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stevekem 10-22-2012 11:22 PM

Mason is adding sand to Lime Mortar Premix

I recently hired a local well known masonry company to do some brick work on an old garage I am fixing up. They are rebuilding the front pier, blocking in an old man door opening and re pointing in areas that need it. The garage is old with soft bricks and uses lime mortar, which the mason brought to my attention. He is using LimeWorks EcoLogic Lime Mortar mix.

The potential problem is he is mixing this mortar mix with sand onsite, when it specifically says to not add anything to mix. It is already premixed at a ratio of NHL 3.5 > 2 1/2 parts sand as listed on bag.

When they started the re pointing, they used grout bags and made the mix very soupy and got it all over the face of the brick where it ran out of joints.

They got 1/3 of the pier rebuilt 2+ days ago and the mortar is still very soft and breaks off very easily.

My questions are:

1) Is it a very bad thing to add sand to this type of mix, or is this common in the trade?

2) Should this type of mortar be hard enough after 2 days to not break off easily if pushed on?

3) Bricks are very porous, but mason says they will clean everything up off face of brick when they done, I should not worry about it as it will come of easily. Is this true?

I paid ALOT of money for this fairly small job because I wanted it done right, but I am getting extremely worried now after seeing how weak the mortar is after 2 days. I understand lime mortar is not Portland and is naturally much weaker, but with him adding sand and the work so far, I wanted to get your guys opinions first before I say anything to the owner.

stevekem 10-23-2012 11:05 AM

Here is video showing how fragile the mortar is. This re pointing area was done 1 week prior to video. Should it be this fragile?

stevekem 10-23-2012 11:11 AM

Here are pictures showing where he laid some brick 3 days ago:

stevekem 10-23-2012 11:36 AM

Any professional advice would be GREATLY appreciated. Mason is supposed to come back today to work again and I have to decide on whether to say anything to him or not about this.

concretepumper 10-23-2012 12:21 PM

No I would not be afraid to say anything by the end of the fist day it should be relatively hard but def. not that soft after a week. If that's how the bag says then that's how to mix it. None of this adding sand bit. Also it's not necessary to splatter the brick up. It only make the job a lot harder when your done

notmrjohn 10-23-2012 12:24 PM

I'm not a mason. Even I can tell that is very sloppy, unprofessional work.

The fact that he mixed in sand, when instructions said not to, is evidence that he doesn't know what he is doing. Did he say why he was adding more? The crumbling mortar has way to much sand in it.

Its common practice to allow a contractor to fix his errors, but I wouldn't trust this guy to carry a hod.

ddawg16 10-23-2012 12:40 PM

I'm assuming he was supplying the material....hence he added sand to stretch out his mix.....

concretemasonry 10-23-2012 02:12 PM

The ASTM proportion for mortar (ASTM C270) do allow a wide range of sand because of the differences in local sands.

For all types of mortar, the volume of sand should be between 2-1/4 and 3 times the total volume of the cementitious materials (cement -any type plus hydrated lime, if any). This applies to Portland Cement Mortar Cement and Masonry Cement. This allows the sand amount to be adjusted, depending on the fineness, particle shape (round, rounded or harsh) and required consistency for the application and masonry products used.

In this project and contractor, I would worry more about the contractor's skill and workmanship.


stevekem 10-23-2012 02:54 PM

Thanks everyone that has replied so far, I really appreciate it.

1) So based on seeing how weak the mortar in the video, is this something that needs taken out and redone?

2) Also, should he be covering these areas for the first few days to allow the mortar to stay hydrated?

stevekem 10-24-2012 12:40 PM

Mason is back out today with his workers and I mentioned to him my dissatisfaction with the quality of work so far. I brought up the points about the mortar being so weak after 1 week, it just crumbles to dust when pushed on. He verified this by running the point of his trowel over mortar joints and it just fell out. He got all PO'd when I told him I talked to the technical director of LimeWorks (where he purchased the mortar) and he said that he does not like being checked up on.

Anyway to make long story short, he says he is going to fix it, but after seeing his workers so far today in attempting to fix it, I am less than convinced. He is not following any of the requirements I have been told (from lime mortar manufacturer) that need to be done when working with lime mortar such as: 1) Pre-wetting the brick prior to pointing 2) Covering the new mortar for the first few days to keep moisture in to cure 3) He is adding 5 gallon bucket of sand per 38.5lb bag of mortar mix that is already mixed at a ratio of 1 part lime / 2.5 parts sand, he insisted this is ok.

My questions are:

1) He has been paid 30% of contract amount so far, do you guys think it is fair to withhold the balance the contract until the job is complete and mortar is somehow verified it is curing properly?

2) How can I "test" the mortar to see if it is curing/cured properly?

3) Should I wet down the mortar every night to keep it moist?

I really appreciate all the advice. Thanks!

stuart45 10-24-2012 03:13 PM

Looks a really rough job to me. He's lucky to get 30% for that 'work'.
Lime pointing shouldn't be a sloppy mix. A good way to finish flush pointing is with a churn brush which allows the joints to breathe better and show the aggregate.

notmrjohn 10-24-2012 05:05 PM

" he does not like being checked up on." Of course no one really likes being checked up on, but that is what you do when you check references. And no one doing honest decent work should get PO'd when work is checked by someone else. If the mortar does not seem to be curing properly to you, it probably isn't. Part of the masons job is to tell you if you need to do anything when he isn't there, such as moisten mortar. If he did not tell you to do so, don't. He will blame problems on your doing so.

Withholding any more payments is wise idea and standard practice is no final payment untill job is done satisfactorily. You are the boss here, you decide if job is done right, you can do all checking you want, you caneven bring in another mason to check work. I think you should tell him and crew to take a hike. ( That getting PO'd at your checking is not a good sign.

stevekem 10-24-2012 05:53 PM

Thanks guys.... Well he finished up for the day today and cleaned up an entire side of garage with some 600 grit cleaner to show me how it would look and it took the sloppy mortar splatter on face of brick off. He also repointed certain areas of walls that had that weak mortar in it. He says he got it all, but I am not so sure yet without checking everywhere.

Even though he admitted to me (in the morning) that he was adding a full 5 gallon bucket of sand to each bag of mortar mix, he changed his story later on in the day and said he only added more sand to the mix used for repointing, not to the mix used for rebuilding the pier. He got the pier done today and it is setting up now.

He pressured another draw out of me today saying I have no proof that it was done wrong and everything is good, so I caved in and made another 30% payment. I will not make any more payments until job is complete now, I can guarantee you that.

At this point, after he cleaned up the messy pointing his workers did, appearance wise it is acceptable to me. My biggest concern is the durability of the mortar itself as I cannot trust his word that he will fix it later if it fails.

How long does lime mortar take to cure? Anyway I can do a little test to it to see if it's curing properly?

jomama45 10-24-2012 10:00 PM


Originally Posted by stuart45 (Post 1037171)
Looks a really rough job to me. He's lucky to get 30% for that 'work'.
Lime pointing shouldn't be a sloppy mix. A good way to finish flush pointing is with a churn brush which allows the joints to breathe better and show the aggregate.

I could add my own opine to the pics & questions posed so far, but I'd rather just refer you to this "brickie" from the other side of the pond, as he's know's his stuff about lime mortar repairs. Make sure to listen to his advice closely..........:thumbsup:

stevekem 10-25-2012 05:41 PM

I'm about to kill the mason, I swear.... Came home today to check things out and there's a pile of portland laying on the ground inside the garage, about 150-200 lbs... There is no reason this should be here on this job unless those numbnut workers are adding it to the mix... He is the one that told me at the beginning (when he bid the job) to not add ANY portland to the lime mortar mix..... This is getting absolutely ridiculous, I paid this guy ALOT of money and I should not have to be babysitting....

So how bad is this guys?

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