From the Forum – brick repointing

Photo by PoPville flickr user ekelly80

brick repointing:

“The brick on the front of my raised lawn wall needs repointing. It’s a 1923 house with that funky grey stone that looks like mottled teeth which a number of the Wardman style houses in the Columbia Heights East townhomes boast. I don’t know if I can just go to HomeDepot to get some mortar to redo in those spots where it has completely disintegrated, or if I need to hire someone. Suggestions or referrals would be appreciated. Thanks!”

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26 Comment

  • If you’re in a historic district you will have to hire a professional to do it and get a permit. Otherwise this work doesn’t usually require a permit. We used Edgar’s Masonry and they did a good job. They’re recommended by the DC government for work in historic districts, too.

    • I also used Edgar’s, as has, it seems, a substantial majority of Logan Circle area given that I see them everywhere. For me, they repointed the majority of a row house that was crumbling away. I was absolutely thrilled with the quality of work and professionalism. But they certainly aren’t the cheapest option around.

      • Could I ask the approximate cost? We have an end unit that needs extensive repointing and the thought of the cost makes me kind of nauseous.

  • If it’s not a lot, I’d just go ahead and do it. Brick repointing is quite easy, albeit extremely dull and time consuming if there is a lot of it to do. If it’s a non-structural wall (i.e. not holding up your house), you don’t need to worry about mortar strengths and matching old mortar (although you may want to color match, which could be a bit of a pain).

    Basically in a non-structural wall, go to home depot, buy some mortar (or better yet, go to a local hardware store and ask for help color matching), and a trowel, and a tuck-pointer. Scrape out any really loose mortar (don’t worry about weak mortar – old mortar is often weak by design – but if you can easily knock it out, remove it). Mix it up according to the directions on the package, and use the trowel and the tuck pointer to pack it in good between the bricks. Use your finger or another tool to smooth it out to match the original mortar lines, and wipe the brick down with a rag reasonably well to prevent mortar from sticking to the face. Let dry.

    Easy peasy, and cheap.

    • “you don’t need to worry about mortar strengths.” This is wrong. See my comment below. I have witnessed the result of not matching soft mortar. There is lots about this on the interwebs too.

    • OP’s house might be different, but many older row houses in DC are built with bricks that are much softer than the composition of the mortar commonly used today. If the mortar is significantly harder than the brick, trapped moisture will escape through the brick and can cause spalling and other problems. Just hire someone — you will be better off, and the neighbors with whom you share a common facade will appreciate it.

  • Agree with ANON — if historic district you will need a permit and a professional. Not worth it trying to skirt this — you’ll get caught and pay a 50% penalty on top of permit fee. Edgar’s is the bomb — excellent work, totally professional.

  • Your house likely has soft, lime-based mortar, which is different than harder mortars most commonly used today. If you put hard mortar over soft mortar, cracks will develop between the dissimilar mortars, water will seep behind your new mortar, freeze, and eventually pop off all your new mortar. I think you can buy lime-based mortar, but it is important to get the match right. I would hire a professional. We also used Edgar’s, which repointed our entire house. They are very knowledgeable, efficient, and did great work. You may be able to find cheaper masons, but this is one area where I wouldn’t cut corners.
    Also, know that if you spot point, it is almost impossible to match the color to the areas that you are not repointing. This is because your existing mortar has 100 years of grime on it. So, you will likely end up with the new mortar very visible. We did this too when we first bought and couldn’t afford to repoint the whole house, and it made me crazy for years until we finally had the whole thing redone.

    • Obviously, if your house is painted, matching the color of the mortar isn’t important, but matching the composition is.

    • How much did it cost to repoint your entire house?

      • I’m curious as well. I assume you did both front and back?

      • I believe it was $28k for the whole house. Ours is three stories and semi-detached, so there were three sides to do. The price included permits to block the alley and constructing lots of scaffolding. I know this is a big price tag, which is why it took so long for us to do. It had never been done and was desperately needed. This was the kid of thing that warranted a loan. It’s obvious but worth saying that your mortar is what keeps water and cold air out of your house.
        By the way, I recall that you don’t need permits to point if you’re not in a historic district. Other aspects of the job may require permits, but not the pointing. This is all on the DCRA website.

    • KenyonDweller is right! Make sure you use the right mortar. Fragers hardware sells Virginia Lime Historic Mortar. It’s called Mix-and-Go. Although I think they only stock it in white.

  • I used Bricklands they work all over the Hill.

    I also say get a permit and frankly this is really a job for professionals. Brick/mortar are different depending on when places were built and it does make a difference.

    It isn’t cheap but obvously costs vary if for no other reason than how much had to be worked on. I had to have the entire back of my house – a BIG project- tuckpointed and it was thousands. However, the entire back of my house would have sheared the first layer of brick off in a few years so it was a very necessary capital improvement. Don’t cheap out on this – though obviously mind the costs- you may regret it.

  • A few years back I was working to match the mortar on my house for repointing. Like others have said, there’s a lot of good information on the interwebs. If you have the basic skills, it’s easy to do it right. Get two samples of your existing mortar. One sample, you want to digest it with HCl (hydrochloric acid, also sold as muriatic acid) so you can see the sand that remains (to match the color of the sand). The other sample you take with you to the brick yard to color-match the mortar. It’s as much if an art as a science and you’ll probably want to make a few sample mortar batches to check the color.

    I recommend Frederick Brick Works in Frederick, MD – they had the biggest inventory/selection of mortar colors in the region. LC Smith in Alexandria is awesome too and a fount of knowledge but they don’t carry the stock of mortars that FBW does.

    Definitely listen to those talking about mortar strength. It is really important to match the strength of the mortar to your bricks (mortar which is softer than the bricks).

  • houseintherear

    Omg please don’t do it on your own! I’ve heard horror stories.

    My neighbors had their whole house (3 sides) done by Edgar’s and it turned out wonderfully. I don’t know what they paid. I had one wall done (two story row house) with Precision Renovation and it was $3000. I was so happy with them I am now on their referrals list, which I never do! Good luck-

    • Guy down the street from me hired some incompetent people who wound up messing up the brick so badly when removing the existing mortar that the homeowner was forced by the historic preservation office to apply a parge coat to a good portion of the wall in order to save the facade. So now they have a cement-looking wall where there once was perfectly good brick.

      • Hit send too soon and forgot something: a point. And the point is to hire someone reputable and don’t mess around.

    • We used Precision Renovation & Consruction to build a 4ft+ high retaining wall at our property this summer and they did an excellent job. We worked with Stanley and he was incredibly professional and helpful.

  • We used Renaissance Development, though we took bids from Edgar’s and Brick by Brick. Did the front and back of an interior row-house in Petworth, including the brick walls supporting our porch and bordering our front stairs. We also had a lot of damaged brick that needed to be replaced and concrete patches that had to be entirely removed and re-mortared.

    I can’t say that I enjoyed working with the woman who runs Renaissance, but her job foreman is very competent, and in the end the result were very satisfactory. No more insect intrusion and I’m happy that I can’t scrape the mortar away with my fingernails. But… I second what everyone else has said, don’t do it yourself and make sure you have the right, historic, lime-based mortars.

    • I also used Renaissance Development – after 3 bids all in similar range. 3 story rowhouse – re-pointing one whole side and back – so pretty much half the house = $14K. This was 5 whole days with 5 man crew including master mason – scaffolding – grinding out old etc. The crew was excellent. Don’t know what the problem would be with the woman who runs it – she seemed fine. Maybe a little weird that she always pointedly refers to herself as “Doctor.” but I guess if you’ve earned it – go ahead.

    • We used renaissance development on our 2 story sides of a duplex and we thought they were fantastic. We couldn’t do the whole side and front at once so they have us two quotes and we got a “returnee discount”. They were so easy to work with, I highly recommend them. The woman did need a little follow up around the holidays, but still overall easy to work with. I agree don’t do it yourself, that’s what the previous owners did and the parts they did came away in my fingers like sand after hurricane sandy.

  • I had my entire house reprinted by Edgar. I did a lot of home work before deciding. One thing I notice about homes that do it on the cheap, you get that chalky stuff on your house afterward. I have none of that. Don’t remember what causes it but something about the quality of the mortar. My house is 3stories tall and a corner house, so cost would have been formidable. Edgar worked with me and divided into 3rds and did it over 3yrs. It is all done now and best thing I could have done for my house. BTW..permits are for scaffolding notions work

  • I have a few friends that have used “Brick by Brick”….and I’ve seen the results are pretty great. They take care to match the color of the lime mortar (yes, no Cement!) to the color of the brick….and they get it pretty close on. I think that their prices are pretty reasonable too. I know that they’ve been contracted to do alot of historical buildings. I’ll plan on using them soon to repoint my own rowhouse.

  • Although I have not yet used his services, I’ve heard good things about:
    JHI Contracting
    808 K Street NE
    Washington, DC 20002
    John Himchak
    Cell: 202.528.2877
    Office: 202.544.1813

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