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Brick Restoration in DC: History and Value in the Old Bricks

May 1, 2014 6:26:00 AM Christina Wilson

Many of the old brick homes in Washington DC and Old Town Alexandria, VA, were built before the 1920’s. Owners of these historic buildings want to maintain their authentic value. When the old structures need maintenance or repair, owners look for restoration specialists who can preserve the structural integrity using traditional methods and materials. Here's why...

Tuckpointing – sometimes called “repointing” – describes the restoration of historic brick buildings by removing mortar between masonry joints and replacing it with lime-based mortar. This term applies to brick restoration on both building facades and chimneys. When done correctly, tuckpointing will ensure the structural integrity, longevity, and value of buildings constructed of brick during the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries.

Why Do You Have to Use Lime Mortar?

These historic DC brick buildings were built with load-bearing masonry walls consisting only of coal-fired clay bricks and lime mortar. They contain no iron, steel, or any other reinforcing structural support inside their walls. The historic bricks were fired at lower temps and are relatively soft. They can expand and contract as they absorb and release moisture. The original lime mortar was also softer and provided a cushion for that movement. Mortar periodically has to be replaced. When historic DC brick homes are tuckpointed using cement based mortar, the more rigid and less porous material traps water inside the bricks preventing expansion. The resulting pressure slowly crumbles the constrained bricks.

What If the Bricks Are Damaged or Missing?

Most restoration projects on historic buildings involves damaged bricks. Old bricks can be damaged in various ways. Some are simply broken from impacts. Others are disintegrating from improper maintenance – common is using the wrong typed of mortar when repointing. And soft mortar has the potential to require more frequent re-pointing, so the damage may be the result of neglect. Building restoration specialists, regardless of the cause of the deterioration, can repair bricks and brick structures. There are two ways to preserve the historical authenticity:

  • Replace the brick with original bricks on site, salvaged historical bricks, or matching bricks. There are companies that specialize in providing historical bricks for replacement or construction.
  • Repair the bricks. Masonry contractors that specialize in historical brick restoration will tuckpoint the brick facades with appropriate mortar that is compatible with the building material. and achieves the visual appearance of the original. The mortar can be customized to match the color and texture of the original to achieve the desired visual appearance.

When selecting masonry contractors in Washington DC, make sure that they are specialists in residential exterior tuckpointing and have expertise in the correct application of traditional materials and methods. If a historic building is not tuckpointed properly, it will eventually show signs of structural damage and interior water penetration.


 

Renaissance Development, a leader in brick restoration and historic preservation, specializes in the restoration of a historic brick building’s mortar joints using traditional methods (tuckpointing) and materials. Contact us for a free site visit and project quote.

 

Categories: Repair

 

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