What Can Be Done to Avoid Damage to Brick Walls?

10/27/21 8:45 AM Christina Wilson

We all know that bricks on a house are beautiful! Not only for their appearance but because they help protect your home from the elements. However, if not cared for regularly, brickwork can be damaged over time by both natural elements and chemical compounds. Let's take a look at some of these harmful elements. 

Water and Drainage Problems


It may seem that water would clean your brick walls rather than harm them; however, whether it's a brick facade, a fence, walkway, or chimney, too much water can damage brickwork over time.

The best way to combat this damage to brick walls is to create drainage to ensure the water runs off and away from the brick. Confirm gutters and downspouts are cleaned and functioning properly to whisk water away from your brick structures.

Ensure the brickwork is sound and water does not accumulate under it and seep into your home or other support structures. Fix drainage problems promptly.


Sealants and Paints


Many owners of brick homes choose to paint their brick walls, fences, and chimneys. While there's nothing wrong with painting brickwork for the look you want, be sure not to use a high-gloss enamel as it will not allow the bricks to breathe naturally. 

When moisture gets trapped in bricks, a deterioration process starts that will usually end with the owner replacing crumbling bricks.

If you're sure you want to paint your brick, use water-based paint so that bricks and mortar can breathe. 

If you are looking for other ways to improve the appearance of your old brick house without painting, consult a brick specialist. There are methods of limewashing, repointing, and other treatments that will enhance the appearance of your brickwork without resorting to painting. 


Pressure Washing


Although it is advisable not to pressure wash your home's brick exterior, you can use a soft wash with warm water at low rather than high pressure. However, there are other safer alternatives for cleaning your brick.


Safe Cleaning Alternatives


Homeowners can purchase environmentally friendly solutions from a commercial supplier for those who wish to DIY. Also, equal parts of vinegar and water work well; a stiff bristle brush (not metal wire) will speed up the process. A thick paste of baking soda added to the troublesome area will also help.


Repointing, Tuckpointing, and Other Mortar and Crumbling Brick Replacements


If a house is more than  25 years old, it is recommended you replace the outer portion of the mortar. This process is known as repointing. Typically, the inside of the mortar is still good, and just the mortar exposed to weather and the elements must be replaced by repointing, tuckpointing, or another pointing process. 

During this process, skilled masons repair or replace damaged bricks with similar bricks bought from salvage. When brick houses are torn down, the bricks are often kept, cleaned, and refurbished for similar projects. 

Repointing is a long, tedious process and not advisable as a DIY project. Unless an experienced mason, the homeowner should always use a professional tuckpointing service to renew and replenish crumbling mortar and replace damaged bricks because these companies have the tools and expertise. Many bricklayers will leave tuckpointing to those with specialized experience. 


Historically Designated Brick Houses 


If you plan to have your brick house repointed and it has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places or is in a National Register historic district, you will want to check with your state historic preservation office before the work starts to learn how to take advantage of tax credits that can help you fund the work.  Such programs may also be available for some locally zoned historic districts. Also, check with your building inspector's office to see what is required. Most will not look kindly on a DIY mortar repair project on a historic house. 


Final Thoughts


Keeping your brick home well-maintained is an effective way to keep it looking beautiful. Whether you use professionals or a safe cleaning DIY method, it is best to take care of any needed maintenance immediately to avoid spending a lot on repairs later. There are professionals with years of experience in brick, masonry, repointing, and drainage experience who can help you.    

Renaissance Development specializes in historic preservation, helping homeowners in the  Washington DC area to maintain, renovate and restore the exteriors of old brick homes to their original beauty and significance. Contact us with questions regarding any home projects or goals you may have.

Categories: Historic Preservation, Water damage, preventive maintenance

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