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Is Your Historic Home's Brick Foundation Crumbling? What Are Your Restoration Options?

by April Carlson

If you're the owner of a charming brick home that was built before paved roads and telephones, you may be accustomed to the extra TLC your home occasionally needs. However, like any homeowner, foundation issues may seem beyond your pay grade -- and if your home's brick foundation is beginning to show signs of age like cracking, pitting, or even buckling, you may be wondering about your next steps. Read on to learn more about some of the issues that can cause your home's brick foundation to crumble or buckle, as well as your best repair and restoration options to quickly and seamlessly get your foundation back to its original condition.

What causes brick foundations to crumble?

Brick foundations are timeless in many ways -- after being fired in a kiln, these clay-based blocks are impervious to just about any weather condition, from rain to sleet to sun exposure in three-digit temperatures. Bricks are also easy to clean and can maintain a like-new appearance for decades without much maintenance.

However, the mortar connecting your bricks may not always be up to par. For some historic homes, the quality of the mortar mix depended largely upon that day's weather, the availability of fresh water and other supplies for mixing, and the amount of time permitted to elapse between when the mortar was mixed and the bricks were placed. As a result, and because it could take crews days or even weeks to finish a single foundation, you may find that the mortar holding bricks together in certain parts of your foundation appears less stable than others. 

In addition, if your home was constructed using air-dried bricks (rather than kiln-fired ones), these bricks may be more susceptible to erosion due to chemicals in the air from car exhaust and other pollutants. If your mortar appears to be in good shape but the corners of exposed brick are becoming rounded, or if you notice pitting or cracking in the bricks themselves, you may be dealing with weakened air-dried bricks.

What are your best brick repair and restoration options?

Your first step in determining the correct way to repair your brick foundation is to examine exactly which part of the foundation is facing structural issues. Knowing the exact cause behind your crumbling brick foundation will also help you prevent future issues from recurring. 

If the bricks themselves are intact, but the mortar holding them together has developed pits or cracks, re-mortaring your existing bricks may be all that is necessary to restore the strength and appearance of your foundation. This mortar removal and replacement is referred to as "tuck-pointing" and can often be accomplished by a patient homeowner with the right tools. 

If you're instead dealing with air-dried bricks that are cracking or pitting, you have a couple of options. The first, a protective sealant, is best for bricks that are just starting to show their age. This sealant helps prevent water, smoke, and other potential causes of erosion from penetrating the surface of the brick and causing damage. Although this coating won't fix existing damage, it can prevent any problems from worsening and stave off more expensive repairs.

For bricks that are too damaged to remain in your foundation, professional brick removal and replacement may be necessary. Through this process, a masonry repair specialist will carefully remove the mortar surrounding the damaged bricks, then remove the bricks themselves. After ensuring that the surrounding area is intact and free from structural imperfections, the mason will apply mortar to a new brick and slide it into place. This can be used to replace multiple individual bricks or even a small section of your foundation wall.

For more information or help with any repairs, contact a local masonry restoration company like Mara Restoration, Inc.