Masonry work is “working with brick, concrete block, glass block, tile, terra cotta and stone using mortar to put them together.” according to the definition of the Ontario Masonry Training Centre.
If your house, condo or commercial building has brick or stone walls, you’ll need a mason at some point — especially in Canada where exposure to the elements can significantly damage the brick or stone wall structure over time.
Depending on the severity of the damage and where it is, masonry issues can lead to disastrous consequences for you as a homeowner or business owner: anything from leaking to extreme loss of heat to foundational problems that could make your house or commercial building unsafe.
Most masonry-related issues are caused by a concept known as “settlement.” This is when the soil surrounding your home experiences a shrinking — a fancy way of saying it loses its strength. When that happens, the pressure the earth around your building puts on the foundation to keep aligned is weakened. This leads to a strengthening of the force created by the weight of the bricks and mortar. Because both are inherently non-malleable and unable to bend, they break.
In Canada, this is very common because of the freezing/thawing cycle we experience. The thaw causes settling to happen much faster as soil turns to mud in the spring before the summer heat has a chance to dry it out.
1. Bowed Brick (Bulging brick)
This is when the bricks in your outer wall either jut out or cave in around a certain area. Most of the time, this is caused by moisture that has seeped in behind the brick. That moisture either warps the concrete and the bricks and forces them to push out, or it softens the wood or plaster behind the brick casing the brinks to sink in.
This is a tell-tale sign that something untoward is happening behind your wall and needs to be sorted out.
A mason will remove the affected bricks, assess and fix the damage behind the bricks, replace any water-damaged bricks with new bricks and rebuild that section of the outer wall.
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2. Vertical corner cracks
As far as foundational cracks are concerned, vertical cracks are the least troublesome. If you see a crack in your foundation within +/- 30 degrees of vertical, you don’t have to worry about your wall collapsing.
This kind of crack is normal and is a function of natural expansion. The problem with vertical cracks is that they’ll let water seep in during heavy rains, and that can lead to bulging brick (see above) or, if left unfixed, damage to the inner wall.
This is a fairly simple fix for a mason — usually they’ll simply repair it one of two ways: with a urethane or epoxy injection to fill the crack, or with an injection plus the installing of an expansion joint to take the stress of natural expansion off the corner. Both are rather inexpensive fixes (injection + install is obviously more expensive), but both are so well worth the cost lest the crack lead to a situation where a more extensive (and expensive) solution is required.
3. Compacted bricks
You can spot a compacted brick quite easily because it will have lost its original shape. It can appear bowed or even cracked. This is a problem for a few reasons: firstly, it opens up a hole in the wall for water to get through. But more than that, one compacted brick will almost always lead to more because it no longer provides the bricks adjacent to it with the pressure they need to stay true.
So like a virus, one compacted brick will affect others around it until you have a serious problem.
A mason will replace the affected brick(s), and then most likely recommend that your foundation be underpinned by push piers (spikes connected to your foundation that get drilled into the ground for extra support).
4. Spalling at the shelf angle
A shelf angle is a long L-shaped metal piece that gets installed behind a row of bricks on a wall. Its function is to split the weight of the bricks between the ground and the house. Essentially, the house is bearing everything above the shelf angle because those bricks are sitting on that shelf angle.
Spalling is a chipping of the facing of the brick, and it can be caused by a corroding of the shelf angle behind it. Yes, it looks ugly, but it’s also a sign of potential danger. If the shelf angle is corroded, it may lose its strength, which would unify the entire weight of the brick and mortar. Depending on how old your walls are and how healthy the soil surrounding your home or building is, this could be very bad for you.
A mason will examine the shelf angle for corrosion. If it’s not a huge problem, they will replace the spalled bricks. If, however, the shelf angle is significantly corroded, it will have to be replaced. This is a big, expensive job.
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5. Efflorescence and staining
Efflorescence is the presence of soluble salts rising through concrete, coming out the outer pores and presenting as stains. Think of it like arm-pit stains on a shirt. It’s extremely common because its causes are natural: low temperatures, moist conditions, condensation, rain and dew.
Early stage efflorescence can be treated with a thorough pressure wash, and do take the time to do it. If you leave it for too long, the stain will transform into impervious-to-pressure-washing calcium carbonate. That’s when you’d have to call in a mason with special chemicals, including Muriatic acid, which can be quite dangerous.
6. Mortar deterioration
This is exactly what it sounds like: the mortar between your bricks starts to buckle and/or disintegrate. With no healthy buffer between bricks, they start to loosen up and rub against each other causing damage and warping, which leads to very high repair costs that could be avoided by calling in a mason. Loose brick or stone walls can also become dangerous.
Called in time, masons can simply replace or reinforce the mortar, repointing or tuckpointing the mortar (cutting out old mortar to a uniform depth and placing new mortar in the joint), which is simpler, faster and cheaper than rebuilding the walls.
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