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Replacing old mortar for historic brick

The tuckpointing in your brick building is starting to decay. Cracks are forming and small chunks of mortar are beginning to fall out. Sounds like you’re due to take on the “not too difficult” but time consuming task of tuckpointing. Time to head on down to the nearest Home Depot or Lowes at stock up on tuckpointing supplies and ready mix mortar. Right? If you are tuckpointng an older building like those found through most of St. Louis City and much of St. Louis County, you just made a mistake.

The mortar found at most big box stores are mixes designed specifically to be used with modern brick. Modern brick is much harder than the brick found in most older homes. For various structural reasons, the harder the brick in use the harder the mortar should be. If you use a mortar that is harder than your brick, the bricks could begin to crack and break apart. With the two earthquakes and pair of accompanying aftershocks that recently struck the area, I hope these kind of issues get your attention.

The mortar you need cannot be found at Lowes or Home Depot. You need to head to a specialist. The only supplier I have ever used is F W Clemens at 3357 Gravois in South St. Louis. Its at the northwest corner of the Cherokee and Gravois. They have ready mix mortar on hand specifically designed to be used with older brick. This mortar, which runs about $6 a bag, has a higher content of lime than the more cement laden mortars commonly used today. It won’t cause your brick to prematurely break down and will improve the structural integrity and shock absorption capabilities of your brick building. Make the right move and play it safe.

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27 Responses to Replacing old mortar for historic brick

  1. mike kitsonsr May 30, 2008 at 1:26 pm #

    I’m a 3rd generation stone/brick mason with over 19+ years as a mason./restoration specialist .the older homes use a mix that has white portland, lime and sand.If u have a older home that dates back to the early 1900 or older than the bricks will be softer than the mortar and will cause damage to the bricks.If someone has a question about a historical home they can e-mail me the question. We have been restoring stone & brick masterpieces for over 19+ years I also have a name of a company that u can send a sample of the mortar to get it tested so that u can put the correct mortar back in to the joints.thank you all and have a wonderful day.mike

    • Pat Eckstein November 13, 2009 at 7:18 am #

      Hi Mike,what is the name of the company that analyzes the mortar,also any where a guy can get info on tuckpointing brick,there is a house I`m considering repairing,I`ve layed many a brick but never have repaired any house this old(approx. 100 years old).Thanks Pat

    • Beverly Gehlken May 3, 2012 at 8:57 am #

      my home was built around 1865 here in Zanesville Ohio. I need to have this tested…..and see what I need and where I can get it. From what I know it is 1 lime to 3 sand. ASTM C 144 sand ASTM C 207 lime is the best I can come up with. Do you think we are on the right track? Can I make arrangements to send you some of my mortar and see if this is correct. 740-4540407 or my email . tyvm HELP doing tuck point don’t want brick to crack. Thank you very very much……

      • Beverly Gehlken May 3, 2012 at 9:00 am #

        So sorry about entering my telephone #. I won’t do that any more.

      • Jennifer Sutter July 16, 2015 at 9:39 am #

        Beverly,
        Did you find out if the mortar ratio was correct for your home? We have a home in Miamisburg OH that we are getting ready to take out the cement mortar put in yrs ago with the 3 to 1 sand lime mortar mixture. I am considering putting in some horse hair since the original mortar has it in as well. just wanted to see how your pointing mix is holding up and any hints to make the process easier would be great!

    • Monica Joyce September 14, 2012 at 8:37 pm #

      I have a 1928 yellow brick Chicago bungalow. it has not been tuck pointed since it was built. It is still in good shape so I think it may be the limestone mortar they used then. The garage is not the yellow brick. I am told it is face brick. I have some bricks deteriorating.

      I have been told by 3 different masonaries that it needs to be acid washed and tuckpointed. Do i need to worry about what type of mortar they will use. i have read about the different limestone content they used in the early 1900’s.

      thank you.

      • Matt Kastner September 15, 2012 at 10:15 am #

        I wish I knew more about this so I could help, but I really don’t know. I would go along with what your local masons are saying, assuming they are trustworthy. Here in St. Louis, I have often consulted with my local mortar and concrete supplier for such advice. They know local building styles for our historic buildings and I am sure the same could be said for Chicago.

        That being said, I know for a fact that the type of mortar available at Lowes and Home Depot is too hard for older brick. You’ll want to buy from a specialist supplier. In the end it might not make much difference, but since the cost is similar, I think it is worth getting the right product just in case. Hope that helps.

    • Darrell Daniels May 1, 2017 at 10:04 pm #

      Hello , My wife and I are in the process of buying a house in Missouri built in 1858 Can I mix my own mortar also it has 14 inch thick walls and I have been told that it will not be so bad to heat as the heat will only be absorbed by the first row of brick and will not transfer from brick to brick is this true Thank you very much for any information

      • Matt Kastner May 2, 2017 at 9:52 am #

        Hello, Darrell. Unfortunately, I really couldn’t say regarding the mortar. My recommendation would be to talk to your local supplier of mortar (not a big box store) as they will be able to tell you just about anything you want to know if they have been doing their job for long. If they have a good premix option it’s pretty simply to mix the mortar as you just add water. On the heating, everything is relative. A thicker brick wall would technically have a higher R-Value, the fact that it is stone, you have to worry about thermal wicking as the building is attached to the ground. The walls will act as a radiator of sorts. It’s better than thin brick walls, but it is not what one would consider “modern” in terms of ideal R-Value. Found a pretty good rundown on this effect in this forum, being discussed by people that actually know what they are talking about;) Good luck: http://www.city-data.com/forum/house/739171-thick-masonry-walls-r-value-should.html

  2. Matt Kastner May 30, 2008 at 2:22 pm #

    I love hearing from experts on any subject and certainly don’t mind subtle solicitation, but please don’t post phone numbers. I just deleted it myself, but next time please don’t post you number.

  3. andy perkins August 23, 2008 at 10:28 am #

    I also lay bricks for a liveing. But i am getting ready to start tuckpointing a 100 year old hotel and I not very knowledgeable about mortar mix. If you could lead me the right way. also any helpful knowledge would be very appreciated. thanks andy

  4. andy perkins August 23, 2008 at 10:28 am #

    I also lay bricks for a liveing. But i am getting ready to start tuckpointing a 100 year old hotel and I not very knowledgeable about mortar mix. If you could lead me the right way. also any helpful knowledge would be very appreciated. thanks andy

  5. Matt Kastner August 26, 2008 at 1:10 pm #

    Andy,

    I would talk to the guys at Clemens, as mentioned in the posted above. If you tell them what you are doing and the age of the building I am sure they will know what kind or mortar mix you need. Best of luck with the project.

  6. Terry Harper September 8, 2008 at 8:47 am #

    I would like to know the name of a company, and contact information, where I could send a sample of my 1865 mortar for analysis.

  7. Matt Kastner November 13, 2009 at 11:20 am #

    I have tried to find a company that does this testing and have had no luck. That being said, you can contact your local supplier (Clemens if you are in St. Louis) and they might be able to help. That being said, I have to think that it is unnecessary. Any good supplier should be able to help you figure out the mortar type by the age, style and location of house. Also, if you think about it, it goes without saying that a 100+ year old building has been repointed at least once in it’s lifespan. If you just test the outer layer of the mortar, you are only pinpointing the makeup of the previous mortar mix, not the original. I would simply contact my supplier and ask them. I really think this might be overkill.

    • Wade Gower August 23, 2014 at 7:08 pm #

      When taking out an old brick chimney from a century home is there any concern that the mortar is an asbestos mixture ? There is mention of limestone and sand but I’ve read that mortar was made with 90% asbestos, back in the olden days. Yikes.

      • Matt Kastner August 25, 2014 at 9:27 am #

        The short answer is “I don’t know.” While 90% asbestos seems really high, I suppose there certainly is a chance that there is some. You should talk to a professional environmental person to be sure. I also believe there are asbestos home testing kits available, but I am not sure how accurate they are. Might be worth looking into that.

  8. Paul Patton of Librty Temp Gospel Cch April 27, 2010 at 12:27 pm #

    we are haveing a problem with some of are bricks chiping and falling it is a four story building.

    • Matt Kastner April 27, 2010 at 1:28 pm #

      I would recommend talking to a professional tuckpointer about that. And soon. Not only will delay end up costing you more, but someone could get hurt if a brick hit them.

  9. Donna May 26, 2010 at 5:22 pm #

    Hello,

    I have someone getting ready to tuck point my older building. He says it’s important to soak any loose brick in water so that the brick doesn’t pull all the moisture from mortar. Any truth to this? Plus, he buys current mortar from the store and adds lime. Does this work?

    • Matt Kastner May 26, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

      I am certainly no masonry expert, but when tuckpointing bricks, I know you want to wet the surface of the bricks at a minimum. The thought of soaking a brick in water makes sense as it might otherwise cause the mortar to cure to quickly. I am sure a lot of guys don’t do that, but it makes sense. As for mortar, I believe their is lime in most historic mortar mixes, but I have no idea if mixing lime with modern mortar works well. Whenever I need mortar I just go to a concrete supplier and tell them what I am doing. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help on that.

  10. justin ireland March 3, 2011 at 12:04 am #

    Sorry for bothering your business site but was wondering if you know anything about mortar composition in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. I have just recently gutted my attic of my home that was built around 1900. I recently knocked away plaster stuck to my chimney. I was thinking of sheet rocking and leaving the 100 year old internal chimney exposed for looks. Does the mortar and brick used at the turn of the century contain asbestos and if so how high a concentration?

    • Matt Kastner March 7, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

      I’m certainly no expert, but I can say that I have never heard of asbestos being found in exterior brick mortar. I have heard of it being in plaster though. Your odds of being exposed to asbestos were much higher when knocking off the plaster than with the mortar. If you want a more informed opinion I would contact a mortar supplier such as Clemen’s. Other than that, I would suggest testing the material if you want to know for sure. Professionals who do this can be easily found, but there might also be a DIY method if you are on a budget. Best of luck.

  11. Jeff July 25, 2011 at 9:57 am #

    Hey Matt,
    We live in northern Michigan and have a brick house that we think dates back to 1900. I want to use the appropriate mortar, which I understand will be not as strong as modern mortar. Is there a name for what I want so I can ask for it around here? Can I need to mix it myself for the proper ratio? Thanks for your help,
    Jeff

    • Matt Kastner July 25, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

      @Jeff. I would locate a local supplier and ask them. In St. Louis, my supplier usually gives me a brand called Meramec Warrior and the type is “Blend N.” I would imagine that blend is the same for all brands and areas, but whether or not that is the right mix for you, I could not say. A good question for your local pro since they will know your building-type more than I. Hope that helps.

  12. David Hanson July 10, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    I have a 1907 row house. My wife contacted a company in quakerstown penn. and they suggested we use black premixed mortar. Is this actually dark black? Or a grayish tinge?

  13. Bill Bixby August 6, 2013 at 11:32 pm #

    If you end up with the more hard mortar, is it a death sentence? And can the city force you to grind out that mortar?

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