof. This has caused problems at the roof details and window openings. Should I have the masonry contractor cut a horizontal expansion joint below each shelf angle to relieve the stresses in the wall?
If the masonry wall has increased in height 1 to 2 inches, shelf angles must have been carried upward with the expanding masonry. The connections for the shelf angles have either failed or, in the case of wedge inserts, are now loose and therefore cannot support the masonry. Cutting horizontal expansion joints beneath the angles will cause the masonry to shift, which can be dangerous. Before cutting expansion joints beneath the angles, I strongly recommend making openings to inspect the angle connection of the angles. If these connections are inadequate, they must be corrected before cutting the joints so shifting doesn't occur. Most brick expansion occurs during the first 5 years after the brick are fired. If the details at the roof and around windows had allowed 2 inches of upward movement, an engineer after a thorough investigation might have found that adding expansion joints wasn't necessary. However, in new construction, horizontal expansion joints always should be installed immediately under shelf angles.