Dear PoP – Repointing an end unit townhouse?

Photo by PoPville flickr user m hoek

“Dear PoP,

I am hoping for the wisdom of PoP-ville here.

I think it must be time to repoint my house: the roof flashing is blowing off because — apparently — the mortar is too soft to nail anything to. Roughly how much should it cost to get an end-unit brick Victorian DC townhouse repointed, and does anyone have any suggestions about people to hire (or to avoid) for such an undertaking? In the meantime, the roofer is going to attach new flashing to the bricks themselves…

Thanks as always!”

Anyone have this done before? Any guesses of cost?

44 Comment

  • We repointed the backwall and chimney of our house for about $1200 (two story rowhouse)…

    …so this a tough call. our guy did a good job but i wouldn’t recommend him. but if you do use him, don’t pay him 100% until YOU are 100% that job is done. he didn’t mount the back porch light and didn’t clean up his mess very much. Out of trust i paid him. he never came back so i had to pay someone else to put up the light on the brick wall.

    michael pruschowsky

    Also, if you house is old…pre-1910…make sure they use the correct type of mortar. I learned that today’s mortar is much stronger than the older bricks. so if they use modern mortar it could literally make the old brick explode as the mortar expands in the summer.

    our house is 1907 and i learned that i should NOT use type “N” mortar and instead use type “O”. i don’t know what this means…but an Architect friend of mine does know what this means so i took his word. so far so good.

    • $1,200?! no wonder you had problems. Did they build a scaffold?

      Here’s a tip – ask the contractors you are using if they are going to build a scaffold or not. If they say they are not, don’t hire them. Impossible to do a good job with just a ladder, and very dangerous as well.

      • no he built one. it was just the post job he didn’t do such a great job.

        …wait are you saying $1200 is good or bad? i couldn’t tell with “?!” punctuation.

    • MaSoNwOrK. M,S,N,O,K are the Portland Cement mortar type designations, in order of decreasing strength. You definitely want your mortar to have lower comprehensive strength than your bricks. Otherwise the bricks yield first through cracking, spalling (face popping off), etc. Remember that mortar is a pillow, not a glue. Mortar “cushions” the joints and seals out the weather. All these mortars contain Portland Cement.

      True lime mortars to match historic materials (basically for anything built before 1930) are the best choice for historic brick facades. A reputable repointing company will recommend low-strength Portland Cement or lime-based mortars for your old walls.

  • We used PointingPlus and they were phenomenal. I mean really, really amazing, showed up 7 days a week for 10 hours a day and did a thoroughly professional job. Highly recommended. When I told the historic preservation reviewer who issued me the permit that we were using PointingPlus she said “oh, good, they know what they’re doing” and instantly approved it.

    This is not cheap however, and you don’t want a lowest bidder doing it. You will spend at least $10,000.

    and yes, old non-cement mortar is too soft to attach flashing to, and i would definitely switch roofers if the person you are using didn’t realize this.

  • Some before and after pictures of our job are on my picasa page:

    for example, before:


    another before:


    sucks to spend so much money on a back wall we don’t really see, but it also sucks to have your house slowly caving in…

    • oh and this job was about $13,000 and included the entire back dogleg of my 3.5 story (basement half-exposed) rowhouse, reconstruction of the chimney, replacement of all rotting wood around the top, new gutters, and cleanup, caulking, and painting around all windows.

  • Terry Sellheim does a great job, fast, efficient and reasonable. doesn’t have any fancy signs or websites. He’s a bit brusque but very professional. Did ours for something like $1,200 as well. Though our house is very small.

    • PS we had also taken bids from Renaissance, another place — Brickland maybe? and some sleazy guy from Maryland. Terry, Renaissance and Brickland were all well aware of the mortar you’re supposed to use. Sleazy guy talked about using cement, so he was off the list immediately.

  • We used Rennaisance. It was well under $5k for the back of our rowhouse. They use preservation-sound methods, limestone mortar, and the owner is an architectural historian so she knows her stuff. Oh and they used scaffolding too.

  • We also used rennaisance and is was similar to the previous poster for our rear wall and inside the basement. We got an estimate for our end unit side wall (which also needs repointing) and it was around $7K and we decided to wait. They are aweseome. Very quick and clean and came back to fix some issues with rehooking up the washer-dryer and sink. Highly recommend.

  • Hi Neighbors, sorry for hijacking this post, but I am in need of a delivery company who can bring a sofa that I purchased in NYC to DC, any recommendation?

    • Bear

      Try Myers Moving and Storage: 770-602-1920. They’re a family-owned company based in Georgia but they operate all along the East Coast. I used them to deliver some furniture to me that I’d had in storage in Atlanta. They were a lot more reasonable than other places I’d found, they were careful with my furniture, and pretty easy to work with.

      Alternatively, you could try placing an ad on–basically you’ll describe what you need moved, when, and where, and different service providers can bid on it. It’s how I found Myers.

  • I got two quotes from two different companies, one for 15k – I waited as it seemed high. Another company quoted 10k. So I guess that in the range for a good job. Not cheap though. : (

  • In 2004 we used Precision Renovation for repointing our building – 4 story condo at 1421 Columbia Rd. NW. You can go check it out. They were the best bid at the time and the work seems to be holding up well. They needed a bit of supervision (like all big projects) for things like protecting the bushes and cleaning up – but were all-in-all good to work with.

  • Are you in a historic district? If so, the city will need to sign off on your choice of mortar. If you put scaffolding in your front yard or side (alley), you’ll need a permit from DDOT. The new EPA lead dust rules require dust containment so you’ll need to ensure that the contractor is EPA certified. Licensed, insured, bonded, etc. as well. You can attach flashing to new lime mortar or you could have the masons or roofer attach a nailer board to the top of the parapet walls, which is best practices. Be careful with attaching flashing to the bricks, they may crack. Edgars, rennaisance, bricklands, & pointing plus are all good choices. Without knowing the size of your house I’d say 10-20K

    • And if you’re going to use a “nailer” use PT wood or better yet a synthetic that will hold up to a few years of abuse.

  • I have a related question – in my utility room (on the second floor of a 2 unit row house) the wall behind the heating unit seems to be crumbly around where a vent is installed, around the dryer vent, and on the floor somewhat. Is this something a pointing company can fix? The bricks look fine from the outside, but obviously need fixing inside. An additional complication is that no human can reach the space because the furnace and water heater completely block the wall. Not sure where to start with this, but it definitely needs attention. Advice appreciated!

    • If no human can get to it, you may need to remove the appliances before it can be fixed.

      Call a GC and have them explain what they would do.

  • I had a sizable rear wall of a 3-story house and the side of the top story repointed last fall. It ran 15k. From the sound of things, I’d guess you will need to repoint a similar amount of space.

    I did a substantial amount of research at the time and priced out different options. I used Edgar’s Masonry, which was undoubtedly at the higher price point, but all signs indicated that it was the best service.

    I was absolutely thrilled with Edgar. I’ll use them for all future masonry work. I couldn’t recommend a service company more highly. Edgar was a delight, and his team was outstanding. Plus, I’m confident that they provide the absolute highest quality.

    Although I’m sure there are other folks that will do a good job, be wary of prices that are too low. A few differences:

    1. Mortar. As folks have pointed out, using the right kind of mortar — and properly mixing it — is important with historic brick. A lot of folks don’t know how to do this. Find someone that does.

    2. High quality folks (like Edgar) do a very complete job, in that they don’t just fill the visible holes, but will virtually reconstruct the entire wall. The house I had repointed was in very poor shape. Edgar actually rebuilt at least 80% of the walls. By rebuilt, I mean he removed sections brick by brick, cleaned and salvaged as much of my brick as possible (replacing a substantial amount of it with matching, historic brick he has salvaged from other jobs).

    Good luck. Happy to be a reference if needed, PoP has my email address.

    • +1 on Edgars Masonry. Not the cheapest, but they do quality work, and they do a proper cleanup. As pointed out, they also use proper materials and historic mortar mix.

      It’s important to use the correct ‘restoration’ mortar as modern stuff will lead to moisture problems and crumbling brick.

      Read here:

  • +1000 on Pointing Plus. They did a beautiful job and left the yard immaculate.

  • We just used Renaissance earlier this month to repoint all the brick in our living/dining room. It was gross before, but now it’s gorgeous. They quoted $14/sq ft and we’re happy with the results. Very professional too. Good luck!

  • We used Renaissance to have the front of our two-story Victorian bayfront house repointed about a year ago. We paid just under $10k for the whole thing. It was kind of an up and down experience. They were also repointing a fireplace inside, plus removed all of our damaged interior plaster. My iPod went missing, then turned up (in an impossible-to-miss spot) after I mentioned it. So -1 for the theft, but +1 to the foreman for demanding that show up again. The scaffolding destroyed small bushes out front; not a huge deal, but they tore at least one of them out of the ground without any warning. Christina, the owner, also verbally promised us that she had a fantastic plasterer who could re-plaster the interior once it had dried out for a few months. Then denied knowing anyone who did plaster or ever saying that when we followed up several months later. It was kind of bizarre.

    Plus, we have inside moisture damage again.

    We also got an estimate from Edgar’s. Unlike Renaissance, he was willing to do only a portion of the facade since we were only getting moisture coming in on one corner.

    • Plastering is one of the easiest skills for a DIYer to pick up. Contractors don’t like it because it takes a loooooooooooooooooooooooooooong time to cure to the point that it can be painted. Contractors don’t like waiting around. That’s why 99% only bother with drywall: some screws, some mud, some tape, and it’s done in a day.

      If you can make a cake, i.e. mix dry and wet ingredients into a batter, and than frost it into a smooth surface, you can do plaster yourself.

  • I’ll throw my favorite, Bricklands out there. They totally transformed the front of my house. It almost looks like a new house.

    Also, we opted for washing the bricks as I don’t consider 100 years of accumulated soot an appropriate ‘patina’.

  • the bottom line is you should get an estimate from edgars, pointingplus, and renaissance as all 3 are the go-to companies.

  • I was quoted $40k for the full *side* wall of an end-unit 1100 sq ft rowhouse. Fortunately, the guy also said it wasn’t necessary.

    • That’s not a reasonable price for a row house. That’s a guy who doesn’t want to do the work.

      • @DCDiyer:

        “We used Renaissance to have the front of our two-story Victorian bayfront house repointed about a year ago. We paid just under $10k for the whole thing.”

        With the disclaimer that I know nothing other than that one interaction, if folks are paying $10k for the front face of a Victorian, is $40k really that far out of whack for the entire side-wall of a row house? What’s reasonable? $20-30k?

  • We used Edgar Masonry back in 2005 — Absolutely loved the result. We had some pretty extensive work done on the front facade which is 4 stories – 18 feet wide. We had the paint removed and completely repointed and various other repairs including replacement of keystones and window ledges. The cost was ~$28k – from start to finish of the job it took 6 weeks (3 of which were 2 guys on the brick work) — but that included coordinating work with the roofers and window companies that extended the project.

    If you are paying $1500 dollars I expect that someone is just shoving mortar into the bricks and not using a diamond blade to get a good amount of the old mortar out and redoing it. You get what you pay for and I’m still happy with the result and price we paid 6 years later.

  • +1 to almost all the comments so far. Good recommendations on masons. I’ll just emphasize:

    +do NOT nail flashing directly into brick! That’s what the mortar’s for. Holes in brick means broken bricks and holes in your wall. Water loves holes.

    +it’s not fun, but mortar needs repointing every 100 years or so. The work is more expensive than say a paint job, but it’s necessary and should last another hundred years. Remind yourself that when you see all the zeroes in your estimates.

    +do not use aluminum flashing with brick. Lime and acids in the mortar will eat the aluminum. Coated aluminum is generally a sales gimmick that just adds ugly streaking to the acid reaction. Go with lead-coated copper, copper, terne, galvanized steel, or zinc (pretty much in preference order).

    +last time I looked the HPO website had a good brochure on repointing; how to do the work, what materials to use, etc. Doesn’t matter if you’re in an historic district, old brick is old brick, and good advice is good advice.

  • I also used Edgar and I’ll use also use them for all future masonry work. They were prompt, clean, and did a great job.

    They bricked up an old window, opened up a wall for a new door, a new window, and cut open another hole for another door. All of their work was quality.


  • Edgar’s pointed our 3-sided row house and did a beautiful job. We have had very mixed results with contractors in general and masons in particular. Edgar’s was outstanding in all respects. They did high quality work, listened and responded to our concerns, were on time, finished the job in a very reasonable period, and cleaned up. Yes, you can get cheaper masonry, but you get what you pay for.

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