Brick chimneys, concrete basements, cement driveways, and stone porches add curb appeal to homes and boost resale value. But they also require regular maintenance to stay beautiful and functional for decades.
When Charleston Masonry is neglected, damage can cause safety hazards and detract from property values. Rather than treating the symptom, it’s important to address the root issue to prevent costly and inconvenient repairs.
Cracked bricks can be an indicator of serious structural issues. They are only sometimes the result of foundation settlement but can also be caused by soil issues, so it is important to inspect your brickwork regularly. While cracks can be unsightly, the good news is that they are usually easy to repair. However, it is important to understand that simply filling in the cracks won’t solve the underlying problem. The best thing you can do to prevent the cracks from getting worse is to have them repaired as soon as you notice them.
Hairline and stair-step cracks are common and not necessarily something to worry about, especially if they haven’t become too deep or wide. This is often the result of thermal expansion and contraction, which causes the brick to expand and contract at different rates. However, if the cracks are deeper and wider, they could be a sign of serious foundation problems.
It is also important to check for spider web cracks, which radiate from a central point. These are also typically a result of thermal expansion and contraction but can be caused by settling or other structural issues with your home.
If you notice these types of cracks, you should have a masonry contractor check the situation and determine the cause of the cracks. This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed immediately, as it can lead to structural instability and potential flooding.
A masonry repair contractor should be able to resolve these issues by removing the affected bricks, stabilizing the foundation, and installing push piers if necessary. In addition, they can resurface your brick walls and apply a breathable sealant to help prevent future moisture damage.
Some products are available for repairing these cracks, including mortar repair caulk and masonry fillers. These are available in most hardware stores and can be used to fill the cracks. It is important to ensure that any excess mortar is cleaned from the surrounding bricks and is misted with water daily for three days to allow the repair to cure slowly. It is also a good idea to tarp the area to protect it from rain.
Mortar joints are the critical element that holds brick and stone masonry together. If mortar cracks or crumbles, it must be chiseled out and new mortar troweled in, a process known as repointing. This is a very important job that, when done poorly, will compromise the integrity and appearance of your masonry. A professional mason is the best choice for this type of work because they have the tools and experience to do it correctly without damaging the brick.
Cracks in mortar are normal, but they should be repaired as soon as they become visible. Leaving them unattended will worsen the problem, and it is often impossible to restore the original integrity of the masonry structure when damage becomes severe.
The primary causes of cracked mortar are exposure to adverse weather conditions, expansion and contraction due to changes in temperature, and general material deterioration over time. These factors are compounded when water seeps into the core of the masonry and freezes, expands, and thaws again in cycles that cause abrasion and corrosion.
Although mortar is designed to be weaker structurally than the masonry to which it bonds, mortar joints tend to crack in response to movement in a wall, as well as from natural expansion and contraction of the masonry units themselves. These cracks can be filled with a masonry patch, but only after the old damaged material is removed and the area is cleaned thoroughly. New mortar cannot be used to cover up the existing damage because it will only exacerbate the problems.
The first step is to scrape the old mortar from the horizontal (bed) joints. This can be done with a hand hammer and cold chisel or a utility chisel. Be sure to protect yourself with a dust mask and safety goggles, and use caution when using an angle grinder, which can damage the faces of bricks. Once the bed joint mortar is removed, it is necessary to clean out the vertical (head) joints as well. Again, it is best to use a utility chisel to avoid damaging the bricks. After cleaning the head joints, it is necessary to mist the wall with a hose until it is thoroughly damp and starts to drip. This is a crucial step because dry brick will suck the moisture out of the new mortar, preventing it from curing properly.
Although brick is a strong and durable building material, it is not indestructible. Over time, any masonry structure will deteriorate and eventually require masonry repair work. The timeline for masonry repairs varies depending on the severity of the issue. Still, regularly scheduled inspections and timely repair of small issues help preserve the structural integrity and aesthetic appeal of masonry buildings.
The best way to prevent masonry deterioration is through proper maintenance and regular inspections from a professional contractor. This will help to identify a small problem before it becomes an expensive and time-consuming problem to resolve. Regular masonry maintenance includes cleaning, tuckpointing, and repairing joints and cracks in masonry walls and facades.
Historic masonry buildings are prone to different problems than newer buildings, so it is important to hire a professional who has extensive experience working with landmark masonry materials and systems. Thoughtfully designed masonry repair and restoration projects can help to extend the life of historic masonry buildings for future generations.
Differential movement between masonry materials is a common cause of cracking. For example, concrete masonry tends to shrink when exposed to moisture, and clay brick masonry may expand. This differential movement can lead to the formation of shrinkage and control cracks in masonry walls.
In some cases, these cracks can be repaired with helical bar grouting or with a masonry crack stitching system. While these methods of repairing cracks in brick walls are effective, they should be used with a full structural engineer’s repair specification that addresses the source of wall movement.
Stair-step cracks in the wall in a diagonal pattern indicate more significant structural problems and should be addressed by a structural engineering professional. These cracks can cause serious damage to the building if not addressed quickly.
The difference between repairing and restoring masonry is that masonry repairs are limited to removing damaged mortar and bricks from the face of the structure and filling in any gaps. At the same time, restoration is a more involved process that involves replacing the existing masonry with new materials. This means a restoration project will usually take longer than a repair project, as the original building material must be returned to match the existing structure.
Efflorescence is the crystalline deposit of salts on masonry surfaces such as brick, concrete, sandstone paving, and stucco. This material has a white or gray tint and can look like powder. Efflorescence isn’t dangerous and can be easily cleaned, but it can indicate a moisture problem that needs to be addressed.
Masonry in contact with soil can absorb water-containing soluble salts. Through capillary action, this water rises within the masonry and deposits the salts on or on the surface. This problem is more likely to occur during rainy or winter months when water can more easily penetrate the masonry. It can also be caused by improper protection of masonry materials during construction, which allows moisture to enter the building.
Improper insulation of basement walls can also contribute to the development of efflorescence. This issue must be identified and rectified as soon as possible to prevent damage to the interior of a home and health problems for its inhabitants.
Efflorescence can be prevented by impregnating hydrophobic sealant on all exposed masonry. This will prevent the absorption of moisture that contributes to the development of salt deposits. It’s also a good idea to install capillary breaks, such as polyethylene sheeting between the soil and the building material, to minimize the transfer of water and reduce the potential for the formation of efflorescence.
The simplest method for removing efflorescence is to wash the surface and scrub it with a soft brush. However, only clean water should ensure the masonry is not damaged. Pressurized water can sometimes remove or dissolve the efflorescence, but the masonry must be dried off quickly afterward. Otherwise, the soluble salts will be re-absorbed into the host masonry and can later reappear as more efflorescence.
For more serious cases of efflorescence, muriatic acid can be applied to the masonry. This substance can be purchased from most hardware stores, but it’s important to wear protective clothing, including rubber gloves and a mask when applying it. Baking soda should be used after application to neutralize the acid and avoid further discoloration of the masonry.