Thomas Kelsey| HouseMaster | March 2022| Home Inspections
Why can you only find new brick homes in Denver?
A wood-frame house, on 4th Avenue, in Denver’s Baker Historic District stands out amongst its brick neighbors. Are all the houses in older Denver brick because of a lack of wood on the front range?
If not, why? Well, the answer to the first question has nothing to do with the availability of wood. It has more to do with the flammability of wood homes.
The answer is to the second question goes back to a spring morning in 1863 when residents found themselves in a city mostly burnt to the ground. In 1863, Denver was not much more than a smattering of canvas and wood buildings near the confluence of the Cherry Creek and the South Platte River.
A fire had broken out and left the citizens with not much more than a collection of smoking hulks. The wood buildings’ close proximity to each other made it easy for flames to spread. Thus, on April 20, 1863, city leaders approved laws that required, with few exceptions, all new buildings be made of fireproof materials like stone, brick, or very heavy wood timbers.
These laws stayed on the books until the 1960s and you can still see the effects in our city. As of 2017 nearly half of all homes in the city are made of brick. For homeowners and home inspectors, this legacy means we have a good deal of well-built homes. It doesn’t mean that these homes don’t need maintenance.
The 5 advantages of a brick home:
Fire protection. It also increases the thermal mass of a building, which can increase the comfort in the heat of summer and the cold in winter.
They are also strong. Hail won’t dent it and our strong Colorado sun won’t discolor your home.
While the bricks will likely outlast us all if they were made from quality materials; the mortar joints do need to be loved. Water moves through brick which makes frost damage a real danger to your brick walls.
Tuckpointing is a maintenance item that needs to be performed on all brick homes from time to time.
Foundation problems present greater issues with your brick walls if they are not supported by a solid base.
If you are looking to buy a brick home in Denver, make sure your home inspector is not only looking at the brick structure on the outside but on the inside as well. The mortar joints inside need to be maintained just like the outside. This can mean getting into the crawlspace or narrow portions of the basement.
The brick homes in Denver are a beautiful legacy to our city founders. I love seeing these homes when I am inspecting them. Structural brick walls have a few differences from their veneer relatives and should be inspected differently. I will save that for thought for another article!
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