Bricks and mortar make for hugely sturdy foundations for any building, but sometimes top-ups are necessary to prevent weather damage and general damage from eroding the quality of a construction.The application of mortar to bricks during building, with the intention of holding the bricks together and preventing the elements from seeping inside a home and causing water damage, is know as pointing.
Unfortunately, mortar does not tend to last as long as brickwork, and thus may need to be replaced – a process known as repointing. However, it is essential that this work is undertaken professionally, and only when necessary – a substandard repointing job can actually do more harm than good to the integrity of a wall. This guide will talk you through the process of repointing a brick wall.
How Do I Know When I Need to Repoint a Wall?
It’s simple to assess whether a wall will require repointing by sight. Put simply, take a look at the brickwork – if there are visible spaces where mortar once was, you should start thinking about the repointing process.
This becomes increasingly important if the remaining mortar is growing soft, and can be scraped away with minimal effort. Failing to repoint when you notice these warning signs leaves your wall at risk of further erosion through rain at best, and a possible decline in structural integrity at worst.
It should also be remembered that the quality of mortar is a factor that is taken into consideration as part of the UK’s building regulations, and you may be held liable if substandard pointing within your property causes an accident. Anybody living in a home older than 60 years should be particularly vigilant about the potential need for repointing.
How to Repoint a Wall
There are no legal restrictions placed against who can repoint a wall, but as is often the case with anything as important as building works, it is always advisable to seek the assistance of a professional tradesperson if you are not entirely comfortable.
Repointing can be a long process though, and by extension, an expensive one if you bring in outside support. If you are capable of conducting the work yourself, this guide will talk you through the process. One thing is very important to note, however – repointing should never be tackled during the winter, as wind and rain will damage the freshly-applied mortar.
Firstly, you will need to gather a number of repointing tools. Ensure that you have access to the following before you commence work:
- Water to spray on the wall
- A Hammer and Narrow Chisel or Screwdriver, for removing old pointing
- Brushes – both soft and wired – in order to clean out the space between bricks
- Lime Mortar, which can be purchased pre-mixed (or, if you the time and inclination, you can mix your own)
- A Mortarboard and Trowel, for applying the mortar between the bricks
When you’re ready to make a start, lightly spray the wall with water (and we do mean spray – don’t turn the garden hose on the surface) until it is damp. This is designed to prevent the mortar from drying too quickly once it has been applied, as that will lead to inflexibility and potential cracking.
Once the wall is suitably damp, take your hammer and chisel/screwdriver and remove the old mortar that is no longer fit for purpose. Pay particular attention to any mortar that surrounds windows and doors, as this could cause difficulty in the ability to open and close such spaces. Once you are content that there is no longer any unnecessary mortar in the vicinity, use your soft brush to clear away the inevitable dust that will have gathered in all of the spaces between the brickwork. You’ll need a clean and dry space to work in for the next stage.
Now you are ready to start applying your fresh mortar. Add a generous amount to your mortarboard, and start to repoint your wall. Begin at the very bottom, as this part of the wall is most susceptible to damp, but once the first metre or so has been repointed change direction and work from the very top of the wall down. Don’t worry too much about being neat at this stage of the process (though try to avoid spilling or smearing damp mortar all over the bricks themselves) – the most important thing is that you apply sufficient mortar into every space.
Leave the mortar to dry for a while (obviously this will be a much faster process during warmer, summer months), until it can be touched without leaving a fingerprint, but can be scratched with a key or a fingernail. At this stage, you can take your wire brush and clean up the surface of the wall, scraping away any excess mortar and preventing unwelcome staining. This concludes your job – cover your repointed wall if necessary, and leave it to dry.
Repointing can be a laborious task, and it isn’t something to be taken lightly – but thankfully, if you do the job right the results will last long beyond a lifetime, and it could save considerable sums that would otherwise be spent on insulating a house.
- Household Quotes – How to Mix Mortar
- Planning Portal
- Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings
- UK Government Building Regulations