Re-pointing your home is no job for an amateur, as even the most keen DIY-er will find problems aplenty along the way. Brick work is a specialist skill, especially when it comes to period properties, and a good bricklayer or builder will know how to repair bricks as they go, as well as the correct mortar to use once the old, crumbling mortar has been slaked away from between the masonry.
Until recently, most builders would simply use good old cement or masonry cement, mixed with water and sand, to fill the gaps between the bricks and to seal your home against rain. But there is now an increasing trend for specialists and those in the know to switch to lime mortar pointing, especially for work on older homes and period property. This is probably the kind of mortar that your home was built with if it was put up before the 1950s and it often has a more yellowed appearance than the standard grey of cement.
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Lime mortar pointing is generally softer and more flexible than Portland cement or masonry cement and it’s better for builders, buildings and the environment. It allows your home to breathe more naturally than cement finishes, it can help with damp problems and it will also enable your home to move naturally without cracking walls or bricks. Mortar finishes should always be softer than the bricks around them to enable this to happen and lime mortar provides just such a solution.
You can usually tell if your home is pointed in lime mortar by pulling away some of the crumbling pointing and dousing it with white vinegar. If it fizzes then you have lime mortar pointing or a lime mortar mix. But you can ask your tradesman about this as well, as they will be able to tell you if you have the original mortar in place and what any repairs have been made with.
Your tradesman should also source the lime needed to make the mortar, as they will be able to get the right material from builder’s yards or specialist suppliers. Not all DIY shops carry pure lime or hydraulic lime, which are the materials that your brickwork tradesman will use to mix up the mortar. Some will also use a lime putty to mix with the sand.
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There can often be confusion with hydraulic and hydrated lime, but it is the former that you will need, with various strengths available to create a good mix. These will be marked as of Natural Hydraulic Lime NHL 2, NHL 3.5 or NHL 5, with the middle strength being the most common for use in domestic mortars.
One great advantage of using a tradesman who is experienced in using lime mortars is that he or she will be adept at mixing the material and have an opinion on what the correct mix should be, varying from one measure lime to one-and-a-half sand, to one measure lime to three of sand. Your tradesman should have a feel for the right mix and consistency, as well as knowing when to lay the mortar and how to look after it as it dries. Lime mortar should not be applied in wet weather and it should be protected from the rain if any is expected. This can be achieved with plastic sheeting or tarpaulins. A consistent mix of mortar and a clean, tidy application will increase the kerb appeal of your home and can be a real bonus if you are trying to sell.
If your home’s brickwork has seen better days and needs a spot of TLC and brick repair or maintenance, post a job on Rated People in our Bricklayer category. Up to three tradesmen can then contact you to quote and you’ll be able to view their profile pages, complete with customer ratings, to help you decide who to hire.