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  1. #1
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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
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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
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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
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    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 12:23 PM.

  6. #6
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    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.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: disintergrating brick?

    TC: I am going through a similiar problem with my "all brick" house, so have a lot of sympathy for you. And I think you have a legitimate concern about the cost, but my current situaton is that it is very, very difficult to get "professional help".

    In my situation, I suspect my gutters are undersized and have installation issues, causing the back wall (walk-out basement, main level and "cape cod" 2nd floor) visible water issues.

    Finding competent help is dificult and frustrating. First, most contractors don't want to do repair work (not yours, not their mistakes and not somebody's mistakes) - - they want to do "remove and replace" -- a full roof, new gutters, new whatever -- they typically laugh when my wife is pleading with "recomended" contractors to come out. The business economics drive this - - bigger money, predictable work schedule, etc. and less experience is required, paricularly in the east/west coasts & Texas areas where inexpensive latino workers are abundant.

    When someone comes out, it is very hit or miss - they can diagnos obvious problems but are typically stumped by or guessing at latent problems or where there may be multiple causes - also, don't get fooled by the confident and well spoken talker.

    Like buying a car, you have to know the product or service almost as well as the seller -- why ? so you can detect the BS, incorrect information, or even outright deception; but also help the professional to daignos a problem you're lived with longer than he/she sees in 15 minutes. Maybe it's a little sneaky, but ask technical questions that you know only have 1 right answer --- in my quest for a good gutter person, they all did the "hose water in the downspout test" and some knew about down angle to the end downsprouts, but all didn't have a clue obout gutter sizing methodolgy (roof surface area, roof angle, charted peak rain fall for the area, etc.). Again, the mainstream contractors wee interested in full ripout & install, not figure out why my existing gutters were working or not.

    I haven't started with searching for a mason for my brick wall water intrusion problem . . . again, tons of companies wanting to do landscaping, patio and improvement projects -- repairs ? not so eager, and as eman asked, do they know YOUR type of mortar ? (mine is 1964, so maybe less challenging).

    In my view, there are no sure ways of finding good help - - I (my wife, mostly) found them in a variety of ways: the review sites for a few starter names (but review sites are gamed), walking your neighborhood and noticing quality work being done to someone's house. The 2 most useful to me are: if you're working with a "designer", they usually have a rodolex of contractors whom they'll pass along as part of their engagement, and neighborhood email groups (my old Silicon Valley neighhood has a 500-person group list) while the geezers in my new home state of No. Virginia don't want you disturbing them while they're walking their dogs around the Mitt Romney for Prez signs.

    I wish you sucess in tackling the problem.

  8. #8
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    Jun 2009
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    254

    Default Re: disintergrating brick?

    Manero
    You should be able to fing good Masons for repointing or brick replacement at the following places.
    Call and check with Virginia Lime Works for masons that purchase materials in your area.
    Also in No Virginia call Cathedral Stone in Hanover MD. 410-782-9150.
    www.cathedralstone.com
    Also chech with the local Historical Society for masons.

  9. #9
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    Apr 2012
    Location
    Northern Virginia
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    Default Re: disintergrating brick?

    Clarence, thank you . . . I'll give it a try.
    I'll pass on another story . . .
    I have a concrete slab balcony, no pole support, about 30 x 4.5, original to the house in 1964. Problem is that it has no expansion joints so 6 hairline (full depth) cracks developed. Not a single contractor wanted to come out to look at it; my resourceful wife went through a trade association to locate a commercial mason company. The owner asked how she found the firm as they don't do residential work, but as an accomodation, took on the repair but the the diagnosis done through just looking at pictures we provided. Even he couldn't afford a trip out. I thought we educated ourselves enough to determine that there was only 1 way to repair, and they proposed it after the owner looked at the pictures. Without expansion joints and given the width, it would only be a matter of time the cracks (now bonded by epoxy) would open up again.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jul 2013
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    22

    Default Re: disintergrating brick?

    Quote Originally Posted by t_manero View Post
    TC: I am going through a similiar problem with my "all brick" house, so have a lot of sympathy for you. And I think you have a legitimate concern about the cost, but my current situaton is that it is very, very difficult to get "professional help".

    In my situation, I suspect my gutters are undersized and have installation issues, causing the back wall (walk-out basement, main level and "cape cod" 2nd floor) visible water issues.

    Finding competent help is dificult and frustrating. First, most contractors don't want to do repair work (not yours, not their mistakes and not somebody's mistakes) - - they want to do "remove and replace" -- a full roof, new gutters, new whatever -- they typically laugh when my wife is pleading with "recomended" contractors to come out. The business economics drive this - - bigger money, predictable work schedule, etc. and less experience is required, paricularly in the east/west coasts & Texas areas where inexpensive latino workers are abundant.

    When someone comes out, it is very hit or miss - they can diagnos obvious problems but are typically stumped by or guessing at latent problems or where there may be multiple causes - also, don't get fooled by the confident and well spoken talker.

    Like buying a car, you have to know the product or service almost as well as the seller -- why ? so you can detect the BS, incorrect information, or even outright deception; but also help the professional to daignos a problem you're lived with longer than he/she sees in 15 minutes. Maybe it's a little sneaky, but ask technical questions that you know only have 1 right answer --- in my quest for a good gutter person, they all did the "hose water in the downspout test" and some knew about down angle to the end downsprouts, but all didn't have a clue obout gutter sizing methodolgy (roof surface area, roof angle, charted peak rain fall for the area, etc.). Again, the mainstream contractors wee interested in full ripout & install, not figure out why my existing gutters were working or not.

    I haven't started with searching for a mason for my brick wall water intrusion problem . . . again, tons of companies wanting to do landscaping, patio and improvement projects -- repairs ? not so eager, and as eman asked, do they know YOUR type of mortar ? (mine is 1964, so maybe less challenging).

    In my view, there are no sure ways of finding good help - - I (my wife, mostly) found them in a variety of ways: the review sites for a few starter names (but review sites are gamed), walking your neighborhood and noticing quality work being done to someone's house. The 2 most useful to me are: if you're working with a "designer", they usually have a rodolex of contractors whom they'll pass along as part of their engagement, and neighborhood email groups (my old Silicon Valley neighhood has a 500-person group list) while the geezers in my new home state of No. Virginia don't want you disturbing them while they're walking their dogs around the Mitt Romney for Prez signs.

    I wish you sucess in tackling the problem.
    The flip side to this that you may not understand: Any good contractor knows the rule is 'Last one who touched it, owns it.' People often want what they have repaired because it is cheaper. But from the contractor's point of view, if he makes a repair to a structure or system that is improperly designed, near the end of service life, or in some other way generally not up to the task at hand, it is now HIS problem. If there are more problems later, you won't call the last guy who worked on it before him. You will call him. And he will have to chip away at his already low profit on the repair job job by burning gas to come back out, climb up on the ladder, and spend time tweaking things. And if he argues that he shouldn't have to come back out, he's now the bad guy who won't stand behind his work. Gutters are a perfect example. You may look at sagging gutters with leaky, corroded seams and think why not nail the fasteners back in, adjust them, and put some caulk in the seams. A gutter contractor looks at it and knows they're so far gone a repair job will eventually fail, and it would be more cost effective in the long run to replace them.

    The good ones know that if they install new stuff to their own standards of workmanship the chance of call-backs is lower. And even if the call backs still come, they know they're only loosing money taking responsibility for their own mistakes and not for sub par work that was done by the guy who was in there before them. This is why sometimes the guy who agrees to patch it however you tell him to isn't necessarily doing you a favor, and the guy who says he isn't interested unless you will pay him to completely re-do it his way really is.
    Last edited by eman; 09-20-2013 at 04:09 PM.

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