HomeownerHelpful Info: Home Improvement

Masonry – Brick & Stone

Brick & Stone Masonry Educational Content

Bricks. Bricks are the most common masonry material and are easy to find. They come in a wide variety of colors and types. The bricks used for residential construction are typically made of clay. Changes in the clay’s mineral content and the kiln temperature can cause color variations. Differences in manufacturing processes can contribute to variations in color, too. Over time, even bricks made by the same brickyard may not match exactly.

Stone. Stone and brick are equal in durability. Stone is usually more expensive to buy and install. The choice between stone and brick largely comes down to aesthetic preferences. Stonework is highly customizable because stone is available in so many types and shapes. You can often source stone from a regional quarry, which adds some local character to your house.
Popular types of stone include granite, sandstone, limestone, and marble.

There are two main categories of stone masonry: rubble masonry and ashlar masonry. Each category has several subtypes. Rubble masonry uses stones of all different shapes and sizes. These stones are referred to as undressed or roughly dressed stones. Since the stones for rubble masonry vary so much in shape and size, these projects have a more rustic look. Ashlar masonry uses stones that are cut into uniform shapes. These stones are referred to as being finely dressed. They give a structure a more polished, refined look. Because the stones are evenly sized, there are many ways they can be arranged to get the look you want.

Mortar. Mortar is the glue that holds brick, block, and stone together. It is made of a mixture of sand, water, and a binder, like cement. Different mortar types are used for different applications. Mortar color can also vary a lot. A skilled repair mason will be able to closely match existing mortar on a repair job. In most cases, mortar can last for over 25 years before it needs to be replaced. There are, however, factors that can cause mortar to lose strength prematurely. Mortar erodes more quickly than normal if it wasn’t prepared properly to begin with. Extreme temperature changes and acidic rain can also cause erosion. Once mortar starts to crack, moisture enters easily and can cause further damage. It’s important to address cracked or failing mortar as soon as you notice the problem.

Brick and stone do not rust or rot, and they don’t need to be sealed or painted. This makes them both very low maintenance compared to other building materials. Stone and brick also do a great job of blocking outside noise. They are both resistant to pests. When they’re combined with good insulation, stone and brick are very energy efficient. This helps you save money on energy costs over time. Masonry is usually the more expensive option up front, but its long-term benefits and durability make it well worth the price.

Brick and stone are popular exterior cladding options. These materials are also good for patios, mailboxes, chimneys, and many other structures. Stone and brick give you a lot of versatility and design flexibility. This makes for endless opportunities to customize the look of any masonry project.

New houses built from solid brick or stone are quite rare. This is mostly due to the cost. Masonry materials are expensive to produce and source. It’s also becoming more difficult to find skilled masons. As a result, homebuilders turn to brick or stone veneer. Masonry veneer gives you the look of a solid brick or stone house without the astronomical cost. Masonry veneer is installed much like a traditional siding product. It offers great insulation and energy efficiency.

Crack repairs. A crack repaired by a skilled mason will usually be invisible to the untrained eye. However, it is important to remember that all cracks have a cause. If you have a crack repaired without fixing the underlying cause, the crack will probably return and cause more damage.

Tuck-pointing. Mortar sometimes needs to be restored. Tuck-pointing is the process of grinding down and removing old or compromised mortar. The mason will then use new mortar to fill the joints. The old mortar must be fully removed first. Face tuck-pointing, or adding a layer of new mortar over the bad mortar, is not a viable long-term solution.

Expansion joints. Foundation settling can cause cracks at a structure’s weak points, which are often under the corners of windows. To prevent these cracks, masons cut and caulk vertical expansion joints in the brick at strategic locations. This process divides the walls into sections that can settle independently.

Fireplaces and chimneys. Depending on how well they were originally built, some chimneys and fireplaces need work after ten to twenty years. Common issues include leaning chimneys, deteriorating brick or mortar, and failing flashing. All these problems can result in leaks. To keep rain and small animals out, all chimneys should be topped with a chimney cap. Chimney caps are typically made of copper or steel mesh with a cap on the top. They come in different styles to match your home. Firebox safety problems include loose bricks, cracked mortar, and poor draw. These issues can be diagnosed and repaired by masons. Bricks are designed to withstand very high temperatures. Even so, moisture, heat, and chemicals can cause mortar to erode or bricks to crack. Repairing existing brick and mortar in the firebox is important for the fireplace to be safe to use. The look of the fireplace can be changed with the installation of new brick, if that is your preference.

Arches and angle irons. Masonry arches and spans can sag and crack over time if they weren’t originally installed with enough support. The problem can sometimes be repaired by hydraulically raising the sagging part. Once the sagging section has been raised, the angle iron should be bolted to the header. In some cases, the brick or stonework may need to be disassembled and completely rebuilt.

Ideally, brick- and stonework is completed in pleasant, temperate weather. Extreme cold or heat can cause weak mortar if the mason prepares the materials incorrectly.

Masonry requires special equipment, materials, knowledge, and skills. Working with masonry can also involve dangerous heights. If your masonry needs inspection, be sure to call a professional. Experienced masons have the tools and knowledge to complete the job properly and safely.