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Old 11-25-2012, 12:25 PM   #1
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Yesterday we had our house repointed in areas where the mortar had softened and eroded. We are really worried that the contractor did a bad job.

The house was built in 1915 in Northampton, MA (western part of the state). We are pretty sure it is a lime mortar as it has turned to dust in a bunch of areas and because of its age.

Our first concern was the weather. Though it was in the higher 30’s, it dropped below freezing last night and will continue to do so the next 5 nights. We asked about the cold before and the contractor had said he would do it when it was warm enough. Yesterday we asked again and he said he put an additive in the mortar to help with cold weather. Is there anything that would do that?

Then we noticed he wasn’t wetting the brick. We asked about that and he said it wasn’t necessary. Then, really worried we got on the web. Every site said to wet the brick. Some said to wet the brick the day before as well, and to wet it for the next three days.

With our confidence totally gone at this point, we started worrying that he isn’t even using the right mortar. He had said he worked on old brick construction for the college nearby. We will get him to tell us the exact mix he used, but is there any way to know if it is okay? It is still soft 24hrs later… we can put your finger nail in it ever slightly, and was able to break of a little mortar at the end of joint where it was shallow and not well attached.


We are wondering whether we should we pay him? If this work will all fall apart due to lack of water, freezing and maybe the improper mortar we don’t want to pay him and I guess we will try to take him to court.

He quoted $1200 for the repointing. He has seemed to have missed quite a few smaller spots that we assumed he would do, but what he did do looks good. He worked 6 hours yesterday at most. He probably did about 6 square meters. He did leave scratches on the surface of the brick in several areas as he used some kind of grinder. They are only 2mm wide, by about 10 inches long. That could be worse.

ANY ADVICE will be most appreciated.

Also we have areas of the house that was repaired before we bought it., They are quite ugly…..mortar all over the surface of the brick or with thick joints spilling over the edge of the brick. There is another small section that has spalled. Any way to clean the sloppy areas? Should we rush to get the spall area bricks removed or at least repointed? Of course that mortar is really hard. It is the area right above the foundation to about 5 feet above where the spall has occurred.

THANKYOU.

We did get two references for this contractor, and he was working on a local business’ chimney. His site says he does restoration work. He has years of experience. Next time though we will be more careful….read everything on the web and ask lots more questions! OUR POOR HOUSE...she is still beautiful if a bit abused.

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Old 11-25-2012, 01:10 PM   #2
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repointing


A mason will be along soon enough----I can't help much except to say that brick mortar takes several days to harden up---

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Old 11-25-2012, 01:47 PM   #3
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Try the Brick Industry Association technical notes.

http://www.gobrick.com/TechnicalNote...4/Default.aspx
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Old 11-25-2012, 05:00 PM   #4
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If your house is built with lime mortar the repointing should also be done in lime. The brickwork should be wetted prior to repointing.
It must also be protected from the frost or sun.
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Old 11-25-2012, 08:48 PM   #5
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What does this have to do with you doing it yourself?
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Old 11-26-2012, 06:11 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tscarborough View Post
What does this have to do with you doing it yourself?
They will have to sue the contractor them selves for improper repair and are looking for advice to use as evidence.

If the contractor used Lime mortar, it cannot be allowed to freeze for about two weeks. I am not familiar with an additive for lime mortar in freezing weather besides tarps and a heater.

You say he accidently cut into some of the brick? That is a real no no when tuck pointing. It does happen, but not with someone who has been doing this for a while.

Why didn't you have the problem area's addressed at the same time?

I would have a sit down with the contractor and get the product he used and why. He should address your concerns unless you are just being anal.
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Old 11-26-2012, 11:36 PM   #7
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Thanks for all your answers. We were looking for advice to know what to do with the contractor right now - whether we should let him finish, and whether we should pay him in full if he has done the work incorrectly.

The contractor never did come back to wet the brick/mortar so it went onto totally dry brick and stayed that way.

IS THIS DEFINITELY THE ABSOLUTELY WRONG WAY TO DO IT??? From what I can tell it is.

So I don't think we are being anal. From what we read on the internet and what those who have responded said, he did three very wrong things: freezing weather, grinding marks on the brick surface, and not wetting the bricks AT ALL.

We hope he used the right mortar. He said he would match it, but we are worried now that he didn't. We just sent an email asking him what he used and the name of the additive he said would help with freezing.

We will try to fix everything in the spring ourselves. We were hesitant to do the job ourselves because we weren't sure what mortar mix to use and how to clean the brick.

Re. why we didn't address the spall, the contractor didn't suggest we do it. It is only after reading lots on the internet the last few days that we have a better understanding of spalling. We had talked to the contractor re. cleaning the brick of earlier bad repairs. He had said he would try cleaning a small section first for us to see. But when he came to work this past weekend, he said he would do that after he repointed.

From what I read about cleaning cement off bricks, looks like everything is bad for the brick. Definite no on muriatic acid. There are some products I started to read about, but not sure about those.

No one responded to the softer sandblasting with wallnut shell. Is that for real???? Getting old cement off the brick is not high priority for us is it is mostly aesthetic. If however some of those areas are damaging the brick, we want to repair it.

Should we remove the spalled brick? There is one larger area about 6 square feet, and then an occasional brick here and there. Do we chisel the mortar out? It is quite hard.

Also I noticed some moss growing on some of the mortar. Is that bad?

Thanks again. Soon to be DIY once it is warm again.
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Old 11-27-2012, 08:22 AM   #8
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Lime mortar does not set into a hard substance the same way masonry cement sets. It has to react with carbon dioxide in the air to harden which takes a lot longer than Portland based masonry cement which reacts with water and sets up usually within a day.

The wetting process helps to prevent a flash set which happens when the lime mortar (or any mortar really) drys out before the chemical reaction has time to complete. Flash set is suspected when the surface of the mortar turns flaky and white and you can rub it off with your finger. Frozen mortar that isn't set up will often do the same thing. If you can easily remove the pointed joints with your finger after a week of above freezing weather, then they didn't set up properly.
I cannot say positively that your contractor screwed up, but if he is a decent contractor, he will be able to provide information regarding the products he is using and the limitations regarding weather that will affect the work. Don't be afraid to communicate your concerns in a level headed way. The internet is a pretty big rumor mill and trying to learn a skill like masonry from the internet is like trying to learn how to cook from a recipe on the back of a box.

Since you say the mortar is really hard in some area's of spalling, I would suggest that this mortar is Portland based masonry cement. Spalling should be addressed normally and is a pain because you have to replace the brick. Not a cheap option usually.

There are some cleaners that are designed for historic purposes, but they are not a slam dunk in terms of effectiveness. Removing old stains is usually an exercise in futility.

Moss is bad for the brick surface because is holds moisture in the brick which can lead to spalling. It should be washed off and there are some products on the market that can help prevent it's return without damaging the brick.

Using abrasive blasting regardless of the softness of the media will logically effect the brick. If the process is aggressive enough to remove the stains, it is aggressive enough to remove some of the brick surface. Although it happens a lot, abrasive cleaning of brick is not recommended by anyone who wants to preserve the integrity of the brick.

You have a lot of questions, and I hope you can regain confidence in your contractor because as I mentioned before, masonry preservation is not your garden variety DIY project.
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Old 11-27-2012, 09:59 AM   #9
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And using a portland based mortar to tuckpoint can cause spalling, FYI.
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Old 11-28-2012, 10:52 PM   #10
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Thanks again for all those answers.

We asked our contractor what he used for mortar and this was his reply:

" i use a type N mortar and add additional lime, sand and color to match your type of exsisting mortar. I also added an excelerant into the mortar which keeps it from freezing this is typical in concrete and mortar. With the process i used to repoint your areas was done in two steps and With the consistancy of the mortar applied it was wet enough to dampen the brick. I dont mind any and all questions that you may have. Just feel confident that my job is done correctly and I know the repointing is going to be just fine and last without question. Hope i answered all of your questions"

Does this sound like the right mortar mix?

The mortar seems hard to the touch, no flaking, but it has been below freezing at night since it was repointed 5 days ago. Day time temps have ranged, but have been mostly above freezing. No blankets or heaters were put on the mortar. The contractor never rinsed the brick either but wants to return during the weekend

"to wash the areas that i repointed to remove any dust and residule mortar."

It already looks pretty clean is wetting it so much later in freezing weather helpful?

Hope these are my last questions.
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Old 11-28-2012, 10:53 PM   #11
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Thanks again for all those answers. It is very helpful.

We asked our contractor what he used for mortar and this was his reply:

" i use a type N mortar and add additional lime, sand and color to match your type of exsisting mortar. I also added an excelerant into the mortar which keeps it from freezing this is typical in concrete and mortar. With the process i used to repoint your areas was done in two steps and With the consistancy of the mortar applied it was wet enough to dampen the brick. I dont mind any and all questions that you may have. Just feel confident that my job is done correctly and I know the repointing is going to be just fine and last without question. Hope i answered all of your questions"

Does this sound like the right mortar mix?

The mortar seems hard to the touch, no flaking, but it has been below freezing at night since it was repointed 5 days ago. Day time temps have ranged, but have been mostly above freezing. No blankets or heaters were put on the mortar. The contractor never rinsed the brick either but wants to return during the weekend

"to wash the areas that i repointed to remove any dust and residule mortar."

It already looks pretty clean is wetting it so much later in freezing weather helpful?
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Old 11-28-2012, 10:59 PM   #12
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Type N is a strength designation, it does not denote portland or lime mortar, although my guess would be it is a portland mortar. So long as it is done at 40 degrees or higher, and achieves initial set (probably 5-8 hours with a high lime portland mortar at around 40 degrees) before freezing it is OK. If it IS a lime mortar then it will require a much longer time (days) before it can withstand freezing.
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Old 11-28-2012, 11:40 PM   #13
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His reply sounds reasonable and the proof is in the pudding. Since it isn't flaking or falling off, it is probably sound.

As a mason, I push the freezing weather stopping point every year and this year is no exception. The industry standard is forty degrees and I have personally worked in twenty degree weather more than just a few times. I have left mortar freeze overnite on newly laid brick and tooled joints on the next morning when they thaw out without a problem. This is not recommended and I am sure some will call me a hack for this practice, but it works and I have plenty of examples to show anyone interested.

I wonder why you think you have Lime mortar originally. Tests can be completed on your mortar, but it is relatively expensive.

If the spalling area's of the wall appear to have a harder mortar than other area's, then it is possible that a repair was done in the past and a mortar was applied that was stronger than the brick. This will cause the spalling you see. Poor quality brick will also cause spalling. An area of the wall that gets excessive moisture will spall as well.

So many possibilities, so little time...

The contractor you are using sounds like a straight up guy so I would give him the benefit of the doubt, but it is possible he has no idea what mortar type you have on your home. There are fifth generation mason who have no idea what Lime mortar is and why it is important to match it in some circumstances. You will have to decide how far you want to chase this rabbit into the weeds.
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Old 11-28-2012, 11:46 PM   #14
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Testing for lime mortar is cheap: Take a small chip and drop it into a glass of distilled vinegar. If it bubbles and foams it is lime, if it doesn't or barely does so it is portland.
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Old 11-28-2012, 11:52 PM   #15
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And Dakzaag, the reason you are able to get away with that is not because you are a hack, it is because you know what you are doing. I would never tell a DIY'er to do anything like that, but it can be done with no problems if you know what you are doing.

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