Door lintels aren't exactly the first thing that spring to mind when you think of building design, but incorporating suitable lintels into your exterior doorways and entrances can mean the difference between a solid, watertight building and a crumbling, leaky nightmare. However, exterior door lintels need not merely be load-bearing structures and can also serve as ornamental accents when made from suitably attractive materials. As such, when choosing exterior door lintels, you should choose a material that strikes the balance you need between structural strength and attractive looks.
Natural stone can add a touch of class and luxury to many architectural pieces, and solid stone lintels can be beautiful additions to exterior doorways.They can be made from a variety of stones and are carved into innumerable designs, with many stonemasons offering custom lintel manufacture.
However, all of this beauty and versatility comes with a heft price tag attached, and stone lintels are generally expensive options unless made from reclaimed materials. Solid stone lintels also have limited load-bearing strength due to their relative tensile weakness, and they may be unsuitable for heavy-duty projects.
While timber lintels have suffered in popularity in recent decades, a renewal of interest in timber-framed houses and sustainable building materials has brought them back to the fore. Timber lintels are very light and easy to install but are surprisingly strong and have enough combined strength and flexibility to support heavy loads. If properly installed with adequate ventilation and surface treatments, they can last for decades without rotting or losing strength. As for aesthetic value, exposed wooden lintels can be enormously attractive accents, especially when carved or oiled to bring out the grain.
Unfortunately, timber lintels still have very limited load bearing strength compared to brick or steel lintels and may require discreet reinforcement with stronger materials (such as concrete bars or hidden steel lintels). They are also quite vulnerable to fires, as aging wooden lintels that lose their chemical protection can be quickly damaged by termites and wood-boring insects.
As you'd expect, brick lintels are immensely strong when properly laid and can be expected to support most residential exterior doors without incident. Brick lintels also have great aesthetic versatility, and will fit into practically any design scheme. They are available in a wide variety of colours, shades and clay types, and skilled bricklayers can arrange them in intricate patterns that do not sacrifice load-bearing strength. If necessary, they can also be supported by hidden steel lintels.
Brick lintels are not as expensive as their natural stone counterparts, but unfortunately, they can still cost a significant amount to install. This can be a particular problem if you are using expensive coloured bricks or if you need to hire skilled bricklayers to complete the task. Brick lintels are also vulnerable to damage caused by ground vibration and may not be suited to buildings situated by main roads or other high-traffic areas.