CF VICE Construction

Bricks lined up for a construction project

7 Common Masonry Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Due to its timeless charm and unmatched strength, masonry is the popular choice among many homeowners. It comes in a wide range of design options and lasts for a long time. However, some mistakes can damage its structure, and you should avoid them to retain its integrity for as long as possible.

As one of the leading masonry contractors in Anthem, we have discussed the common mistakes homeowners make and how to prevent them to save your efforts, time, and money.

Using Modern Mortar on Older Brickwork

While the basic principles of masonry and brickwork haven’t changed much, this doesn’t mean you can use modern mortar on historic brickwork. Historic mortar consisted of a lime mixture much softer than the ones we use today. 

Most homeowners assume that modern mortar (also known as Portland cement) would be a better choice to fix old bricks because they are sturdier but it ends up ruining them even more. Older bricks were made by firing them at a much lower temperature than today’s processes, so they need traditional lime mortars for refurbishing. The bricks made today are fired at higher temperatures, hence a harder, sturdier mortar solution.

 Brick wall construction is in process

Another major difference between old and modern brick and mortar is the porosity. Older walls are more porous; they breathe, expand and contract when water is absorbed, frozen, and thawed into the bricks. This process makes them more porous but sturdy. So when you replace or repair a part of such a porous wall with modern mortar, which is far less porous, the bricks start to crumble when they expand and contract. This is why many buildings face structural damage, brick spalling, and severe issues.

How to Prevent This

The best way to avoid this issue is to use mortar that matches the era of the brickwork. It can be difficult to detect on your own, so it’s best to hire professionals whenever you need wall repair.

Improper Flashing

Flashing is one of the most common yet effective ways of preserving masonry projects and keeping the bricks intact. Masonry contractors carefully add strips made of tar-like substances into the empty spaces (cracks or holes) in a wall. These strips send the water out of the wall, preventing moisture from seeping in and causing severe damage. However, when you do it by yourself or hire an inexperienced worker, it can result in inadequate or improper flashing.

How to Prevent This

Inadequate flashing occurs when there aren’t two feet of space between the drip or weep holes. If the climate is more humid or rainy, the holes need to be closer. They allow a passage for water to safely go outside the masonry wall instead of absorbing into the walls. If these holes are too small or not in the right place, they are ineffective. Therefore, it’s recommended only to hire experienced masonry contractors because they would know the right distance according to your climate. Moreover, they also know other important aspects of flashing, such as placement, damming, and sealing.

Efflorescence Due to The Absence of Moisture Barrier

Have you ever noticed white stains or spots on brick and mortar walls? This happens due to efflorescence; the process of salt depositing on the bricks and looking like crystals or water droplets. This salt is already present in the bricks; it surfaces due to water or moisture damage.

Efflorescence looks quite unappealing and affects the overall look of the building’s exterior. However, its problems go beyond just being an eyesore. When not fixed, these salt crystals gradually increase in size, causing the bricks to crack and damage the overall structure. The cause behind this issue is moisture seeping into the bricks from rainwater, snow, or other sources. Due to brickwork’s porosity, moisture damage is the worst thing that can happen to it because the bricks start to crumble and crack and affect the building’s structural integrity.

How to Prevent This

While it’s almost impossible to avoid this, you can still minimize it with different repair methods such as brick flashing and caulking. These techniques can stop salt crystals from increasing and help retain the bricks’ stability. Caulking will fill the cracks and holes while the weep or drip holes from flashing prevent efflorescence by allowing water drainage.

Since the bricks are already vulnerable, these repair services require the right knowledge and careful installation to avoid further damage, so refrain from turning it into a DIY project.

 A garden with masonry walls and a bench

Mortar Application Issues

When homeowners do masonry projects themselves, they get too enthusiastic and mix more mortar than needed. When you mix too much mortar, the excess material starts to crumble, and it’s much harder to remove after curing. Using the right balance of brick and mortar and perfect consistency is essential for masonry projects.

How to Prevent This

The only way to prevent this is by making the required amount of mortar and removing the excess product as soon as the project is finished. Since the mortar gets hard after drying so, make sure you remove the excess within a few hours and inspect the work thoroughly to see if you missed something.

Corrosion and Rust

Masonry projects also have steel and metalwork done with them, making them susceptible to corrosion and rust.

Rust is formed when steel comes in contact with water for a prolonged time. This rust then puts pressure on the masonry, causing it to crack. Even if steel is coated with zinc, they are not fully protected from corrosion. Whenever this type of material is exposed to moisture for a long time, it corrodes. You should regularly inspect your masonry for the signs of rust or corrosion to take corrective action before it spreads and causes more damage.

How to Prevent This

One of the most effective ways to avoid this is proper construction. Make sure you ask your repair contractors about their experience and that they understand the importance of proper flashing and other processes.

Experienced professionals mix brick and mortar to a medium consistency, ensuring that the mixture isn’t too dry or wet when applied to the walls to avoid chipping or cracking. After installing the bricks, builders don’t use any other building materials within 2 inches of them, allowing them enough time to dry and shrink to their actual size. Also, ask them to use coated steel supports in the project to minimize moisture penetration and corrosion.

A pool with the paver installation

Inadequate or Poor Maintenance

Masonry is undeniably one of the sturdiest construction materials, but it still needs proper maintenance to stay in good condition and maintain its strength and beauty. From pool areas to chimneys, it’s quite important to take good care of all the masonry exterior around your home to make the most of it.

A block wall

Often, water stands for days beneath the brick walls or near their foundation, damaging the whole structure. It’s important to clean any water to prevent moisture damage. If you feel that the water has made a depression or hole, make sure to fill it with soil, compost, or rocks to level the foundation. This will dry out the base and prevent further damage.

Cleaning the masonry is another crucial factor in maintaining its structural integrity. You can use two methods such as sandblasting or power washing. Sandblasting is for tough surfaces and contains rough substances that can damage the bricks if you use them incorrectly. On the other hand, power washing is safe, and most homeowners attempt it to clean the brick and masonry. However, hiring a professional for these jobs is much wiser because they know which cleaning method will be more appropriate. If you use the wrong solvents or cleansers, it can damage the bricks, and you may end up taking off the bricks instead of the dirt.

DIYing Masonry Projects

If it isn’t clear already, the leading cause of masonry mistakes is when homeowners attempt to do it without prior experience or knowledge. While home improvement projects are fun and cost-effective, some things are better left to professionals.

Even if you’ve had some experience in the past, you wouldn’t be able to identify which mortar will suit which bricks and whether it’s suitable for your climate. Besides that, there are many small elements that have a bigger impact on your home’s structure. One wrong step can cost you a lot more.

A modern home with artificial turf

At CF VICE Construction, we offer a wide range of masonry construction services for residential and commercial projects in Phoenix, Gilbert, Tempe, and surrounding areas. Our services include block fence repair, block wall installation, gate repair and installation, stucco repair, painting, and concrete construction.

We also provide artificial turf and putting green installation to home and business owners who don’t want the hassle of maintaining a real garden. If you want to learn more about our construction services, contact us.

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