Lintel?  Isn’t that a type of soup?  Actually, it is a very important part of your homes structure that not many homeowners know or think about.  In this blog post, we will learn what a lintel’s true purpose is and what is your responsibility is as a homeowner to ensure your lintels are kept in good condition?

So, what is a lintel?

A lintel is a beam placed across openings like doors, windows etc. in buildings to support the load from the structure above.  Windows and doors are not made to be structural members of the home.  When an opening is made in a home, there is a concentrated load above the doorway or window opening that must be supported.  The one last important note is lintels are mostly found on brick or other masonry structures.  There are beams in wood structures that are usually called headers that serve the same purpose.

Where to I find lintels?

If your home or building is built with brick or masonry block, then lintels should be present between the window/door and the brick/masonry block above the window.  There are 6 different types of lintels that can be installed, but we won’t go into that detail here so check out this article for more information on each.  For this article, I will just be including the two types found most often around Chicago.

  1. Steel Lintels – Angle steel is the most popular type of lintel and you can see a good visual of its installation in the picture below. Two pieces of angled steel are placed to support the brickwork of the opening and bear on the sides of the opening.  The steel supports the masonry wall so your windows and doors don’t have to.
Figure 1 – How a Steel Lintel is Installed

Figure 1 – How a Steel Lintel is Installed

  1. Stone Lintels – A large rectangular stone is used as the lintel in the case and supports the brick walls for the doors and windows. The lintel strength is not as great in this case, but can be more aesthetically pleasing and also will not rust like a steel lintel.  See the figure below for a picture of a stone lintel installation.
Figure 2 – Sample of Stone Lintel Installation

Figure 2 – Sample of Stone Lintel Installation

What do I need to do to maintain my lintels?

For steel lintels biggest thing is to protect them from the environment and from rusting through.  Proper installation of flashing during construction is key making sure water is not ponding around the lintels.  When you start noticing surface rust on your steel lintels, it is time to have the re-coated.  Make sure the contractor removed any existing rust prior to re-painting the lintels.

For stone lintels, the same holds true about proper drainage.  You will not have to worry about the stone rusting but if you notice the stone deteriorating that is a sign of water intrusion and you should hire a contractor to take a closer look.


What are signs of a lintel failure?

If a steel lintel starts to thin because of pitting (rust that starts to eat away at the metal) there is a possibility a lintel can fail.  Step cracking around the mortar joints of the window or door that the lintel is supporting can be a sign the lintel has failed or is starting to (See Figure 3 Below).  You may also note some cracking window panes which can be a sign the window is bearing structural weight.

Figure 3 - Failed Steel Lintel

Figure 3 – Failed Steel Lintel

For a failed stone lintel the signs via mortar cracking can be similar however you may note a crack on the stone itself.  Fixing these broken lintels can be expensive as it requires removing several layers of bricks, removing the old lintel and replacing with a new one.  That is why keeping up with maintenance and detecting issues early can be key to saving yourself some cash down the road.  As always, if you can any questions on this or any other blog post, please feel free to reach out to us at

Home Inspection Geeks Inc.