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Old 11-22-2011, 08:18 AM   #1
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Brick repair


We have sections of brick in / on our house that are crumbling. In some areas there is a constant fall of red brick dust. At some point, someone tried painting some of them with Drylock-type paint, but that just "puffs" up and when you pop it, dust pours out.

Is there anything I can do to repair / seal the bricks? An epoxy or resin that will soak in and harden things up? The dust has caused some problems in the attic, and it's an unreal mess in the basement.

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Old 11-22-2011, 09:25 AM   #2
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Brick repair


Is the brickwork getting damp?

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Old 11-22-2011, 09:35 AM   #3
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Well, some of it is in the basement, which is somewhat damp all the time, but in the summer is very damp even with a large vent fan running. Our basement has 9 foot ceilings, 18 inch thick stone walls, and is built into a hill, so the front half is only two feet or so above ground, but the back is almost completely exposed, so it's a full walk out. It's about 55 degrees year round, so in the summer it's pretty heavy down there just from the difference in temperature. The vent fan helps a lot though.

Some of it is on the outside of the house, so it's just wet from weather.

There is old water damage in the attic, and some of the bricks are cracked. While working on re-wiring, I found a lot of brick dust in the vermiculite, and it was very heavy and damp, though the vermiculite was dry. It appears that the dust is absorbing moisture but can't dry out. We vacuumed up all of the brick dust and "contaminated" vermiculite, and the lath under it was actually wet to the touch. We're planning on insulating, but I don't want to put insulation next to bricks that are doing this. I can put a heater on them to really dry them out if there is something that will harden it up.

It's weird because in the basement there are bricks that are falling apart just sitting there, right next to bricks that are completely sound, even though they are also damaged.
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Old 11-22-2011, 10:43 AM   #4
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Brick repair


If you find and solve the moisture problem the puffing and breaking bricks will be solved also. Painting bricks that have water infiltration is only going to make the problem worse as it seals the water in the bricks. They never get a chance to dry out.
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Old 11-22-2011, 12:11 PM   #5
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Brick repair


Well, in the basement, that would necessitate a dehumidifier or three running non-stop for most of the year. That's just not possible financially.

In the attic, it's just the air in the attic so I don't know how I would fix that. And outside of course, well, I can't do anything about the outside...

I'll post pictures tomorrow, I get home after dark, so I can't take any tonight.
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Old 11-22-2011, 12:13 PM   #6
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Brick repair


Quote:
Originally Posted by joed View Post
If you find and solve the moisture problem the puffing and breaking bricks will be solved also. Painting bricks that have water infiltration is only going to make the problem worse as it seals the water in the bricks. They never get a chance to dry out.
If the bricks were dried out before painting would it help? Of course, I'd only be painting the front surface but would it stop the crumbling if a vapor-permeable paint was used?

There is not any water in the basement (as in no water running down the walls, puddling, etc), just very wet air.
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Old 11-22-2011, 12:15 PM   #7
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Brick repair


Sounds like the whole place is ready for tuck-pointing. Sealing the joints isn't the answer.
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Old 11-22-2011, 01:07 PM   #8
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Brick repair


I just got a quote for re-pointing the bad section on the back of the house. The price is reasonable, but I'm concerned about his plan to use Type S mortar. Everything I've been reading about it (and I've been looking into re-pointing areas myself for a while) and all of the research I have done into it says that you can't use an overly "hard" mortar or it will eventually do even more damage to the bricks.

I asked him if he gets the current mortar analyzed, and he said no, he uses Type S.

Am I being overly concerned?
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Old 11-22-2011, 01:33 PM   #9
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Brick repair


It's quite a common mistake made by builders to use a stronger mortar than the existing, the idea being that it will last longer.
However, especially with a softer brick,this can cause damage to the bricks in time.
If the original is lime mortar, then lime mortar should be used for the pointing.
Mortar joints are intended to be a sacrifical item to be replaced maybe twice a century. This way the bricks can last for hundreds of years.
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Old 11-22-2011, 01:53 PM   #10
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Brick repair


Well, my bricks are pretty badly damaged in a number of areas, and those areas have all been patched before... so I'm going to hazard a guess that the previous patch work was done with the wrong stuff, which caused more problems...

The areas of the house that are in good shape are in excellent shape. The areas that have been patched and re-patched are still bad.

The house was built in 1873, so I would think it was lime mortar. I'm thinking K or N would make more sense?
http://www.mc2-ice.com/support/estre...nry/mortar.htm
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Old 11-22-2011, 02:00 PM   #11
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Lime mortar should not contain any portland cement for this kind of work, as even a small amount will affect it's breathing qualities.
Something like a 3/1 sharp sand/ 3.5 NHL lime should be used, but the exact mix needs to be decided by a site visit.
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Old 11-22-2011, 02:12 PM   #12
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Brick repair


I just remembered I have pictures from a few years ago when we bought it.

You can see the white patch on the side where it was repointed with God-know-what. And between the middle two windows you can just make out the crack that was patched with what looks like driveway sealant. The white patch is over a chimney.


See the light patch in the middle of the windows and door? Those are damaged bricks. The dark patch in the middle of the light patch is the area with pretty bad mortar damage. That "line" of damage tracks a chimney. The house does not have exterior or interior chimneys, it has three cast iron pipes that are inside the walls between the plaster and the outside course of bricks. Except for where the pipes are, the house is three courses of bricks thick. Only the back one is currently used (the other two were cut off and roofed over), and has the exhaust from the boiler and water tank going through it. (yes, I know that is against every code on the planet, but it's fine for now.)


This side of the house gets the most weather. All storms pretty much move in on that side, but it is in the best shape by far. It also has the remains of a chimney in it - between the windows that are covered by the tree and the second. The side chimneys only went to the first floor, the back one went to the basement.
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Old 11-22-2011, 02:34 PM   #13
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Brick repair


Nice looking old brick house. You need a good bricklayer to re-point and work on it. The idea of solid brick walls is that they absorb the rainwater evenly, but are thick enough to keep it from the interior. Heat from inside helps dry them out. The moisture is able to escape through the lime mortar joints. When cement is used the moisture gets trapped and starts to spall the brickwork.
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Old 11-22-2011, 02:41 PM   #14
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First, can I suggest we understand the nature of the beast.
Bricks are made from clay. Not all clays are the same, mixed in with the clay are all types of salts and minerals, similarly, all sands used in the mortars are not the same, again sands near a beach for example are full of salt.

When clay is fired in a kiln, it changes properties permanently and becomes hard, the clay technically cannot revert to its former plastic state. The degree of firing and temperature determines how hard the brick becomes. There are poorly fired bricks called "dough boys" which are terra-cotta coloured and extremely hard bricks which have had manganese added called dark manganese bricks. These represent the two extremes. All bricks are porous, the lighter the colour, the more porous and hygroscopic (absorb moisture) they become. Early bricks tended to be under fired.

When mortar is mixed, it too becomes hard. It too is porous and hygroscopic.
Simple science is at work in a brick wall. Sources of dampness like water around foundations, water from rain against the wall, or even damp air, start the process of hygroscopic osmosis. The virgin bricks absorb this moisture from the source, and continue to absorb water till a balance of water content matches the water source externally to the brick or the brick becomes saturated. When the surface dries out, water is pumped (drawn) from the source, through the brick and out through the surface. Osmosis means the salt in high concentrations in the brick and mortar, dissolves in the moisture to equalise the concentration, and is subsequently carried to the brick surface.

As the water evaporates, the salt is left behind, just below the surface and on the surface. (Thatís the white coating you see). Salt crystals form, and clump together and grow in size. This growing force is enough to spall the surface of the brick, hence the brick dust. The process continues forever till there's hardly any brick left while there is a source of water. (See older buildings and how many bricks are hollowed out.)

The key is to stop the water rising into the brick. Hence you need a damp-proof course or moisture barrier near the base of the wall and in two courses just above ground level and weep holes to let excess water out. Rain and dampness are on the outside of the surface and have a limited effect, compared to foundation water, because the pumping cycle is ground, up through brick to air, not the other way round, unless the ground bricks dry out and cycle reverses.

Another source, especially in basements is water bearing soil against the brick wall. This is more severe as the water is drawn from the outside directly through the brick and spalling on the inside surface. You need to tank the outside surface, by a waterproof membrane or bituminized tar layer, and provide drainage pipes at the base of scoria backfill.

The whole plan of attack, is to stop water getting into the brick. It may pay to call in a waterproofing expert, to see what needs to be done. The advice may not cost much, but the prevention measures will. It's an expense you have to make, because nothing else will stop the spalling cycle.

To assist you, here is a good description of different mortars in the following link that you should use to patch up the joints. (Note this is cosmetic and doesn't solve the problem for more than a few years.)

www.abcbricksales.com.au/howtomortar.pdf or www.concrete.net.au/publications/pdf/mortarmixes1.pdf

Cheers, hope you weren't bored to death, from Joe in Oz
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Old 11-22-2011, 03:25 PM   #15
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Brick repair


Nope, not bored... however...

1 - "water bearing soil against the brick wall" there is no place on the house where the ground touches the brick. The basement of the house is 18 inch thick stone.

2 - "See older buildings and how many bricks are hollowed out." I have many hollow bricks, and many that are crumbling. They tend to not be the same ones.

3 - "Hence you need a damp-proof course or moisture barrier near the base of the wall and in two courses just above ground level and weep holes to let excess water out." I have no idea how this would be accomplished. The bricks are directly on the stone foundation - to put in something damp proof I'd have to remove all the bricks, put the layer down, then put the bricks back, all the way around the house, then drill the weep holes. But the only space I could drill to would be through all three courses of brick to the cavity between the brick and the lath. (ok, evidently I do know how it would be accomplished, but I'm not going to do it!)

4 - "That’s the white coating you see" That white stuff is only in one area of the house, where a repair was done. If salts were an issue from the original construction, wouldn't it be everywhere?

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