A recent Twitter poll I ran a little while ago posed the question to readers if the regulations and advice on lintels was good enough. A simple yes or no poll, with the majority voting by way of no, it wasn’t good enough. I was in the “no” camp too. When it comes to lintels, the information out there in the public domain simply isn’t good enough. Google it, you’ll find some bad misinformation and advice on forums.

Whats FENSA say…

It’s not that easy to find, but here is FENSA’s guidance when it comes to lintels, from a PDF published in May 2013:

If there is any potential for the structure to move, then as a competent person you must ensure that the load above the opening is secured. Many properties were built with the original timber window supporting the brickwork above. So replacing it with modern PVC or Aluminium window frames compromises the carrying the load.

A soldier or head course of bricks above a window is not acting as a support unless it has been formed into an arch. A soldier course is usually decorative. These should be carefully examined and a plan to support it drawn up before any window below is replaced.

Good surveying is the key to getting the support issue correct. If you inspect thoroughly then any issues can be brought to the attention of the householder before work commences. If it is not identified beforehand and a support has to be installed during or post installation, the cost burden may fall on you the installer.

Bay windows should always be treated as load-bearing even if the load seems small. It should be supported by suitable bay poles that rest on either a fully reinforced cill (the reinforcement should be under the pole), steel spreader places having passed through the cill or onto a jacking pole system. The top of the pole should be tight to the structure above with steel spreading plates in-between. The poles should be carrying the whole load (not just point loads). It may be necessary to use steel or leave the head in place to carry any centre loads.

Finally a word to the wise – a disclaimer signed by the householder does not remove the onus on the competent person to do a professional job.

It doesn’t mention laws in the above text, but then again, it shouldn’t require a law for a good installer to recognise when a lintel is required or not.

For me and our family run business the rule is simple: if there isn’t a lintel above the existing window or door and there is brick work above, then a lintel must be installed prior to replacing the windows and doors. No ifs. No buts. When we do a job, it gets done right.

Our problem is that there are very few companies in our local area saying the same things. So when we’re the third of fourth company a home owner sees and but we’re the first ones to talk about putting lintels in, quite often the client is skeptical. Almost as if we’re trying to dupe them.

What others say

When you Google terms like “advice on lintels” or “windows that need lintels” you end up with quite a few forums as results. Some of the answers should leave you a tad worried. Check this answer out to a question posed about lintels:

I don’t know how it works structurally, but it is possible for window frames to be “supporting”.

This was why the rules were changed to insist that all window replacements were FENSA “approved”, because cowboy DG installers would take away a supporting wooden frame and replace it with a non supporting uPVC one.

Now, a “professional” FENSA installer has to check the support that the replacement window has to provide before quoting/making/installing the windows.

If they have not done this correctly, complain to FENSA (assuming that the installer is registered)

A total misunderstanding of the rules and regs. And this is the problem. The genuine guidance and rules on matters like this isn’t coherent across the board. No matter where you look, the advice seems to be different depending on who you ask. For example, this is the advice given by the East Riding council:

If the replacement windows are wider than those they replace, or involve the replacement of bay windows, then proper structural support is required above the window. In older buildings, the timber frame of the window was often sufficiently strong to carry the load of a wall or roof above it without a lintel. Obviously in these cases either a lintel needs to be installed when the window is replaced, or the new frame carefully reinforced to carry the load. Further advice on structural stability can be obtained from your local authority or from any member of a competent person scheme.

For me, reinforcing the window frame, as explained above, isn’t enough. It has to be a lintel, and it doesn’t tie in with the FENSA advice shown at the top of this post.

Do it right first time

It irritates me the number of our competitors that tell home owners that they don’t need a lintel when they clearly do. I went to see a job a little over a week ago where one of the windows was just above 2.4m wide. The brickwork was clearly sagging, the window frame at the top was bowed and there was obviously no lintel there. So when I started to explain that as soon as that window was to come out the bricks would drop and that we’d have to put a lintel in prior to removal, the home owners looked at me blank. I asked if I was the first to talk about lintels to them and they confirmed that I was.

What is worrying is that on a window that so obviously needed a lintel, the companies who went in before me either missed it or chose to ignore it. Not good whichever way you look at it.

There needs to be better and stricter guidance when it comes to lintels. There should be no grey areas. All companies should know their responsibilities when it comes to this area. The risks of a job going wrong because of a lack of lintels simply isn’t worth it in the long run.

As always, I welcome all comments on this matter via the section below.

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