Degrading brick mortar is one of the easiest structural issues to spot. Understanding the factors that could be causing the problem takes a little more knowledge. The necessary repairs can often be strictly cosmetic, but sometimes weakened mortar is a symptom that a foundation inspection is needed.
This guide will discuss the factors that cause mortar to deteriorate, outline the repair process, and provide some valuable perspective on why it’s a good idea to consult the professionals before attempting any DIY.
How Mortar Can Fail
Mortar can last up to 30 years before it needs to be repaired. That lifespan can be much shorter if it has to endure suboptimal conditions and care. The most common factors requiring repairs are:
Decay and Deterioration
The passing of time and constant structural stress can cause mortar to break down, which makes it recede, crack, or fall out. Factors like water can also be to blame and cause the problem to worsen significantly. The appearance of cracks means water can find a way in to threaten the deeper structure.
Incorrect Mortar Selection
Failing mortar may be a sign of poor contractor judgment, because it comes in different varieties marked by an M, N, O, or S. These denote the blend levels of lime, sand, and cement in the mix, which affects its strength, with type M mortar being toughest and usually used for foundations.
Weather and Temperature
Front-facing mortar shares the beating your home takes from wind, rain, snow, and even sunshine. Mortar expands in the heat and contracts under cold temperatures, which can be another cause of recession and cracking.
So how can you give your mortar the best chance of standing up to these issues? By carefully following the application and finishing steps for the new layers you’re adding. Remember that some mortar fixes are easier than others, and it never hurts to get a free estimate from the pros.
Five Key Steps for Brick Mortar Repair
Homeowners should explore brick mortar repair as soon as problems are visible. This is even more vital if you’ve noticed the issue on walls directly tied into your foundation. The process breaks down into these steps:
1. Raking and Scraping
There are two mortar joints around a brick: bed joints (horizontal) and head joints (vertical). The repairer must rake and scrape the bed joints first to remove any loose mortar, then repeat the process for the heads. A pro will always take care not to damage the brick.
2. Wash and Wait
Use a hose to mist the face of the wall to get rid of any old mortar flakes. These dried-up little chunks can interfere with the new mortar by sucking the moisture out of it. This prevents proper curing, which is just another term for hardening. Allow 24 hours for the scraped and thoroughly moistened area to dry off.
3. Mix the Mortar
Add water gradually to the mortar and stir until it starts to thicken. The ideal consistency is a thickness that will cling to the trowel without running off. A little more waiting is required until the mix has a film of water on top. You then have a limited time window to get to work, because the longer you leave it, the more of its characteristics the mortar will lose.
4. Get to Work
The mortar is now ready to be applied. Fill the bed joints first with as many passes as necessary before doing the same for the head joints. Next, smooth the mortar to make sure it’s compact and use the trowel to remove any excess from the brick face. Diagonally brush the joints to remove dry flakes and use a damp sponge to remove moister ones. Cover the area with a tarp for 48-72 hours, misting the wall with water each day.
5. Prevention Is Better Than Cure
Handling excess moisture is one of the biggest ways to reduce the need for brick mortar repair. Homeowners have plenty of options to proactively protect their brickwork, ranging from downspout extensions and French drains to basement waterproofing and crawlspace protection.
Brick mortar repair should never be attempted without protective eyewear and tough gloves. It’s a tool-intensive fix that might require a lot of equipment, ranging from chisels and knives to engineer’s hammers and electric grinders. The most important thing in the toolkit is solid experience in doing the job, which is a requirement many homeowners may ignore – then regret.
Common Pitfalls of DIY Mortar Repairs
Repairs you can rely on are the business of professionals. An expert’s experience and skills do more than fix visible issues. They will also look for and address underlying problems. Consider what might go wrong if you tackle the issue alone:
- Brick mortar repair can become a DIY job if the homeowner has tried it enough times, but professionals would advise against risking the stability of your home over a task you’re unsure about.
- The four types of mortar available can’t be picked at random. A lack of understanding about factors like lateral pressure, load bearing, and compressive strength will do your home more harm than good.
- Never assume that cracked mortar can simply be layered over. This can trap water inside the brick and speed up structural instability.
- Bad fixes cause poor color/texture matches between new mortar and existing layers. Few things make a home look shabbier – or deter potential buyers more – than obvious repairs.
It never hurts to call a foundation maintenance expert to assess the need for brick mortar repair. Good teams offer free estimates, which is a win-win for customers who either receive an all-clear or a valuable alert that something worse is underway.
Contact the Foundation Experts With Any Questions
Homeowners who act on the first signs of failing mortar can be sure of saving themselves a lot of trouble and expense. A simple repair will be quick and affordable, and more extensive work always leads to a safer, healthier home.
LUX Foundation Solutions has built a proven and respected team with the skills to handle any brick mortar repair. Contact our office today to speak with an expert.