Brick by Brick

Brick is one of the most sought-after home siding materials on the market today. As an American staple, brick was traditionally used on government buildings, large homes, and prisons as it is known as a strong and durable material. So why is it that those who have a brick skirt around their house, have such bad deterioration of the brick cap that sits on top of the skirt?

The Composition of Mortar

Mortar is a composition of Portland cement, sand, and water. The mixture of these products together creates a slurry mix that acts as a strong bonding material for bricks, stone, and other masonry. The mortar goes in between the bricks and particularly on the bricks that make up the sill cap of the skirt; the mortar is pushed between the bricks because the mortar joint is vertical instead of horizontal. This makes the sill significantly weaker than the brick wall. Also, mortar allows water to penetrate through it which is supposed to weep behind the brick and in between the framed wall and the brick.

What Happens When Water Hits the Sill

When water hits the brick sill, it is immediately directed off of the brick via the 5-degree pitch. The water follows the line of the brick down the face, but wicks back along the bottom of the brick causing a breakdown of the mortar joint directly under the sill, weakening the weakest point on the wall. Also, the mortar joints are soaking up moisture. When this moisture freezes, it causes the face of the bricks to pop off and decay. This process is called spalling and is more common with clay bricks that any other masonry brick. However, the decaying affect of the constant water deteriorates a brick sill exceptionally fast and also affects the integrity of the wall below it.

The Solution

Any brick or stone skirting around a building should have a concrete cap. Read more about concrete here. The concrete caps come is 2 to 6-foot lengths that can easily be applied to the top of the brick skirt with mortar. The concrete caps are precast meaning that they are poured into a mold and are specifically designed to have 5 degrees of pitch and a small groove on the bottom of the ledge to prevent the water from wicking along the bottom of the cap and getting to the wall. Removing the brick ledge and adding a concrete cap ledge will add significant life to the skirting on a home.

Brick is designed to be laid in a specific way and creating a ledge out of brick was not part of the original design of this material. While it does have a certain curb appeal when in good condition, this type of installation can cause some major problems down the road and should be avoided by any new home builders.

Brick mortar is the glue that holds bricks together. As simple of a concept as it is, knowing how to lay bricks correctly is a different story and can be difficult to complete if not done the correct way. There are a couple of things you need to know before you go out to purchase some mortar, which include the different types of mortar that are available, the type of mortar you need and whether or not you are able to successfully complete the job.

Purchasing Brick Mortar

There are different kinds of brick mortar and if you purchase the wrong kind, you could end up with a visual disaster on your hands. The standard mortar used for walls usually contains a mixture of cement, hydrated lime, and sand that has been washed. The type of sand that is used has a considerable impact on the consistency and color of the final product. The more lime that is in mortar, the weaker the mixture becomes. Most people automatically think they need the highest possible strength in brick mortar; in actuality, the lime component has healing properties that could help in the long run. If cracks manifest, the hydrated lime creates crystals that seal the damage. Read also my articles about why brick cracks around windows and doorsways and also how to repair minor cracks.

If purchasing brick mortar for a patio, it should not have the same strength that the mortar for a brick wall would. The patio is open to constant weather changes and needs to have mortar that is strong enough to withstand the frequent temperature and humidity ranges.

Brick Mortar Application Preparation

When preparing to apply the brick mortar, make sure that the bricks are clean and damp; this ensures the mortar is as strong as possible. If applied to dry bricks, the mortar will attempt to draw out moisture from the ground and will have a difficult time maintaining its strength. Avoid smearing the mortar on the brick face; if you make any mistakes, clean as much as you can that day. A person needs to wait 30 days before cleaning the mortar off with an acidic solution.

In order to clean the brick, an acid solution needs to be applied. The acid solution is toxic and contains one part muriatic acid to ten parts water. Wear rubber gloves and goggles to protect yourself and apply to the dampened brick, let fizzle, scrub after ten minutes, then rinse thoroughly. If the mortar is still there, repeat until all is gone.
Using brick mortar is a task that anyone can do, but there are precautions that need to be taken to ensure safety. If a person does not feel they can safely complete the job, then this may be best for a professional to complete.