Masonry walls, steps and chimneys seem permanent and impervious. After all, it’s strong and can take a lot of abuse — pretty darn near invincible right? Well, brick and mortar do make a mighty building material, and with proper maintenance your masonry construction will last a long time.
But masonry has two enemies that can shorten its lifespan, especially when they work together — water and cold weather. While your masonry steps, walls and chimneys were built to last a lifetime or longer, wet wintry weather can damage bricks and mortar.
This damage only gets worse over time — we’ve seen chimneys collapse and steps crumble because of unrepaired winter damage. Don’t let that happen to your home. Here’s everything you need to know about protecting your masonry from harsh winter conditions.
How water and cold weather damage your masonry
Brick and mortar are naturally porous materials. They absorb moisture and then release it again. In warm weather this doesn’t pose much of a problem. When the temperature drops below freezing however, it can cause serious damage.
Any moisture absorbed by the brick and mortar will freeze and expand. This expansion can create cracks in the mortar and the bricks themselves. As the temperature rises, the water thaws and makes its way into the newly formed cracks. When it gets cold again, the moisture refreezes, worsening the crack. This freezing and thawing cycle will continue as long as the weather allows.
This results in broken or crumbling mortar, cracked and broken bricks and even falling brick — obviously a hazard if they’re overhead, but also dangerous if you use masonry steps leading up to your front door.
Additionally, almost all rainwater in the United States is slightly acidic, and over time it will begin to dissolve the mortar in your masonry. When this water makes its way into cracks, your mortar can start to deteriorate very quickly.
We make it worse
Although it’s never intended, homeowners can actually contribute to the deterioration of any masonry steps or walls. They use salt and chemicals to melt ice on their walk, which may reduce the risk of slipping, but actually worsens the cycle of freezing and thawing. Overuse of ice melting products can significantly reduce the lifespan of any masonry stairs.
Homeowners will often stack wood or grow plants directly alongside the house. While this can be handy or make the property look nice, having items and plants directly against the house will keep moisture trapped against the bricks during the day, contributing to more cracks in the brick and mortar.
What you can do about it
When it comes to masonry steps and stairs, try to remove as much snow and ice as possible without the use of salt or other chemicals. While it won’t melt ice, adding a small amount of sand can help prevent slipping by adding traction.
If you must use a de-icing agent, magnesium chloride is a better choice than rock salt or other options. It does less damage to brick and mortar, as well as concrete, and is one of the least harmful to the plants that grow near your steps.
After freezing temperatures have subsided for good, give the treated area a thorough cleaning — sweep up any remaining ice melter and rinse the area thoroughly with water.
Make sure that you don’t store anything or grow any plants directly against brick walls, as this creates a space with higher moisture content. Make sure that you have your chimney inspected at least once a year, and we recommend installing a chimney cap to protect your chimney from moisture.
For serious protection, consider having your masonry professionally waterproofed with Siloxane P.D. which will prevent water from penetrating brick, mortar and concrete. Unlike most sealants, this treatment won’t trap moisture, instead allowing it to escape from the masonry without letting new water make its way in. If you have questions about how this process can prolong the life of your masonry, or if you’d like to schedule a free quote, give us a call at 440-834-8252 or fill out our contact form.
Repair problems right away
The number one issue that we see with damaged or deteriorating masonry is that homeowners simply put off calling for assistance. Don’t make the same mistake. Small problems can usually be dealt with quickly, easily and inexpensively. The longer you wait to get a problem repaired, the more challenging and costly it becomes.
Simply put, if you see a problem get it checked out right away. Cracks, crumbling mortar and even discoloration can be symptoms of bigger problems and can eventually lead to dangerous conditions. Save yourself time, money and trouble and fix problems as soon as possible.
Take care of that masonry
Your brick steps, masonry walls and chimneys can last a long time if properly taken care of. Make sure that you take every step you can to protect them. Whether that’s having them professionally waterproofed, getting a yearly chimney inspection or having minor problems repaired right away, taking care of your masonry will help ensure your home stays safe and dry.
Want to know if you need a repair or if masonry waterproofing is a good option for you? Call Ray Arnold Masonry & General Contracting at 440-834-8252, or fill out our contact form, to schedule a free quote. We’ll be happy to help you take care of your masonry.