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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2013
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    Default disintergrating brick?

    I live in a 90 year old rowhome. I had pointing done a few years ago & asked about stucco. The contractor told me my brick was too soft. (?) I was just looking out an upstairs window and there is a large amount of sand and brick dust on the windowsill. I live in the corner row, so this wall is an exterior wall. What does this mean?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
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    SoCal
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    Default Re: disintergrating brick?

    Brick is a good, long lasting exterior, but weather and exposure to the elements can finally cause brick to deteriorate, crumble and turn into sand/dust.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2013
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    Default Re: disintergrating brick?

    but what does that mean exactly? Does that mean my house is unsafe? Do I need thousands of dollars in repairs? I'm getting scared thinking about this!

  4. #4
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    Default Re: disintergrating brick?

    Quote Originally Posted by teecee View Post
    but what does that mean exactly? Does that mean my house is unsafe? Do I need thousands of dollars in repairs? I'm getting scared thinking about this!
    What it means is that you need the help of a professional mason. Depending on the way your house is built, he can recommend a course of action. Price? may be expensive, but think of the alternatives.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2013
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    31

    Default Re: disintergrating brick?

    Your house is not necessarily structurally un-safe. I am not guarenteeing you it is fine, but I am saying what you have mentioned so far does not indicate it must be falling apart.

    Bricks on homes a century or more old may have been formed by hand using softer materials, whereas bricks on newer homes are mass produced and are harder and more uniform in size. There are a couple things that cause bricks to deteriorate:

    1) The elements, namely moisture that attacks the wall from either the front or from behind. As the surface of the bricks crack and flake over time, water can work its way into crevices then cause larger chunks to disintigrate or fall off as it freezes and thaws. To help fight this, the mortar between the bricks should be maintained and the roof and gutters above should be maintained to prevent excessive amounts of water from attacking the wall. Any leaks letting water in at the top of the wall should be located and repaired. This won't stop the problem in its tracks, but it will slow it down alot.

    Some people will also seal masonry surfaces. There is a big controversy about this. Some see it as worthwhile, and others will tell you brick and stone walls have to be able to 'breath'. And when you apply sealant there is a risk that you will trap some moisture INSIDE the wall that may otherwise drain out. You can do the research to decide if it's worth it for yourself. But the main things are if you go that route you need to pick a sealant with high permiability so water from within can still drain out. And you will also have to maintain it regularly.

    2) The other thing that can damage old brick is modern mortar with too high of a compressive strength. Not all masons have extensive experience with century old homes. Some of them will want to do their standard mortar mix with some lime and a rather high amount of portland cement without bothering to test what the actual original mix is. Often it's because many of the current generation just aren't familiar with the older building practices and older mortar mixes. This can hurt you in a couple ways. Older mortars were better at absorbing and shedding water from the structure because of their lime content, but newer ones are not. If you have older brick that is soft and porous and newer mortar with OPC, water that gets on the wall and soaks in can be forced INTO the cracks, crevices, and pores in the brick, which is then damaged by the freeze/thaw cycle. During settlement and movement of the structure, Lime based mortars will give before soft older brick. If the mortar is too hard for the brick, the bricks crack before the mortar wears away. So when getting homes that are approaching 100-plus years old repointed, there has to be some clear communication with the mason about his process for determining the proper mortar mix. Doesn't hurt to look specifically for guys who have lots of experience working on old structures.

    That being said, all masonry surfaces wear and deteriorate over time. When bricks are visibly deteriorating quickly, you should look for water or moisture problems. But minor wear and tear will happen no matter what, and the usual fix is to have a mason pull out cracked or broken bricks and replace them.

    When mortar deteriorates and crumbles, that means it is doing its job. All you need to do is replace it with comparable mortar. None of this automatically means that the wall is not structurally sound anymore. And it is inevitable as time passes.
    Last edited by eman; 09-18-2013 at 01:23 PM.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Posts
    370

    Default Re: disintergrating brick?

    Eman has it correct.
    Item # 2 is most likely the most important one being it was stated that repoint had been completed.

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