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Installing a Wide Door In a Tall Brick Wall - Continued

We used an angle grinder with a diamond blade to score the stucco and outline the pockets that would temporarily house the braces. A rotary hammer equipped with a chipping bit made quick work of the brick as we cleared the pockets. Finally, we inserted the four support braces. We shimmed where necessary, using wood ripped from 2x4s and pounded into place, and bolted the base plates securely to the footings with wedge bolts.

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After placing the braces on their footings and marking their positions on the wall, the author's crew cut 8-inch-deep pockets into the 12-inch-thick masonry wall for the upper shelf of each brace.

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Once the braces were maneuvered into position, the crew shimmed them.

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And then bolted them securely to the concrete footings with wedge bolts.

Cutting the Rough Opening

After marking the rough opening, we scored the wall with the grinder and started chipping away. Although we were confident the braces would support the wall, we still worried about the kitchen's ceramic-tile floor and a granite countertop positioned against the exterior wall: Too much movement might crack one or both. So as we tackled the wall below with our rotary hammers equipped with chisels and points, we monitored conditions in the kitchen above. Fortunately, the braces held everything securely in place, giving us the time we needed to get the rough opening right.

To help smooth out the edge of the section of wall that we had chipped away, we built a plywood form sized to cover half the height of the wall. We first braced the form at the bottom of the wall and then filled it with mortar, pounding the form with a lump hammer to get the mortar to settle and fill in around the ties we had inserted into the old brickwork. The following day, we shifted the form up and finished the top half.

Before inserting the steel beam and installing the new door, we had to create a level threshold. We began by cleaning up as much of the old foundation wall coming up from the basement as we could with a chipping gun. Then we drilled, vacuumed, and screwed 3-inch-long masonry fasteners into the top of the wall, leaving 1 1/2 inches exposed to help tie the new concrete to the old masonry as we formed and poured the new threshold. After marking both the left and right walls at 82 1/2 and 92 1/2 inches to indicate the top and bottom of the beam, we chiseled 6 inches into the walls to create ledges for the beam to sit on, adding 1/2 inch to the rough opening to accommodate steel plates under each end of the beam.

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Formed on top of the broken-out foundation wall, the newly poured threshold offered a smooth, level reference point for laying out the rough opening.

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The brick side walls shown in the photo above would receive a smooth mortar cap before installation of the new door.

Setting the Header and Installing the Door

The original plans called for a single W14x38 steel beam (measuring 14 inches high by 6 3/4 inches wide, and weighing 38 pounds per lineal foot), fabricated with a brick shelf composed of three 3 1/2-by-3 1/2-by-1/4-inch angles welded together. But the estimated weight for that girder was 675 pounds, way more than we wanted to handle, so Herschlag substituted two 285-pound W10x22 steel beams (measuring 10 inches high by 5 1/2 inches wide by 13 feet long, and weighing 22 pounds per lineal foot, at $275 each) for the W14x38. While not exactly light, these beams were easier to wrestle into position, and their combined 11-inch width was better suited to the 12-inch thickness of the wall. Because the exterior faade had a cover of stucco, we were able to substitute concrete block for brick to rebuild the section of wall above the girder, thereby eliminating the need for the brick shelf.

After we insulated around the girder with fiberglass and spray foam, we were ready for the door. We could have finished patching up the exterior wall at this point and removed the braces, sparing ourselves the risk of dropping something through the glass below. But, for weather and security purposes, we elected to install the door first.

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A pair of 5 1/2-by-10-inch steel beams supported the masonry above the new door opening. The author chose to install the door before removing the braces, making it easier to secure the site during construction

To get the door from the street to the backyard, we had to completely disassemble the 12-foot-wide Marvin "knockdown" unit, which meant breaking down the frame as well as the four door panels. Fortunately, the care we'd taken to square and plumb the masonry paid off when we reassembled the frame in the R.O. Installing the door first turned out to be a great decision, as it made the site easy to lock up at night, kept out the winter cold, and filled the basement with light.

Finishing Up

With the door installed and the steel girders in place, we finished blocking up the opening. As we laid block, we removed one brace at a time and filled each pocket before removing the next. After each support was removed and the opening blocked, we padded out the steel web with plywood, then fastened wire mesh over the steel and block in preparation for the stucco. We experimented with mortar dyes to approximate the existing stucco color and did our best to blend the new with the old.

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Because the masonry wall has a stucco finish, economical 12-inch block instead of brick was used to fill in above the new steel header.

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The author's crew made sure each section of wall was well supported with block before removing the braces, one at a time.

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Mortar dye added to the stucco matches the new work to the existing wall.

We spent the next week working on the interior, but that wall of glass never let us forget there was 1,600 pounds of steel that we had paid $2,700 for sitting in the backyard. Because the only access to the backyard was through the house, we needed to get the steel out before turning our attention to the extensive interior finish work. After discussing over a few lunches whether we wanted to store these expensive braces in our shop, we decided to keep life simple: We cut them up and scrapped them for peanuts.

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The wide glass door brings plenty of light into the new ground-level living space and offers easy access to the backyard

Rob Corbo is a building contractor in Elizabeth, N.J.