Brick maintenance and repair for historic and landmark structures

Quick fix?
Repointing, repair, rebuilding, and replacement of brick masonry on a historic or landmark structure can be time-consuming, noisy, dust-producing work, with scaffolding covering the building façade for some time. It can be tempting to look for a fast, easy solution. Once the investigation survey report identifies problem sites, Band-Aid repairs such as application of water-repellant coatings might seem to take care of the problem. While relatively breathable, these coatings can trap enough moisture within the brick to cause spalling. Once failures occur as a result of a quick fix, what seemed like a cost-saving repair may turn out to be the more expensive approach in the long run. If the building is designed for mortar, it is best to stick with mortar.

When moisture does find its way behind brick masonry, it can work its way out through mortar joints. Properly designed brick masonry walls get wet and dry out. However, if the joint is sealed, the trapped water will further break down the masonry, while the sealer hides this ongoing deterioration.

The investigation phase of a historic or landmark brick rehabilitation project may be longer than with modern construction, but this extra time is essential to uncover the root cause of the deterioration. Once the source problem is addressed, repair of the masonry may be a time-consuming and exacting process; replacement mortar and brick must visually match the original yet be resilient enough for contemporary conditions.

Is all this extra time and effort necessary? If done well, masonry rehabilitation can restore the structural and aesthetic character of a building. If done improperly, a repair project can not only detract from the building’s appearance, it can cause lasting harm to the masonry.

While brick rehabilitation on a historic or landmark structure can be disruptive, the investment in proper techniques and materials, along with skilled and experienced labour, means longer-lasting solutions with minimal maintenance work on the horizon. A qualified design professional who understands the special problems found in older buildings can act as the building owner’s or manager’s advocate throughout the rehabilitation process. Though it may not be a ‘quick fix,’ a thoroughly researched and exactingly executed remediation program can ensure that budget and design objectives are satisfied, with minimal disruption to occupants and as efficient a schedule as possible.

Shortcuts and inexpertly conceived repairs not only diminish a historic or landmark building’s esthetic character, but they can also actually exacerbate deterioration—this means more repairs. With careful maintenance, mortar joints can last many years, even 50 or more. A well-designed restoration project now can help to preserve the integrity of the entire structure later.

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  1. Read your article with much interest. I would like to have an opportunity to speak to you at some point in time.

    Please feel free to contact me or if you prefer, email your contact phone number so that I may call you.

    Andrew Markopoulos

  2. I have been studying ancient near eastern studies at school, and I found this article very interesting, especially since we are discussing archaeological preservation. A lot of archaeological sites that have been discovered were found to have contained bricks. A lot of work goes into trying to preserve those bricks, and I imagine that these factors that lead to mortar deterioration should help in preserving ancient brick structures. Thanks for teaching me about this!

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