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Historic brick homes provide a welcome feeling of warmth and charm against winter’s chilly backdrop - but they are not immune to the cold, freezing rain, ice and snow. In fact, historic brick homes need a bit more attention than some other buildings in order to deal with D.C.’s long winters and plunging temperatures. Identifying, repairing, and preventing damage will ensure your home remains structurally and aesthetically sound all year ‘round.

How to Identify Winter-Damaged Brick

With proper maintenance, historic brick is pretty tough. However, many homeowners don’t understand the importance of regular inspections and repairing minor imperfections. Once brick or mortar develops a crack, water will continue infiltrating the small opening, gradually widening it. As it widens, it allows more water in, and soon enough, you have a significant problem.

If your historic brick is crumbling or flaking, you likely have a condition called spalling. It is caused by water damage from cracked, missing or crumbling mortar subjected to winter’s freeze-thaw cycle.

What Is the Freeze-Thaw Cycle?

The freeze-thaw cycle occurs when a period of warmth is plunged into freezing temperatures. Since this happens multiple times throughout the winter, it’s an oft-repeated weather-induced event. Spalling, which is caused by the freeze-thaw cycle, is one of the most destructive types of water damage to old brick.

During warmer periods, you may notice snowmelt runoff from the roof. If the gutters and drainage don’t allow the water to move freely away from the house, the water will travel down the walls. You may experience sleet or freezing rain if the weather warms enough. Snow itself is a form of water too, of course, and it is often whipped against your exterior historic brick. When any of this water encounters those mortar or brick imperfections, it works its way into the brick.

When the temperatures dip below freezing, the water doesn’t have a chance to evaporate. Instead, it freezes, and when water freezes, it expands. The force of the expansion will force the face of the brick away, and it will crack, peel, crumble and even pop off in chunks. This is known as spalling, and once it happens, the old brick can quickly deteriorate.

How Does Spalling Affect My Historic Brick?

While spalling detracts from the beauty of your home, its weakened condition can be much more serious to the structure. Your historic brick architecture likely doesn’t have an internal structure like modern homes—the brick itself supports your home’s walls. If critical walls are damaged, your home’s structure could be at risk. Chimneys are especially prone to spalling damage, although any part of the exterior could be affected.

Can I Prevent Spalling On My Historic Brick Home?

Regular inspections and maintenance can help prevent winter damage and spalling. Always check your gutters and downspouts to ensure water is moving away from your home. Large icicle formations can indicate roof problems and should be looked at by a roofing specialist. Inspect your brick and mortar annually for cracks, gaps and overall soundness, making sure to check behind shrubs and along the foundation. Contact a historic brick specialist to complete tuckpointing repairs if you find any damage.

What Should I Do if I Have Winter Damage or Spalling Brick?

A historic brick expert can assess the damage to your bricks, and arrange tuckpointing repairs by a skilled team that uses traditional tuckpointing materials such as lime-based mortar. Because old brick is incompatible with modern materials, the traditional methods are necessary in order to prevent further damage. Regular tuckpointing is the best way to ensure your  beautiful historic brick home will be able to withstand whatever Mother Nature sends your way.

We can help you mitigate, prevent, or repair winter weather damage to your historic brick home. Call Renaissance Development to arrange an appointment for a complimentary consultation.  We are experts in traditional tuckpointing methods for historic brick homes in DC.Download Guide to Renovating Your Historic DC Home

Post by Christina Wilson
Feb 1, 2024 8:30:00 AM