DIY brick repair?

sycamore_guyNovember 26, 2005

Anyone out there tried doing brick repair? I didn't know much about electrical or plumbing before I started remodeling our old house, but by reading and going slow and asking lots of questions I have done OK without electricuting myself or either burning down or flooding the house. So, can I learn brick repair?

Our front porch has quite a few loose bricks. I think a section of the porch wall needs to be taken down and rebuilt. I don't have much money, so if I can do it myself it would be very helpful, but I don't want to get in over my head.

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If you're talking about repointing work, yes you can DIY...just make sure you use a mortar mix that is softer than the bricks. Lime-based mortar is best for most historic bricks; you can add a touch of Portland Cement for stability but not much. If you're talking about having to completely rebuild a wall, that's probably doable, too, but there's a larger learning curve to completely re-lay brick as opposed to merely repointing what someone else has already laid for you.

Are the bricks falling-out loose? Or is the mortar loose? It may be that the bricks are fairly well bedded into the mortar (you can lose quite a bit of mortar from the front before the brick is actually loose in its place), in which case you can carefully (NO power tools!) scrape/chisel out the loose mortar until you get to sound mortar, then repoint.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2005 at 9:05AM
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I repointed a previous house - it was a real pain to chisel out 100 sq. ft. of wall. Placing the mortar is kind of tricky and can leave the wall looking alot worse than when you started. I recommend matching the colour as best you can, the trying some in an inconspicuous spot. Let it dry to see if it matches. When putting the mortar in - I found that using a pastry bag was a good solution. Doesn't have to be a real pastry bag. Gets the mortar in without making a mess on the front of the bricks.

You will find that you want to use a circular saw with a masonry blade instead of a chisel after about 20 sq. ft.!

    Bookmark   November 28, 2005 at 10:29AM
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Thanks GinaM and beds.

The bricks are falling out loose in some places. They are held in place by their own weight. I can take the stone cap of the porch wall that goes up to waist height and pick up the top row of bricks. I suspect I could disassemble the wall down several rows with no problem, so it would be rebuilding that section and pointing the other sections. I think I am over my head.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2005 at 6:53PM
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sycamoreguy, how old is your house? If you have a contractor come in to do the brickwork, make sure they know about historic mortar mixes and that they will mix one compatible with what's already there. A relatively simple analysis will help determine the volume of lime to sand, fines, and Portland (if there is any).

And I will respectfully disagree with beds...I'd still recommend NOT using power tools--it's far too easy to damage the brick if you're not very careful. Yes, removing the loose mortar is a pain when done by hand, but IMHO it's well worth it.

One thing to note with the contractors, if you get them, or do watch when doing it yourself: one of the reason repointed walls often look so poor when finished is because the mortar is laid to be flush with the bricks. Well, historic bricks are soft and often have gotten slightly rounded edges, so if you repoint flush you're getting a much larger joint than was originally there. I think most folks repoint flush and then tool the joint to remove excess mortar.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2005 at 9:13AM
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Gina, I actually agree with you! Sawing into the brick -even just once or twice - will make the job look very shabby. But after you've been out there with your worn, cold chisel for a couple of hours, pondering a better way to do the task, the circular saw will come to mind!

If you have to rebuild the wall, I tend to agree that you need to get someone in. Masonry is something that is easy to do yourself, but hard to do correctly. Making sure each course is level, uniformity of mortar, no excess mortar, keeping the bricks clean.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2005 at 9:28AM
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Wow, this is very wife & I are negotiating to buy an 1852 two-story farmhouse, which is unique by its basement-to-roof all-brick construction. As part of our research to get a handle on what we'll conceivably have to spend for fixing up, we met w/ a brick-restoration specialist, who educated us that 100% repointing is in order. (It's thankfully a nice, straight building, with a few "issues" here & there like a fallen jack arch over a window, etc.) Their quote to do this work to the 1600 SF house is about $82,000, plus another 10 grand to rent a skylift for their use! To get all 5 fireplaces working again for "occasional" use (with stainless-steel sleeve liner), that's another 20 grand +. I did the math & with 2-4 masons on-site, that's about $2400 per day, day after day, for two months! Wish I got paid like that. While the masonry's certainly a dominant aspect of the house, and there's no doubt these guys are qualified & experienced, it's hard not to wonder if I'm trying to be gouged just 'cause it's an Historic Landmark. That number makes me actually start to ask myself (and you helpful folks too) --- heck, is this something I can learn to do too? I've been doing the research (importance of using softer, lime mortar, etc.).......what do you think? Thanks!

    Bookmark   April 25, 2006 at 3:05AM
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Tedc and others - I bit the bullet and paid to have it done. It was pricey, although not in the same league as what you are describing!!! I am glad I went with the pros. They did a great job. They matched the morter almost perfectly and even cut some bricks down to size to match some missing ones. They cut out some that had been damaged on the front and turned them around to get a more attractive face. All in all, I never could have done a job half as good. However, if I was facing over $100,000 in expenses I think I might give it a try. I might also get a second quote.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2006 at 5:24PM
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I did a lot of masonry stuff in my old Philly row home. Do a little research into mortar mixes. ANy house 100 years or older has lime mortar, which you SHOULD try to match. That said, if it isan inconspicuous or non-structural wall you can use type N mortar which has a relatively high lime content and is available at Home Depot. Its not rocket science, just mix the mortar, and re-build the loose portions of the wall. Spread on the mortar like butter, shove it into gaps, trowel the edges clean... you've got a new wall!

    Bookmark   May 10, 2006 at 2:22PM
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If you have gaps in your mortar , you want to fix those to prevent animals and insects from getting inside, and also from water from running into the wall, because behind this is all wood and you don't want it to rot. So what you can do is get some mortar mix from your home center, which is pretty easy to mix up- you just follow the directions. It's just powder, you add some water to it. and if you have a different colored mortar other than your standard gray, you'll want to go and find the cement color which you can add to it and tint it so it will match, and no one will be able to tell that you did this.

The next thing you want to do after you've gotten this mixed up properly is to wet the area because you always want to apply the patch onto moistened existing mortar. And once you've done that, I would recommend using rubber gloves but I don't have any on me today but I've never minded getting dirty. And nothing beats just applying this with your fingertips. You're going to just work really hard to work it in there and it looks like a terrible mess but it does clean up well. And once you've gotten it in there, smooth it out with your fingers and you're done.

Here is a link that might be useful: Brick Mortar Repair

    Bookmark   May 15, 2006 at 5:53PM
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erockybalboa wrote:

"So what you can do is get some mortar mix from your home center"

erockybalboa does not know what he/she is talking about! Do not use regular mortar from a home center as it is almost certainly does not have enough (or any) lime in it to be compatible with old bricks. I guarantee if you follow erockybalboa's advice, you will end up ruining your existing bricks and they will spall and/or crack in a couple of years or less.

Ideally, not only do you want to match the lime content of the existing mortar, you also want to match the type of sand. A proper analysis with a microscope is the best way to go. If it's just a few holes to patch, then it's probably not such a big deal, but the lime content of the mortar certainly is. The previous owner of my house had an idiot contractor do some pointing using modern portland cement-based mortar and ruined a chimney. After only 3 years, the bricks were spalled and cracked so badly that it had to be demolished. Of course, said idiot contractor had since gone bankrupt and changed name.


    Bookmark   May 16, 2006 at 9:29AM
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Lime mortar definitely. VERY little or NO Portland Cement or home center mortar. On newer historic bricks, which aren't quite as soft, you can use a stronger mortar.

The bottom line is that the mortar absolutely must be softer than the bricks it beds. It's the sacrificial material.

I do see, Sycamore Guy, that you went ahead and had this done--hopefully the job went well and you're happy with the results. Just figured I'd second Paul's caution to use lime for any others who might be in the same boat.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2006 at 8:44AM
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Hi,Not sure where you are located.I have been repointing
most all my life.Tuckpointing/Repointing Brick Restoration By Brick Replacement.Brick Cleaning sealing acid washing
Every Project is somewhat different according to all elements involved and then always the same in some sort of way.If you really and Truly would like to have free Counsel on your home,I would be more than happy to oblige.
My Company is of Indiana.I have offered
free Tuckpointing lessons on occasion.My cell number is on my site.From what I just read I would never Charge such Astronomically Ultra High Prices for a single Residence.

Here is a link that might be useful: A1

    Bookmark   February 2, 2011 at 1:51AM
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