Frequently Asked Questions - Maintenance

A brick home is virtually maintenance free. Brick is one of the oldest building materials in the world, and one of the reasons it's still so popular is brick's ease of upkeep. Brick never needs painting, never rots, will never be eaten by termites and will never dent or tear. Brick homes built hundreds of years ago still stand today. 

Thin brick can be pried from the wall due to a number of issues. 

If the brown or setting coating is allowed to surface dry, a thin film will form over the coating which prevents adequate bonding of the mortar to the brick. 

Dirt, dust, oil, wax or other debris on the back of the brick may interfere with the bonding of the mortar to the brick. 

If the mortar joint is omitted and the back up is exposed to weathering in the form of freeze thaw, the freezing of water behind the thin brick can apply forces to the brick that pry them off from the wall. Fill mortar joints with a concave tooled joint to protect the backup from moisture. 

Under normal conditions the thin brick may be adequately bonded to the backup, under wind or temperature may create forces in excess of the bond strength which can cause the brick to fall away from the wall. 

Repointing or tuck-pointing existing brickwork may be in order when mortar joints have softened, deteriorated or exhibited pronounced cracking. Generally, repointing involves carefully removing existing damaged mortar while not disturbing or cutting the existing brick. The joint is then repacked with mortar in layers. It is important to remember that the mortar should always have slightly less strength than the brick. Usually, the best mortar for use in repointing is what was in the wall to begin with. For most walls less than 70 years old, generally Type N or O mortar should be used when repointing. For structures older than this, it is best to try and determine what the original mortar consisted of and match that. For more information concerning repointing, see Technical Notes 7F. 

A brick wall may be painted provided the correct preparation is done, the proper paint is selected, and the paint is applied correctly. Generally, new brick walls are not painted. However, if it is desired to paint a recently constructed brick wall, the wall should be allowed to fully cure 28 days and should not be cleaned or treated with acid solutions. Alkali-resistant paints should be used and a zinc chloride or zinc sulfate solution may need to be applied to the wall to neutralize the surface. Painting brick does not preclude good construction and detailing practices. Any deficiencies such as surface deposits; broken brick; cracked, loose or missing mortar; or inadequate flashing and weep holes should be corrected prior to painting. In addition, the brick should be thoroughly cleaned and given ample time to dry before application of paint. See Technical Notes 7F and 20 for more information. For brickwork to function properly, the wall must resist moisture penetration and be permeable to vapor from the structure. Consequently, any paint applied to the wall must also have these same characteristics. In addition, the inherent features of a brick wall which channel water out, such as weep holes and vents, must not be clogged by paint or caulk to inhibit the flow of water. Latex and portland cement-based paints perform well on brick walls. Oil-based, alkyd, rubber and epoxy paints do not allow any vapor in the wall to escape and consequently should not be applied to brick. Prior to painting, the brick should receive a prime coat suitable for the paint application per manufacturer's instructions. For additional information on painting brick masonry, see Technical Notes 6.

Generally, water repellents are only an interim solution to any water penetrating a brick wall since they loose their ability to repel water after 1 to 10 years. However, in cases where all other options have been exhausted, it may be considered as long as one is aware of the inherent nature of water repellents. There are basically two types of water repellents: films and penetrants. Films such as acrylics, stearates, mineral gum waxes, urethanes and silicone resins form a thin membrane over the brick. Penetrants such as silanes, siloxanes and blends actually penetrate the brick surface. Films are good at repelling water but poor at permitting water vapor transmission which allow the wall to breathe. Penetrants, on the other hand, are good at both. They will usually have a matte finish while films may produce a higher sheen. Penetrants are more acceptable since they allow any water present in the brick to exit the wall. However, penetrants will not provide graffiti-resistance to a wall while some films will. Application of a water repellent does not negate proper brick construction and detailing procedures. Any deficiencies in a brick wall such as inadequate flashing, weep holes, mortar joints or broken brick should be corrected prior to the application of a water repellent. The wall should also be cleaned and allowed to thoroughly dry before administering a water repellent. For additional information on water repellents, see Technical Notes 6A.

ASTM C 67 contains a freezing and thawing test which is presently the industry accepted standard. This test should be conducted prior to delivery of brick to the job site. Bricks pass the test if, after 50 freeze/thaw cycles, they do not exhibit significant weight loss, breaking, or cracking. The test is designed to be performed on brick that have not yet been built into a wall.

There are many factors that contribute to brickwork's ability to withstand cyclical freeze/thaw including workmanship; the mortar type, its air content and consistency when laid; and the degree of saturation in a wall. These factors cannot be tested for in ASTM C 67 since they involve other elements outside the brick itself. 

Well, the brick is very highly resistant and does not needs to be painted very often. 

Cleaning is much easier if care is taken during application to avoid smearing mortar on the faces of the thin brick. Special grout release chemicals may be applied to the brick before the joints are filled to make cleaning easier. 

Water may be used to remove much of the adhesive and mortar before they have set. Remove cementitious mortars according to recommended cleaning procedures for thin brick. Procedures vary due to color and texture' Remove other mortars according to manufacturer's instructions. Remove dried adhesive according to the adhesive manufacturer's instructions. Do not saturate the surface or smear. Never use muriatic acid, wire brushes or other abrasive methods to clean thin brick. 

As always, the wall should be thoroughly saturated with water before and after any cleaning application. Also, a small inconspicuous area of wall should be tested to confirm that any solutions used will not harm the brick. Freshly applied paint can be removed with a solution of trisodium phosphate mixed with water at a rate of 2 lb. per gallon of water. Apply the solution to the brick; allow it to soften paint; and remove with scraper and stiff bristle brush. Proprietary chemical compounds are also available through local distributors to remove fresh paint. Existing paint which has been in place for some time is more difficult to remove and may require using abrasive techniques with non-steel scrapers or sandblasting by a professional. Certain brick should not be sandblasted. Proprietary chemical compounds from local distributors in the form of a gel solvent may be necessary to soften existing paint. Numerous applications may be necessary depending on the number of paint layers. For additional information on removing paint from brickwork, see Technical Notes 20.

Most stains and discoloration can be removed from brickwork if the proper cleaning technique is employed. There are essentially two categories of stains; those which are externally applied to the wall and those which originate from within the wall. Those which come from within a wall may need additional investigation to prevent the stain from returning. As always, it is important to thoroughly saturate a brick wall before application of any cleaning solution. As a general rule, acidic cleaning solutions should only be applied to red brick with no surface finish such as sand. Also, an inconspicuous area of the wall should be tested with any cleaning solution for compatibility prior to application on the entire wall. Any cleaning solutions should be thoroughly rinsed from the wall. Most stains can be dealt with by thoroughly washing the wall with a common household or kitchen cleanser dissolved in water and applied to the wall with a stiff bristle brush. If this is ineffective, a poultice which dissolves the stain and pulls it into an inert material may be necessary. The inert material can be talc, whiting or fuller's earth while the solvent will vary based on the type of stain. Proprietary cleaning agents can also be employed to remove specific stains. Sandblasting and pressure washing brickwork can also be options for certain brick when especially stubborn mortar or externally applied stains are involved. Bricks with coatings such as sand or slurry finishes should not be cleaned in this manner. Sandblasting and pressure washing should usually only be undertaken by a competent professional with experience. If improperly executed, either of these methods can permanently damage the brick. For more information on stain removal, see Technical Notes 20.

To answer this question, you need to understand the consequences of leaving or removing plant growth. This growth on brick can potentially damage it by forcing root tendrils into the mortar joints. Moisture can then find its way into the wall and freeze-thaw action or other moisture related events can occur resulting in damage. However, ivy also sheds rainwater and reduces the surface temperature of the wall. Properly constructed walls with good workmanship and well-tooled joints can also resist tendril intrusion better than poorly constructed walls. 

When existing plant growth is removed from a brick wall, it may also remove part of the mortar from the joint. This could result in the wall having to be repointed by removing any broken mortar and repacking with new. Further, complete removal of the tendrils is difficult. Failure to do so may result in stains on the wall. 

Therefore, it is an evaluation which is best made by the owners taking these as well as the aesthetic and economic considerations into account. While plant growth can shorten the life of brickwork, a well-constructed wall should still last for many decades. 

Additional information on plant growth on brickwork is available by ordering Engineering and Research Digest #621 from the Brick Bookstore

A brick's color can be attributed to its clay composition, any added compounds, its firing temperature and any surface treatments. Because brick is composed of naturally occurring materials, all brick will not necessarily be exactly the same. For this reason, some brick may be of a slightly different color than others in a given batch. Usually, this adds character to a wall, but occasionally it is desired to blend these brick with other brick in the wall. This can be done by individually staining the brick in question.

Staining is a common practice and is usually done by a professional with expertise in its application. The stain itself is a proprietary product made specifically for brick. A local brick supplier in your Yellow Pages should be consulted for a product and professional applicator. Since the surrounding mortar joints must be masked, it is a time consuming process and is usually only done when a limited number of brick are involved. If staining is done properly, it should have no detrimental effect on the bricks and should provide a long lasting finish.