Building America Case Study: Retrofit Measures for Embedded Wood Members in Insulated Mass Masonry Walls, Lawrence, Massachusetts

K. Ueno

Research output: NRELFact Sheet


There are many existing buildings with load-bearing mass masonry walls, whose energy performance could be improved with the retrofit of insulation. However, adding insulation to the interior side of walls of such masonry buildings in cold (and wet) climates may cause performance and durability problems. Some concerns, such as condensation and freeze-thaw have known solutions. But wood members embedded in the masonry structure will be colder (and potentially wetter) after an interior insulation retrofit. Moisture content and relative humidity were monitored at joist ends in historic mass brick masonry walls retrofitted with interior insulation in a cold climate (Zone 5A); data were collected from 2012-2015. Eleven joist ends were monitored in all four orientations. One limitation of these results is that the renovation is still ongoing, with limited wintertime construction heating and no permanent occupancy to date. Measurements show that many joists ends remain at high moisture contents, especially at north- and east-facing orientations, with constant 100 percent RH conditions at the worst cases. These high moisture levels are not conducive for wood durability, but no evidence for actual structural damage has been observed. Insulated vs. non-insulated joist pockets do not show large differences. South facing joists have safe (10-15 percent) moisture contents. Given the uncertainty pointed out by research, definitive guidance on the vulnerability of embedded wood members is difficult to formulate. In high-risk situations, or when a very conservative approach is warranted, the embedded wood member condition can be eliminated entirely, supporting the joist ends outside of the masonry pocket.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages2
StatePublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Work performed by Building Science Corporation (BSC), Westford, Massachusetts

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/FS-5500-64766

Other Report Number

  • DOE/GO-102015-4738


  • BSC
  • Building America
  • embedded members
  • embedded wood members
  • insulation retrofit
  • joist ends
  • masonry
  • moisture damage
  • residential
  • residential buildings
  • retrofit


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