Brick has been a popular building material for centuries and for good reason. It is energy efficient and relatively maintenance free, but many first-time brick home owners are unfamiliar with the signs that their brick home is in need of repair or maintenance. Here are a few things to watch for.
If your home receives little or no sunlight, be on the lookout for moss, mold or mildew growth. A solution of one cup of bleach mixed with a gallon of water can be applied with a scrub brush to clean problem areas. Use a natural or synthetic bristle brush and avoid wire brushes that leave traces of steel behind. Those traces can rust and discolor the bricks. Before you apply the bleach solution, water the area thoroughly to help prevent the brick from absorbing the bleach.
If you find water inside your fireplace it is an indication that water is getting in from the top of the chimney or through the mortar joints from the outside. This means the seal of the house has been compromised and water could be getting into places you can’t see, such as the wood framing. Sometimes the fix is relatively easy and inexpensive and other times it is more involved, but you definitely want to have it checked out.
Another potential sign of trouble is the brick on the outside of your home turning white. Whitened brick is also a sign of water. This condition is called efflorescence and is caused by the minerals in the brick or mortar leaching from the inside out. As it dries, it leaves a white, powdery substance on the surface. This is a natural occurrence and does not necessarily mean that water is penetrating into the home. It can sometimes happen in new masonry work when the weather conditions have been wet or if the brick was laid up wet. It is cause for concern if this is a new condition on an older home and should be looked at by an experienced restoration mason.
We are often asked if water proofing a brick home is a good idea. The answer depends largely on when the home was built and whether the masonry has previously been restored. Prior to the developments of systems commonly used now, masonry was designed to absorb water throughout the winter and shed it when the weather turned dry. Current systems include an extra water proofing that can be added to any new structure. But be aware that any sealant you add to finished masonry is not real waterproofing. It is more of a water repellent, similar to how car wax is a water repellent.
Another common concern is soft mortar in older homes. But soft mortar is not always a problem. Prior to World War II, many of the homes in the Seattle area were built with mortar that did not contain cement as we know it today. So especially in an older home, soft mortar is not always a problem. However if the joints are worn and recessed, the integrity of the seal has been compromised and should be checked by a professional.