Bricks and stones are strong, but water and weeds can act like their kryptonite
Properly maintained brick or stone homes can last for centuries
To stave off water damage, seal your masonry
You can repoint your masonry to fix crumbling mortar
Avoid letting weeds and other invasive plants take over your masonry
Sometimes, all you need to clean brick or stone is a little soap and water
Brick and stone are remarkably resilient, and a building constructed from these materials can last for a very long time. In fact, the oldest brick house in North America has been standing since 1680. Needless to say, if you’ve got a masonry home, it has the potential to outlive you by a couple of centuries, but only if it’s properly maintained.
Like any exterior siding, there are several pros and cons to owning a brick house. Brick and stone might be long-lasting, but masonry homes still wear down after years of being exposed to the outdoor elements. The same goes for brick or stone chimneys, mailboxes, steps, walkways, and walls. People who own older homes with stone foundations need to be particularly careful because damaged masonry can bow and cause structural problems.
The good news is that performing regular maintenance on your bricks and stones can prevent costly repairs down the line. Here are some steps you can take to maintain your brick or stone home.
1. Inspect Your Masonry Annually
The key to preventing costly masonry problems is spotting them early. To avoid expensive repairs, you should inspect your masonry (including the caulking and mortar) for signs of damage every year. Look for the following problems in your bricks and stones:
Bowing and bulging (often found in foundations and walls)
Crumbling and cracking
Moss, mildew, and mold
Spalling (when the face of the brick or the stone flakes off)
Blocked weep holes
2. Clean Your Masonry With Mild Detergent
It’s no secret that bricks and stones get dirty. You might even notice a powdery substance, known as efflorescence, on your masonry’s surface. Efflorescence appears when salt dissolves and evaporates on the surface of the stone, and it’s a sign that your masonry needs to be sealed.
Luckily, a thorough cleaning will remove dirt, efflorescence, and watermarks from bricks and stones. With a synthetic or a natural brush, scrub the masonry with a mix of mild detergent and water. Avoid using a wire brush because it can leave behind pieces of steel, which can rust and cause discoloration. It’s best to clean masonry when you notice efflorescence, mold, mildew, or discoloration to avoid needing to use a power washer, which can damage mortar and caulking. At minimum, clean your external masonry once a year.
3. Unclog Weep Holes
Masonry often has weep holes built into the mortar. These tiny holes are placed periodically throughout a masonry structure to help the accumulated water drain (which prevents flooding) and increase ventilation (which prevents mold and mildew). If the weep holes are clogged, the buildup of water can become a problem, especially if it freezes. Freezing water expands and can damage your masonry.
Test your weep holes by using your garden hose to run water through them. The stream of water should be steady, and it should be clear as it runs out. If that’s not the case, you have a blockage. Remove the blockage using compressed air or a piece of wire.
4. Use Bleach to Banish Moss, Mold, and Mildew
Damp brick or stone is a magnet for moss, mold, and mildew, which can weaken your masonry by holding in moisture. Most often, you’ll find moss, mold, or mildew growing in areas of your property that don’t get direct sunlight, including the east-facing area of your property, your basement, or areas heavily shaded by trees and shrubs.
To clean it off of your bricks or stones, you can use a DIY solution and a little elbow grease. Follow these guidelines for best results:
Mix one cup of bleach with one gallon of water.
Soak the masonry in water to prevent it from absorbing the bleach.
Apply the solution to the brick or stone using a spray bottle or a sponge.
Scrub the affected area with a scrub brush. Avoid steel bristles because they can leave behind residue that rusts and discolors bricks and stone.
Once it’s clean, the job is complete until the moss or mold grows back. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to permanently keep moss away from outdoor bricks and stones.
5. Get Rid of Pesky Plant Growth
There’s nothing more quaint and picturesque than English ivy creeping across your home’s facade. Unfortunately, ivy can also damage the mortar between bricks or stones. It’s not just ivy—a wealth of climbing plants and strong-willed weeds can take root in your brick or stonework, exacerbating existing problems and weakening your masonry.
Most of the time, you can cut plants right at the soil and let them naturally shrivel up and fall off your brick or stone. Weeds like Japanese Knotweed (which is particularly resilient and known to damage foundations) will need professional treatment to remove.
6. Use Sealant to Protect Your Masonry from Water Damage
Whether it seeps up from the ground or rains down, water can damage your home’s masonry. Homeowners need to be particularly careful about water damage during the winter because water will seep into cracks in your bricks and stones and expand as it freezes. Frozen cracks can aggravate existing damage, and the problem only gets worse over time.
Luckily, sealant can help protect your brick or stone masonry. It’s also a good line of defense against potential oil stains (especially in the driveway) and UV rays, which can fade the rich stonework on your home’s facade.
A 10-ounce tube of polyurethane sealant, which you can use to fill brick or stone cracks, costs about $8. A gallon of siloxane sealer, which you can use to cover stone and brick that isn’t already damaged, can cost more than $80. Sealant is widely available at hardware stores, though you may want to hire a professional to apply it unless you have prior experience. It’s easy to miss an area, which can leave your wall vulnerable to further damage.
7. Repoint Aging Stone or Brickwork
If your stone or brickwork is degrading to the point that stones are falling out or there’s crumbling or long cracks, polyurethane sealant won’t be strong enough to save it. You may need to repoint the mortar, which is the process of chipping out the old, damaged mortar and replacing it with new mortar. Repointing typically costs homeowners between $500 and $2,500 for the average job, according to HomeAdvisor. It will cost more if you need a whole wall repointed rather than just a small section.
Repointing is a labor-intensive practice best left to a professional mason, especially considering the wide range of types of mortar. For example, homes that are more than 50 years old typically use lime-based mortar, which would react poorly with Portland cement mortar, which is used in most modern homes. The good news is that when repointing is done correctly, it can last anywhere from 20 to more than 50 years.