Tuckpoint....our 140 yr old house needs help!

mary_lu_gwApril 11, 2008

I have cross posted this on the home repair forum as well. But thought perhaps someone on this forum might have had a similar experience and could give me some insight(help)!

Our brick home is 140 yrs old and has some issues. On 2 of the corners several brick have cracked as well as mortar needs repair/replacing. That means some brick will need to be replaced as well as some mortar repair.

I talked with someone tonight who will be coming over tomorrow to give an estimate. However, from what he said, he suggests grinding out all courses and repointing all. Does this seem right? I thought, especially on "old" buildings that is was recommended that only to fix what needed fixing and to not work on other areas. Or do I have it wrong?

Our home is not on the historical registry, but would be eligible. In fact we are considering applying for a historical tax credit toward repairs. From what I read on their web site, they recommend only repairing what needs repairing.

Does anyone have any insights or suggestions?


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Below is something that may give you some more info.

There may be other publications in this series that deal with brick, too. Scroll to bottom of page and click on Presevation Briefs for a complete list.

You are correct in thinking that less is more when doing repairs on old buildings and it's a rare tradesman who really knows how to handle them.

I own a wood framed building so I've no opinion, but I know from doing repairs on my chimney that the type of mortar and the style of the application are crucial to a good job.



Here is a link that might be useful: USPS Preservation Brief dealing with repair/repointing of historic brickwork

    Bookmark   April 11, 2008 at 1:27AM
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I agree with the above post. Please don't let anyone grind the mortar - & if a mason suggested it, I would look for someone else more in tune to the needs of old buildings. I live in a historic district & the rule of thumb is: if you need to grind the old mortar to remove it, it doesn't need removing.

Across the alley from me is brick wall that is a perfect example of how horrible it looks. The City caught the mason doing it & made him stop, but the damage was irreversible. I'll get a photo tomorrow when it's daylight.

You should also be cognizant of the proper type of mortar to be used & I believe that too is covered in the above pamphlet.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2008 at 2:27AM
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housekeeping and antiquesilver...thank you for replying. What both of you have said reinforces what I thought. I also read the info in the link you gave housekeeping, and it sounds like I am on the right track.

However, we live in a small town in a rural area of the state. Have not been having much luck finding anyone who does this type of work. Have sent off a few emails to companies that I could find on the web in our state, but not sure if they would consider our home due to distance. Also not sure if we could afford them! Will see if I get responses from them.

Does anyone know of someone or a company who does this in the area of southern/southwestern Wisconsin?

    Bookmark   April 11, 2008 at 2:44AM
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I googled "historic masonry southwest Wisconsin" and came up with this document. I don't know where you are, but it would be a starting point for making calls.
Then there was this one, too.

Do that search, and see what you find.

I absolutely agree to get someone to do your work who knows old brick and mortar. The masons who only work with new will most likely mess your house up.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2008 at 6:06AM
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Now this isn't exactly in your neighborhood but not too far away and they may be able to help you. The Chicago Historic Bungalow association has a nice web page. If you go to the Products and Vendors area they have a small list of tuckpointers. The nice thing about them is they all have experience with historic buildings so should be sensitive to your issues.

I've gotten other vendors through their website and forum recommendations and they've always been right on.

Here is a link that might be useful: Chicago Historic Bungalow Association

    Bookmark   April 11, 2008 at 9:26AM
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Mary Lu,
Here are the pictures I promised:

An addition was taken down & rebuilt. If this wasn't bad enough, the owner had the mason grind & repoint the adjoining wall, shown here.

A closeup Another house where the wall was ground & repointed. Not obvious much, is it? Thankfully, they didn't destroy the face brick.
    Bookmark   April 11, 2008 at 7:28PM
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If you check with the Chicago Bungalow site, you'll see recommendations for Crafton. Call Jack there and see if he can offer you recommendations. We've used Jack for work before and our masonry looks great. I'm meeting with him tomorrow morning for another project re our front porch. I'll ask him if he has recommendations in southwest WI. Any chance you can narrow down your location?

And the photos that antiquesilver posted are common sights around Chicago...unfortunately.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2008 at 8:29PM
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Thanks all of you for your input, suggestions and offers of help! Really appreciate it!

antiquesilver...those pictures look terrible! oh the poor homeowners!

kec01...that would be great if you would think to ask if Jack had any recommendations! I have been in touch with someone named Bryan with Viking Building Restoration in Janesville. We missed each other today, but he is calling again on Monday. He is willing to drive over and inspect our home and write a proposal for the work. We live about 2 hours west of Madison.

Here are a couple of pictures. I didn't get any of the areas that need repair as it really started to rain hard again and I didn't want to wreck my new camera in the rain. But they will give you an idea of our home and the bricks used. It was getting dark, and as I said, it started raining so please excuse the quality of the photos. The close ups are taken in the area between the single window on the side and the bay window area.

We will be re-roofing the house this summer and repairing the roof on the bay window as well.


    Bookmark   April 11, 2008 at 10:07PM
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Neat house. I'm looking forward to more pictures when it stops raining!

    Bookmark   April 12, 2008 at 1:38AM
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Marylu, No recommendations from Crafton other than to contact your local historical preservation group to see who they refer you to. I also had another idea...contact Taliesen in Spring Green and see if they can point you to someone. Your house is beautiful! Good luck.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2008 at 11:37AM
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I suggest you ask at your local historical society for some names of restoration-minded tradespeople (and you mentioned that you might be able to get a tax break on the repair, so that must mean your are in an historic district, so they will know of good workers). It may take a while to get the right person, but unless the house is in imminent danger (and many old houses tolerate some degree of poor repair for many years, without long run.

You might also ask some of the same techincal questions at both of these historic house boards:

www.historichomeworks.com and the oldhouse web link below.

(If there are publications about brick-work for sale at the historichomeworks site, you might consider purchasing them. I have John Leeke's other publications on window and trim repair and they are excellent. Since I have no brickwork, I can't recall if he's also written about that.)

Both of these discussion boards have helpful and brick-knowledgable members who share their expertise, readily. I hope you can get some more help with your building which is very nice.


Here is a link that might be useful: Old House Web pre-1900 house board

    Bookmark   April 13, 2008 at 1:57AM
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Don't give up! You may find a mason who is easy to talk with and sympathetic - and is willing to learn.
Assemble the information you have on mortar and old brick, so you can show a mason who's interested that the knowledge is out there, including people willing to advise.

I am remembering when the contractors I work with , and me too, didn't know a lot about old houses. We just admired them and liked working on them. We had to do lots of research on every job. Now we're seen as the local experts!
Today we know we need to keep reading and learning.

Your house is charming. Thanks for the photographs

    Bookmark   April 13, 2008 at 8:54PM
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Thanks everyone for your input! Really appreciate it.

Molly...I checked out your link to the other forum and found some interesting info. Will continue to check in there as well. Thanks for pointing me in that direction.

I do not believe we are in a historic district exactly, but from what I have read about the Wisconsin Historical Tax Credit is that your house need only be considered "eligible" to be registered as a historical site to be able to apply for the tax credit. As our home is documented as far as when built/by who and is discussed in literature concerning local history, I do not think it would be a problem having it determined as "eligible". In fact the PO had the papers to register it and gave them to us. However we decided not to pursue having it registered with the Historical Society for various reasons. However, our community considers it historical and we are included on local tours as a historical site.

Over the weekend I have continued researching and have found a few more companies to check with. Will be doing that tomorrow. Will let keep you posted on the outcomes.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2008 at 10:56PM
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Marylu, you've gotten some great advice and I hope you find someone who will make the repairs correctly.

I'm also trying to find out how best to get our chimney's repointed in our 1885 farmhouse. They are not in dire straits yet, but it's going to have to be done soon. I live in a small rural area where finding historically correct tradsmen is rare, so what I've been doing is researching how to repoint/repair old brickwork. Then I'll ask around to see if someone is willing to work and learn with me. So far what I've found is it is critical to get the morter softness right, which I think comes from the amount of lime. If it is too hard the morter will eventually distroy the brick. Also finding the right color of sand is important to matching the color. I saw a This Old House episode about this and I think there was a company that you could send a sample of your mortar and then they create a recipe that matches it which can be used by your tradesman. I don't know how much that would cost.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2008 at 10:17AM
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Here's a company that does the analysis:


and another article on historic brickwork:

    Bookmark   April 14, 2008 at 10:29AM
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VA Limeworks in Lynchburg VA is very highly recommended in my area (Richmond VA). My neighbor is in the process of having old stucco repaired & skimmed as well as a lot of brickwork rebuilt & she bought all of her lime based mortar & stucco from them. Transport is the biggest problem.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2008 at 1:23AM
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And that particular bit of brickwork needs repointing because why? We have an old brick house with some crumbling mortar issues (and even some missing brick issues), but our mason has been working his way around the house only repointing what is missing or loose. The only stuff he ground out was some horrendous amateur repointing done by a previous owner that was really ugly and didn't match. This mason understands old bricks and goes to great trouble to match the original mortar, to the extent that it is really hard to tell what's original and what's not. He also found antique bricks to match the missing ones. Unfortunately for you, he's in Australia and not likely to be in your area for the forseeable future. But this is the kind of guy you want to look around for.
(Antiquesilver, that's hideous! Whoever did that should be roasted slowly over a fire made by burning garbage.)
Just an aside- "tuckpointing" is a very specialised type of pointing, and a style your house does not need or already have. Personally I think tuckpointing is ugly and don't understand why the Victorians liked it, but tastes obviously differ....

    Bookmark   April 15, 2008 at 11:29AM
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I am hopeful. I have made appointments with 2 different historical restoration companies to come and view our home and write proposals. Keeping my fingers crossed.

"And that particular bit of brickwork needs repointing because why?"
The area shown in the pictures above is in good condition compared to some of the other areas. There is deterioration as well as cracks. We do not want to let it deteriorate any more than it already has.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2008 at 11:47PM
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Hi Marylu, I know you said there are crumbling bits, but my point is that your original estimator proposes to grind out this perfectly OK mortaring and replace it. By all means fix the bits that need fixing, but as the old saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it :-) Sounds to me like the first guy sees a chance to make a buck out of you :-(
Good luck in finding a good mason!

    Bookmark   April 16, 2008 at 6:13AM
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In a seminar I took years ago, the mason said that on a specific job they found the sand to match the existing mortar was what was at their feet, literally. The mason used what was immediately available, and knowing his trade, mixed up the mortar accordingly.
Your sand probably didn't come by train, maybe by wagon from a local site, maybe from the creek nearby, or even your yard.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2008 at 5:27PM
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Hi Mary Lu!
We own a 100+ year old red brick bungalow in Beloit. We also need mortar work. I found out that the contractors in our area use a more modern mix, which is not good. The original mortar was hand fired using a kiln. I am very interested in what you have decided and if you found someone with adequate knowledge and experience to help you. Please email me at maryahansen@hotmail.com

Best Wishes!

    Bookmark   March 16, 2011 at 2:08PM
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Just make absolutely sure anyone working on the brick does NOT use modern high strength mortar.

There is a good chance you have old lime mortar, not Portland cement mortar.

If the mortar is stronger than the brick, guess what breaks?

Mortar should ALWAYS be weaker than the brick.
You WANT the mortar to fail first, allowing easy repairs.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2011 at 4:32PM
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Very odd to resurrect a three-year-old thread and ask to be emailed. Why not just ask the OP to post an update?


    Bookmark   March 17, 2011 at 12:55PM
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Update....we did have several individuals out to see our house and give estimates/suggestions. So far we have not done any actual work. All that saw the house agreed that it needs doing, but is not an emergency situation that we need to rush into. Currently we are thinking of doing it ourselves. We did find someone who has done a lot of historical work of this kind, but he is not from our area. He did come though to see the house one afternoon and offered (for a price) to help us try to match the mortar and give us some pointers on how to do it. He has more than enough work in his own area without traveling a distance to do ours. He loves old houses and demonstrated that by traveling some distance to see our home and give us ideas. It was actually almost funny to see/hear him exclaim over some of the bricks as well as some of the brick work.

So....that's my update. Wish I could say that it was completed and done right!

    Bookmark   March 17, 2011 at 9:01PM
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Once you determine the correct mortar mix it is not that hard, just slow and time consuming.

Any loose mortar needs to be removed back to solid mortar, but if it needs grinding out it is NOT loose.

A plugging chisel may be needed to break up loose but larger pieces for removal.

Using a large mortar bag (think pastry bag on steroids) and some tuck pointing trowels to pack and smooth the mortar, the a jointer for final shaping if required.

It takes practice to apply the mortar, tool it, and NOT get it smeared all over the place.

I have used a hawk with a ground down edge to pack the joints sometime instead of a mortar bag.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 10:47AM
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Hey brick, the more I read your advice, the more my curiosity burns. I'm going to start a thread "how do you know what you know" and I really hope you contribute.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 1:12PM
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"Hey brick, the more I read your advice, the more my curiosity burns. I'm going to start a thread "how do you know what you know" and I really hope you contribute."

I have been renovating and restoring houses for over 35 years.

My 'side business' is purchasing older houses that need work, then fixing them up for sale at a profit.

I shy away from badly damaged houses now, but used to be willing to try almost anything.

Some of the coolest repairs have been on Federal period town houses and buildings in Alexandria, VA.

You think long and hard before tearing into buildings that have stood since the 1730s.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 2:52PM
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