Brick steps, wooden porch
For some time I've been dissatisfied with the job done by the "masons" on the brick steps on our house. The bricks adjoin a wood porch (not the end grain though). The ends of the bricks in the joint weren't sawed, it looks like they just roughly knocked off pieces of brick until it was short enough to miss the wood floor on the porch, then filled in the gap with mortar. In some places I'd guess there is as much as a 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inch gap filled in. Over the five years since this was done the mortar has become brittle, some has broken off and this evening my wife noticed that at least three of the bricks on the top step where this was done have become loose enough to be rocked back and forth.
So my question is, what to do with it? Should the brick come close enough to the wood that it doesn't touch but not far enough that it needs to be filled with some material, and how big should that gap be? Should I just replace the mortar? Should I replace the entire row of bricks with ones that have been properly sawn to length?
Re: Brick steps, wooden porch
Without seeing the steps, I think the row of brick should have been cut to leave a small gap a 1/4" or so against the wood. Having the gap filled with mortar will not allow for expansion of the wood, so when the deck swells & shrinks it will tend to allow water into the joint and eventually effect the mortar bond.
Besides an inch and a half gap filled with mortar probably looks like crap.
Re: Brick steps, wooden porch
Poorly 'cut' bricks and bricks and multiple bricks coming loose after only 5 years says that the original job was poorly done. One good thing is that you may be able to reuse most of the old brick. There's money to be saved there if you pull and cleam them yourself, just make sure that you can get a good match for the replacements you'll need.
I would have the whole thing redone by someone who will show you several jobs they've done that are at least 10 years old so you can how they're holding up. I would also look at what's under the brick; it should be a 4 inch or more concrete slab laid on compacted soil. Don't believe anyone who says that brick can be successfully laid over a mortar bed; mortar isn't concrete and will break up and disintegrate over time. Brickwork is only as good as what is holding it up.
Good brickwork over a good foundation should last a lifetime or more. Good brickwork is getting harder to find these days as most masons don't know their materials but simply mix their prebagged mortar with sand to whatever consistency they like to work with then butter, butt, and tap to the string. Some bricks like to be laid damp and will lose bond later if laid dry. Some bricks must be laid dry; they're not all the same and a really good brick mason will know this. Mortar sometimes needs a bit more lime or a bit less. Darn few younger bricklayers know a thing about such matters and more's the shame. Like plastering it's becoming a lost art with many who can give you a job that looks good but only a few who can and will make that job endure.