Winterizing the house
From the time I was 14 years old until I was almost 40, I had the good fortune of having an ongoing part-time job in my dad’s construction business where I learned a lot about the proper upkeep of a building, whether it is a business or a home.
As a result, I can recommend several steps to make sure your brick home is ready for winter.
First, your roof and gutters should be cleared of all leaves, tree branches, and debris. You always want the water to drain properly, especially during the winter.
If you have a brick or stone house, this is a good time to make sure it is clean and waterproof. Many times during the life of a home, the bricks can retain moisture and a dark buildup will emerge on it. Bricks that are not covered by a roof (brick steps, brick sidewalks, or brick patios) will always become dirty and stained quicker than brick on the wall of the house. That’s because they catch more rain and unlike walls, will have water standing on them.
To clean the brick, whether on walls or on a walkway, it is best to use a machine that will provide high pressure water. You can rent one of these and do it yourself, or you can hire it done. The moisture stains on brick are often a form of moss or mold, but the high pressure water will take it right off. For more stubborn stains, it is sometimes necessary to use a chemical on it and then clean the brick with the high pressure water. Chemicals that are provided for such a task have been made environmentally-friendly.
Sometimes masonry repairs are needed because of cracks in the mortar or because of simple deterioration of the brick or the mortar joints. It is best to do those after your brick have been cleaned, but before applying any waterproofing.
The process of restoring mortar between bricks is called tuck pointing, and if you need that done, it is best to hire a professional. Your home may need a few mortar repairs in only a couple of places, but you will want someone who can make the repair look as good as new and as good as the surrounding brick or mortar.
The same principle applies when you have body work done on your car. You want dents and scratches fixed so that no one can tell by looking that you’ve had a fender-bender.
Believe me, if you have an amateur smear mortar all over your brick wall, it will stick out like a sore thumb and may even be noticeable from down the street.
You might assume that any brick mason can make such tuck pointing repairs, but that isn’t always the case. Some can, but you will want to make sure before hiring them.
In my experience, a brick layer is not the best tuck pointer, and a tuck pointer is not the best brick layer. Some people can do both, but it is rare that one person can do both with a high level of production and expertise.
And exactly who you hire may depend on the needs of your building. There are instances in which an older brick building will need to be entirely tuck pointed. This would cost thousands of dollars and would be a major project. Talk to a contractor first and do your homework when deciding upon the scope of the job you need.
After the bricks are cleaned, and after the mortar from the masonry repairs is hardened, you can choose to make sure all of your bricks are waterproof.
I recommend it. Bricks are hard but they are still porous, and will absorb water. They won’t soak up water as much as a sponge but they can take in some moisture, especially from the rain and snow of the winter months.
During the coldest times of the year, when it is wet and freezing, the water that is absorbed in to brick and mortar will freeze and expand. And when it expands, it can cause brick and mortar to crack, or it may cause the face of the brick to pop off.
If you waterproof your brick structure, it will keep the water out and will slow down the deterioration process.
Different brands of waterproofing are available at almost any hardware store. You can purchase it and spray it on the brick yourself, or you can have a contractor do it.
If you do it, make sure that you mask off windows and that you keep your vehicles away from the spray. Waterproofing applications, by their very definition, will not wash off of windows or cars with mere soap and water.
You will also want to cover up flowers, bushes, or plants to keep the waterproofing spray from getting on them.
If you have a house that needs painting, the fall is also a good time to get it done. But I don’t ever recommend painting over brick.
A painter might tell you otherwise but technically, paint is not made for brick and bricks are not made for paint.
I hope these recommendations are helpful, because it’s time to get ready for winter.
— David Wilson, EdD, of Springdale, is a writer and teacher at heart. His book, Learning Every Day, includes several of his columns and is now available on Amazon, iTunes, and Barnes and Noble. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are those of the author.