Take the Fear out of Brick Veneer
Basic masonry skills are all a remodeler needs to remove and replace bricks and mortar.
Synopsis: In this article, mason John Carroll explains how to complete a remodel in a brick wall. He explains the importance of matching new brick with the old and choosing the correct mortar color profile. He then gives a step-by-step look at how he replaced the brick on a window remodel. He first breaks the unusable brick and removes the mortar with a drill, grinder, and chisel, and then adds flashing and foam weatherstripping to manage water and movement differentials between the frame of the house and the brick veneer. Carroll then goes through the process of laying new brick, from mixing the mortar and choosing the right-size bricks to setting the lintel and finishing around the renovated window sill. He describes all the tools you need for the job, including a brick spacing ruler, and tips and tricks for removing the excess mortar and finishing the new brick veneer.
The first step when remodeling an exterior wall is to remove the wall covering. This is simple enough when the cladding is siding, but more complicated when a house is clad in brick. One scary part of remodeling a brick opening is removing the existing steel lintel that supports the brick above. Because brick’s bonded pattern makes a self-supporting corbelled arch, most lintels only support a triangle of brick directly above them. You can often remove the bricks in this triangular area and those above will stay put. Other times, there are so few courses above the lintel that it makes sense to take them all out — in openings of 3 ft. or less, often a few courses above the lintel can be removed and the mortar will hold the bricks temporarily.
In some cases, relying on the mortar or the corbelled arch is not safe. If an opening interrupts the corbelled pattern, there is no self-supporting arch. With wide openings, it might be impractical to remove enough of the bricks above. In these cases, you need a structural engineer to design a shoring plan.
Replacing the brick veneer takes special skills as well. The object is to make the new work match the old. Bricks can be salvaged from the demolition, but that often doesn’t yield enough for the remodeling job and cleaning off the old mortar is time consuming. The best solution is often to take a few bricks to a masonry supply house and see if they can find a good match, but that wasn’t necessary here. These bricks were discontinued decades ago, but when he built this house in 1958, the owner’s grandfather stacked the leftover bricks at the back of the lot.
Mortar accounts for about 20% of the surface of a typical brick wall, and its color and joint profile affect how well new work matches the old. Older mortar tends to be lighter and tanner in color than modern mortars, which are often gray. To match mortar, you’ll need samples. Play around with different cements and dyes and give your samples about three weeks to dry to ensure the closest match.
This process sounds intimidating, but many remodelers already have the majority of the tools to do the work, and just need to learn the right techniques for the job.
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