Answers to Your Brick Questions #3

Q. I would like to try to repair my porch. It has a concrete slab on top and the face beneath is brick. The crawlspace is filled with sand that has pushed the brick out. None of the bricks are broken, just the mortar joints. Is this something my husband and I should try?

A. You could probably do this yourself. Just remove and replace a few of the bricks at a time. Be sure to use the right mortar. This is important if your house is more than 50 years old. Be sure to shore the slab when working. The sand might have been used to support the slab whenever it was poured. I would remove the sand to prevent any problems with moisture being trapped in it and transpiring through the brick and mortar to its detriment.

Q. Are there any tricks to prevent getting mortar on bricks when remortaring between loose bricks?

A. Yes, you can use a mortar bag or mortar gun to apply the mortar, and then use a tuck-pointing or jointing tool to a very narrow "trowel" type tool that allows you to work mortar between masonry.

Q. I need to remove just one brick on my brick-face-over-plywood front porch in order to install an electrical box. I'm hesitant to hack into the mortar with a chisel since it's 40 years old and a bit weak and I'm not very experienced in masonry. I started using a 4" grinder and cut about an inch into the mortar all the way around, but I can't go deeper with that tool. Is there any tool or technique I can use to get this done without loosening other bricks?

A. Drill through the brick many times, so it will release pressure inward when you knock out the brick with a brick hammer. Otherwise the surrounding brick will start to chip from vibration due to hammering.

Q. We have a 55-year-old house with brick porches and steps. The mortar is falling out in places. Is this a DIY repair job? It seems like you would have to clean and scrape loose stuff off, then choose the right mortar mix and use the right tools. What else should I know?

A. The brick needs repointing, sometimes called tuck-pointing. It can be a DIY project, but is fraught with pitfalls.

Q. I live in New Jersey and would like to place brick pavers (in sand) over an existing concrete patio (12X45). The patio is stable, but has had some spilling and one area that hs settled about 1/2" (that is why I want to use sand as a base). I have about 4 1/2 clearance to the door threshold. Can I use 1/2-height bricks? What is the best way to proceed? What is the best method for calculating materials?

A. The brick folks made thin pavers that may be just what you need. Usually, dry laid brick goes in 1 inch of sand, so you should have plenty of space. You will need approximately 45 cubic feet of sand or slightly less than two cubic yards. There is not absolute standard size brick, but a typical 4" x 8 " brick would constitute one of about 200 bricks needed, plus an allowance for waste.

Q. I'm planning on putting a brick veneer over an interior wall. I'm not talking thin brick veneer, but a standard brick and mortar veneer, just like on the outside of a house. It's going to be placed on a subterranean poured concrete basement, so I'm not concerned about the weight. My question is this: Since it's an indoor wall, do I still need the air gap and weep holes between the wall and the veneer?

A. If you are planning to put the brick up yourself, then you must know that space between the brick wall and the water resistant drywall is inevitable.

When laying the brick, you must grab the brick from the top, so in trying to lay the brick close to the wall your fingers will hit the drywall. When space of about 1/2 inch away from the wall is maintained, your fingers will not continuously scrape the existing wall.

This space is great for insulation values, as the dead air space offers a buffer from outside to inside transmission of heat or cold, not to mention this space is often referred to as finger space. If you were to try to lay the brick fully against the wall, your end result would look horrendous as bricks tend not to be the same width as each other and your wall would dip in and out accordingly. But you never know, this might make for an interesting look. Do no forget to apply metal wall ties to the wall at least every six courses, hitting every stud.

Q. I've got a set of concrete/brick stairs that lead into my house. Recently over the winters, water has leaked in and caused some of the bricks to become loose and brittle. It is very expensive to have my stairs torn down and repaired. Would I be stupid to just seal up all of the holes, and build wooden stairs over my existing stairs?

A. That's not necessarily a bad idea. If you use the existing stairs as a foundation, remember how they were failing and consider how that might affect the new construction.

Q. I have bricks running up the sides of my driveway. I noticed that the cement between some of the bricks has either crumbled or cracked apart. What type of cement should I use to repair this?

A. If the bricks are laid on a base of soil or rock and not on concrete footers, Type N would probably suit your application.

Q. Can I take out a brick chimney and replace it with something other than brick?

A. It depends on what the chimney is being used for. I just did an attic job where we removed a brick chimney and ran b-vent in its place. The chimney was only venting a couple of furnaces and a water heater, so an 8-inch b-vent was sufficient.

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