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Building with Masonry

Building with Masonry

Masonry structures can be built to last for centuries, and many of the techniques and standards of building with masonry are centuries old. Masonry construction usually takes one of these forms:

  • Building block
  • Brick
  • Stone veneer
  • Stucco
  • Concrete

BUILDING BLOCK

Some things to think about:

The ground moves and masonry doesn’t. A proper foundation is a must. For structural projects, from a front step to a new house, you must begin with footings below the frost line (30 inches in our area). Don’t assume that “hard ground” is good enough.
Reinforcing products and chemical additives can contribute to the strength of masonry work, but will not protect against the danger of damage due to improper preparation and technique. Reinforcing wire in concrete, for instance, doesn’t prevent cracks; it just holds the broken pieces together.

Some cracks can’t be prevented – only controlled. A “control” joint – a continuous interruption in the block pattern, filled with a special rubber material and finished with caulk – will give a long stretch of wall a place to move without ruining the surface or compromising the structural strength. If a masonry coating, like stucco or parge, spans a joint between dissimilar backing structures (e.g. a frame wall on top of a block foundation) a joint should be installed to allow movement without ugly cracks.

The water and the weather must be right. Cement is activated by water, and proper “hydration” is key to the strength of cement-based products like mortar. Too much water, or too little, can spoil your mix. Although complete hydration takes 28 days in almost all mixes, most of the strength is derived in the first day or two.

  • If the temperature goes near freezing, or the materials you are working with are cold even when the air temperature is rising, hydration will be stopped or slowed enough to ruin mortar. If the temperature is expected to go below 40 degrees within 48 hours of your work, consider postponing the job, or ask us about cold-weather masonry products and practices.
  • Hot weather is tricky too. You must protect your work from drying too fast when it is sunny, hot, or windy.
  • Even in good weather conditions, you must make sure that drying time is right. Pre-wetting the block before you lay them in mortar can help prevent cracking from drying too quickly.
Don’t just ask for Cement: Cement is a powder, made of roasted stone, which acts as glue to hold together aggregate – sand and stone – to make concrete, mortar, grout and other mixes.

The three steps to get your project started:

MEASURE your project area.

For walls, you will need to know square feet (length x width) of the face of the wall. For steps, you need to know the width of the steps, the height from base to top (the higher ground or the door sill), and the size of the landing (length x width). To be safe and comfortable, steps should be between 6 inches and 8 inches high, and every step in a set should be the same height (rise) and depth (run). Most steps are 12 to 14 inches deep.

CHOOSE your materials.

How do you want it to look? How will it be used? Compare the cost, but also the suitability, durability, ease of installation, maintenance, and repair, of all the possible choices:
Masonry construction: a structure block or concrete, finished with brick, natural stone or manufactured stone veneer.
Concrete (see below)

ESTIMATE

Come see us for solutions, prices, the name of a qualified contractor, or Do-It-Yourself tips.

Driveways

BRICK

Some things to think about:

The ground moves and masonry doesn’t. A proper foundation is a must. For structural projects, from a front step to a new house, you must begin with footings below the frost line (30 inches in our area). Don’t assume that “hard ground” is good enough.
Reinforcing products and chemical additives can contribute to the strength of masonry work, but will not protect against the danger of damage due to improper preparation and technique. Reinforcing wire in concrete, for instance, doesn’t prevent cracks; it just holds the broken pieces together. Wall ties help stabilize a brick veneer vertically in front of a block wall; block reinforcement wire helps strengthen a block wall laterally… but there is no substitute for a structurally sound foundation.

Some cracks can’t be prevented – only controlled. A “control” joint – a continuous interruption in the brick pattern, finished with caulk – will give a long stretch of wall a place to move without ruining the surface or compromising the structural strength. If a masonry coating, like stucco or parge, spans a joint between dissimilar backing structures (e.g. a frame wall on top of a block foundation) a joint should be installed to allow movement without ugly cracks.

The water and the weather must be right. Cement is activated by water, and proper “hydration” is key to the strength of cement-based products. Too much water, or too little, can spoil your mix. Although complete hydration takes 28 days in almost all mixes, most of the strength is derived in the first day or two.

  • If the temperature goes near freezing, or materials you are working with are cold even when the air temperature is rising, hydration will be stopped or slowed enough to ruin mortar, stucco, or concrete. If the temperature is expected to go below 40 degrees within 48 hours of your work, consider postponing the job, or ask us about cold-weather masonry products and practices.
  • Hot weather is tricky too. You must protect your work from drying too fast when it is sunny, hot, or windy.
  • Even in good weather conditions, you must make sure that drying time is right. Pre-wetting the bricks before you lay them in mortar can help prevent cracking from drying too quickly.

Moisture has to get out: Even the most weather-tight veneer can have moisture on the inside – because of humidity from the interior of the building or just from the back of the brick – and it must not be trapped. “Weep holes” in the bottom of the wall, and flashing below the weep holes to stop the downward movement of moisture, prevent the natural migration of water vapor from becoming a problem.

Making masonry match: There are literally thousands of styles of “red brick”, and changes in raw materials and processes used in manufacturing, as well as the effects of weathering, can make even a brick by the same name from the same manufacturer look different from year to year. And new mortar, with the color of the cement prominent, is a tricky match with old mortar which has been weathered so that the sand shows through.
If you need help matching, bring samples if you can, and make note of variations in colors in what you are trying to match. Pictures can help, but can play tricks depending on exposure and quality. Taking samples home, even laying up a test panel, is a great idea, and worth the time and money. Most of all, choose carefully and patiently, and don’t rely on someone saying “close enough”.

The three steps to get your project started:

MEASURE your project area.

For walls, you will need to know square feet (length x width) of the face of the wall. For steps, you need to know the width of the steps, the height from base to top (the higher ground or the door sill), and the size of the landing (length x width). To be safe and comfortable, steps should be between 6 inches and 8 inches high, and every step in a set should be the same height (rise) and depth (run). Most steps are 12 to 14 inches deep.

CHOOSE your materials.

How do you want it to look? How will it be used? Compare the cost, but also the suitability, durability, ease of installation, maintenance, and repair, of all the possible choices:
Masonry construction: a structure block or concrete, finished with brick, natural stone or manufactured stone veneer. Keep in mind that “thin veneer” can stick on the wall without structural support, but full-size brick are 3 inches thick, and the foundation must be wide enough to accommodate the brick as well as the block structure that continues upward behind the veneer.
“Thin Veneer” requires less structural preparation because it can stick on the wall. The colors and textures available, however, are very limited in comparison to full size brick. And special care must be taken to prepare for thin veneer placed over a frame-construction wall (see Stucco)

ESTIMATE

Come see us for solutions, prices, the name of a qualified contractor, or Do-It-Yourself tips.

STONE VENEER

Some things to think about:

The secret to Thin Veneer is the preparation. See THIN STONE VENEER

The ground moves and masonry doesn’t. A proper foundation is a must. For structural projects, from a front step to a new house, you must begin with footings below the frost line (30 inches in our area). Don’t assume that “hard ground” is good enough.
Reinforcing products and chemical additives can contribute to the strength of masonry work, but will not protect against the danger of damage due to improper preparation and technique. Reinforcing wire in concrete, for instance, doesn’t prevent cracks; it just holds the broken pieces together. Wall ties help stabilize a stone veneer vertically in front of a block wall; block reinforcement wire helps strengthen a block wall laterally… but there is no substitute for a structurally sound foundation.

Some cracks can’t be prevented – only controlled. There is some debate about how to protect Thin veneer applications from cracking: create a “control” joint – a continuous interruption in the stone pattern, finished with caulk – as you would with stucco; or treat it like “unit Masonry” – bricks and blocks—and use control joints only in very large expanses of wall, as in commercial work. Because of the integrity of individual pieces, some experts are saying that control joints are unnecessary because expansion and contraction will be absorbed by many very small – almost invisible – cracks in the interface between the units and the mortar joints, and that proper preparation (see Stucco, below) will prevent damage to the structure.

The water and the weather must be right. Cement is activated by water, and proper “hydration” is key to the strength of cement-based products. Too much water, or too little, can spoil your mix. Although complete hydration takes 28 days in almost all mixes, most of the strength is derived in the first day or two.

  • If the temperature goes near freezing, or the materials you are working with are cold even when the air temperature is rising, hydration will be stopped or slowed enough to ruin mortar, stucco, or concrete. If the temperature is expected to go below 40 degrees within 48 hours of your work, consider postponing the job, or ask us about cold-weather masonry products and practices.
  • Hot weather is tricky too. You must protect your work from drying too fast when it is sunny, hot, or windy.
  • Even in good weather conditions, you must make sure that drying time is right. Different densities of stone will absorb water differently, affecting drying time: wetting the stone before laying it in mortar can help prevent cracking from drying too quickly.

Making masonry match: Natural stone varies enormously from each quarried lot to the next. Although common stone veneers can be identified, the look of building stone is also greatly influenced by age, moisture content, and especially by the hand and eye of the mason. Many veneers are mixtures of two or more separately quarried varieties of stone, and even a single variety can be affected by which side of each piece is turned outward. New stone must be expertly blended to match the old. And new mortar, with the color of the cement prominent, is a tricky match with old mortar which has been weathered so that the sand shows through.

If you need help matching, bring samples if you can, and make note of variations in colors in what you are trying to match. Pictures can help, but can play tricks depending on exposure and quality. Taking samples home, even laying up a test panel, is a great idea, and worth the time and money. Most of all, choose carefully and patiently, and don’t rely on someone saying “close enough”.

Use a “stringline”: One of the secrets to a beautiful stone or Hardscape wall it to make sure it is level on top when the terrain slopes, and flat on the face even if the wall must be battered (tilted back into the soil behind it) for strength.

The three steps to get your project started:

MEASURE your project area.

For walls, you will need to know square feet (length x width) of the face of the wall. For steps, you need to know the width of the steps, the height from base to top (the higher ground or the door sill), and the size of the landing (length x width). To be safe and comfortable, steps should be between 6 inches and 8 inches high, and every step in a set should be the same height (rise) and depth (run). Most steps are 12 to 14 inches deep.

CHOOSE your materials.

How do you want it to look? How will it be used? Compare the cost, but also the suitability, durability, ease of installation, maintenance, and repair, of all the possible choices:
Masonry construction: a structure block or concrete, finished natural stone or manufactured stone veneer. Keep in mind that “thin veneer” can stick on the wall without structural support, but full-size stone veneer can be 3 to 8 inches thick, and the foundation must be wide enough to accommodate the stone as well as the block structure that continues upward behind the veneer.
“Thin Veneer” requires less structural preparation because it can stick on the wall. Special care must be taken to prepare for thin veneer placed over a frame-construction wall (see Stucco)

ESTIMATE

Come see us for solutions, prices, the name of a qualified contractor, or Do-It-Yourself tips.

STUCCO

Some things to think about:

The ground moves and masonry doesn’t. A proper foundation is a must. For structural projects, from a front step to a new house, you must begin with footings below the frost line (30 inches in our area). Don’t assume that “hard ground” is good enough.
Metal Lath is almost always required when installing a stucco finish. Although stucco will adhere to block or poured concrete, it will require many coats to prevent “shadowing” of the block joints underneath, and will transmit cracks in the subsurface, even fine cracks that aren’t noticeable in the unfinished structure. If the subsurface isn’t new, it may not be clean enough to bond properly. When in doubt, put up the lath.
Chemical additives and bonding agents can contribute to the strength of masonry work, but will not protect against the danger of damage due to improper preparation and technique.

Moisture: KEEP OUT! – Stucco, and the cement coat used as a base for thin veneer, must be installed over a proper base of many layers.

  1. Double, Grade D moisture barrier: not just a layer of tar paper, but a double layer of paper rated to resist water for 60 minutes, or one layer of Grade D and a moisture-control product specifically designed to separate the paper from the stucco with a drainage space designed to allow moisture to move behind the stucco and release it safely.
  2. Weep screed: a special strip, similar to drip-edge for a roof but with a wide leg and a sloped flange, which prevents “wicking” of moisture from the bottom edge of a stucco application back into the structure behind. NEVER apply stucco so as to contact the ground, even over masonry: capillary action will draw moisture up and take it places you won’t se until the damage is done.
  3. Lath: almost always a must, and always the safe way to go. Be sure that all borders – around windows, doors, and other openings, the edge that meets the material above (soffits, siding, etc.) – a edged with “casing bead”, allowing a clean edge and a place to put caulk between the stucco and other materials. A “control” joint – a continuous interruption in the stucco, beginning with expansion strips in the lath, and finished with caulk – will give a long stretch of wall a place to move without cracking. If you are spanning a joint between dissimilar backing structures (e.g. a frame wall on top of a block foundation), a joint should be installed to allow movement without ugly cracks. Vertical corners are usually reinforced with corner bead.
  4. Brown, Scratch, Finish coats: the first layer “fills” the lath, the second is “scratched” to make sure the next coat holds (so is the first if it is at all smooth), finish will be the texture and color you want. A thick stucco application can take the rain, even absorb it, and release it when the weather changes. But put a single coat on too thick and shrinkage cracks will appear, and will not go away!
    The “finish” in a thin veneer application is, of course, the stone or brick. The rules
    above still apply to ensure enough strength to hold the veneer, and to prevent water from sneaking behind the finish.

The water and the weather must be right. Cement is activated by water, and proper “hydration” is key to the strength of cement-based products. Too much water, or too little, can spoil your mix. Although complete hydration takes 28 days in almost all mixes, most of the strength is derived in the first day or two.

  • If the temperature goes near freezing, or the materials you are working with are cold even when the air temperature is rising, hydration will be stopped or slowed enough to ruin stucco. If the temperature is expected to go below 40 degrees within 48 hours of your work, consider postponing the job, or ask us about cold-weather masonry products and practices.
  • Hot weather is tricky too. You must protect your work from drying too fast when it is sunny, hot, or windy.
  • Even in good weather conditions, you must make sure that drying time is right. Pre-wetting the base coat before applying stucco, can help prevent cracking from drying too quickly.

Making masonry match: Just like matching paint, matching stucco colors from swatches is risky. Consider buying a bag and putting up a sample (and make sure it is dry before you decide) in order to confirm the match. Even if you know the manufacturer and the color name, variation may occur between batches, or because of weathering of the old material you are matching.

The three steps to get your project started:

MEASURE your project area.

For walls, you will need to know square feet (length x width) of the face of the wall. Also measure windows and doors, and the edges where you’ll meet other materials (siding, soffits), and vertical corners.

CHOOSE your materials.

How do you want it to look? How will it be used? Compare the cost, but also the suitability, durability, ease of installation, maintenance, and repair, of all the possible choices. Do you need to match existing work?

ESTIMATE

Come see us for solutions, prices, the name of a qualified contractor, or Do-It-Yourself tips. Look carefully, take pictures, bring samples of the old material, if you are matching, and of the wall you will be covering.

CONCRETE

Some things to think about:

The ground moves and masonry doesn’t. A proper foundation is a must. For surface projects, like poured concrete walkways, you should start with a packed base of the proper material. For structural projects, from a front step to a new house, you must begin with footings below the frost line (30 inches in our area). Don’t assume that “hard ground” is good enough.
Reinforcing products and chemical additives can contribute to the strength of masonry work, but will not protect against the danger of damage due to improper preparation and technique. Reinforcing wire in concrete, for instance, doesn’t prevent cracks; it just holds the broken pieces together.

Some cracks can’t be prevented – only controlled. Flat slabs in driveways, walkways, and patios will move when the ground freezes and thaws. “Control” joints – grooves placed in the surface of the concrete with a steel or bronze “groover” or “jointer” – give the concrete a place to crack under the pressure of movement without ruining the surface.

The water and the weather must be right. Cement is activated by water, and proper “hydration” is key to the strength of cement-based products. Too much water, or too little, can spoil your mix. Although complete hydration takes 28 days in almost all mixes, most of the strength is derived in the first day or two.

  • If the temperature goes near freezing, or the ground is cold even when the air temperature is rising, hydration will be stopped or slowed enough to ruin mortar, stucco, or concrete. If the temperature is expected to go below 40 degrees within 48 hours of your work, consider postponing the job, or ask us about cold-weather masonry products and practices.
  • Hot weather is tricky too. You must protect your work from drying too fast when it is sunny, hot, or windy.
  • Even in good weather conditions, you must make sure that drying time is right.

Making masonry match: As concrete dries, it turns bright white. As it cures in the first month, the color begins to turn toward the buff/grey color of older concrete. Any attempt to color the new to look like the old will likely be frustrating, since it is nearly impossible to predict the result, and since the color will change with drying, curing, and aging.

Concrete finishers have a saying…”Concrete is guaranteed to do three things: turn hard, turn white and crack.” Design and preparation are crucial in making sure your job lasts. And sometimes, flexible is better.

The three steps to get your project started:

MEASURE your project area.

For slabs, you will need to know square feet (length x width) of the surface, and the thickness desired. For steps, you need to know the width of the steps, the height from base to top (the higher ground or the door sill), and the size of the landing (length x width). To be safe and comfortable, steps should be between 6 inches and 8 inches high, and every step in a set should be the same height (rise) and depth (run). Most steps are 12 to 14 inches deep.

CHOOSE your materials.

Concrete can be stamped and colored to mimic stone or brick or just to add visual interest. Another popular way to dress up a slab or walkway is “exposed aggregate”, in which decorative gravel is used in the mix, and the finishing process includes washing away the cement from the surface to expose the stone. Both of these alternatives are specialized techniques best entrusted to an experienced contractor.

ESTIMATE

Come see us for solutions, prices, the name of a qualified contractor, or Do-It-Yourself tips.

G.W. Lippincott's Supply
609-200-5050
Store Hours
Mon-Fri: 7am-4:30pm
Sat: 7am-2pm

sales@lippincottsupply.net