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Masonry Maintenance: A Guide for Condos and Community Associations

Masonry Components InfographicMasonry and brick buildings are beloved for their enduring class and elegance, but much like any beautiful thing that is to be long-lasting, they require continuous maintenance. For condominiums and community associations overseeing such buildings, implementing technically sound maintenance protocols is crucial for not only preserving aesthetics but also for optimizing costs long-term. This article delves into strategies associations can implement for masonry upkeep, aimed at extending the lifespan of such structures and curbing expenditures over time.  

At the foundation of any maintenance routine lies procedures for inspection. Employing certified professionals who utilize diagnostic tools as necessary for identifying problem areas. Inspections should be comprehensive, encompassing all exterior surfaces including walls, chimneys, and facades. These inspections are your first defense against costly issues that may arise, as uncovering anomalies soon enough to stop them in their tracks minimizes the chances that a small issue snowballs into a major structural complication. The most common types of masonry deterioration include efflorescence, spalling, joint deterioration, and cracking. 

Types of masonry deterioration

While there are a variety of complications masonry can experience, most boil down to one perpetrator – water. Water, or even the smallest amount of moisture, is an incredibly powerful substance. Evaporation, expansion and contraction (climate-dependent) are small occurrences which can compound to create large issues.  

To fortify defenses against this inevitable antagonist, meticulous attention must be paid to masonry repairs and replacement of sealant. In our experience, most associations will see non-uniform rates of sealant deterioration throughout their communities and buildings due to different exposures to sunlight and weather, so most communities can expect dispersed deterioration and dispersed maintenance as the sealants age. Two types of sealants are present: caulk, which seals the joints between two materials, and the sealant that covers the entirety of the masonry structure, forcing liquid to bead up and run off instead of getting absorbed into the wall.  

When it comes time to replace joint sealant, whether you’re on a schedule or if an inspection warrants doing so, there are three major guidelines we recommend you follow: 

  1. To ensure the sealant adheres correctly, joint surfaces must be removed of all contaminants including previous sealant, paint, rust, grease, etc.  
  2. The surfaces must be dry and free from dust or grit using compressed air or brushes 
  3. Manufacturer’s instructions must be followed to ensure the sealant is compatible with the substrate (surface it is being applied to) and the chemicals or solvents used to prepare the surface  

 

There is a wide variety of caulk and sealant products available to choose from, but we most highly recommend polyurethane or silicone-based caulks. Polyurethane-based caulks are beneficial in that they do not require special preparation like primer. While silicone-based caulks do require primer, they perform better than most other caulk materials as they are elastic (do not shrink as they dry) and hold up best in weather-afflicted climates, giving them a much longer, cost-saving useful life.  

Where caulks are used to seal joints between two surfaces, flexible sealant is used to create control joints between masonry surfaces. When moisture infiltrates masonry walls, they can experience expansion, contraction, moisture migration, and settlement, whose pressure control joints relieve. If an inspection warrants maintenance on control joints, it will generally necessitate the replacement of the joint and sealant. Mortar joints, on the other hand, are the solid joints between bricks. When these joints experience deterioration, there are two options – face grouting and repointing.  

We advise against face grouting, as it is an outdated practice that involves simply placing new mortar over the top of existing mortar, acting more like a band-aid than a long-term solution. New deterioration will likely occur, costing associations more money in maintenance down the line. We most highly recommend repointing, which is the process of cutting out defective mortar (to a depth generally ½ – ¾ inch) and replacing it with new mortar. This reduces the likelihood of new deterioration and is a more cost-effective solution in the long term. If repointing is to occur, associations should address with their contractor the materials used, as repointed joints are most effective if the mortar is softer than the brick.  

Masonry Wall Detail

When it comes to keeping water out, we often find the need for an inspection and either partial or complete repair of steel lintels. Acting as support beams above doors and windows, fatigued lintels allow rainwater to directly penetrate the wall. If an inspection is deemed necessary, the contractor should locate areas of rust, cracks, or other structural damage to the walls around the lintels. Rust should be removed, primed, and painted, as paint protects and extends the useful life of the lintels, therefore extending the useful life of the exterior wall systems. Replacing lintels and surrounding wall systems is a costly endeavor, so performing regular inspections and performing this small-scale maintenance not only protects your building, but also your funds.  

There are a variety of tactics to keep water out, but the truth of the matter is that water is sneaky. Regardless of how well-caulked your windows and doors are, or how well you keep up with maintenance of lintels and shelf angles, moisture will enter the structure – it’s the nature of porous brick. Enter: weep holes. These small openings create paths for water to exit and provide ventilation in the wall to prevent mold or leaks.  

While some buildings’ weep holes are just that – a hole – other weep holes may be filled with a rope that wicks moisture out of the structure or a tube that leads water out. Generally located at the bottom of exterior brick walls or above doors and windows, it’s important to ensure they function properly. Most obviously, weep holes should never be covered with paint, sealant, or caulk. They should also have a little wiggle room when it comes to landscaping. Plants should be kept or planted 18 inches away from weep holes, at a minimum. Weep holes should be checked regularly, and if they become clogged or blocked, natural debris can be carefully cleared with a small wire brush or wire coat hanger. Pipe cleaners and toothpicks can be used to de-clog weep holes above windows and doors.  

Of course, open holes may let water out, but they can also let pests in. This is why weep holes should be covered with grates or screens that while spacious enough to let water out, have openings small enough to keep out even the smallest pests such as subterranean termites, which are found in every state but Alaska. Weep hole covers should be inspected regularly, ensuring they are not blocked or damaged, and should be replaced if they no longer fit securely. If weep holes are damaged, clogged with mortar that has fallen away, or have been sealed over, it’s critical that a professional is brought in. Do not try and drill into weep holes or attempt to drill a new one, as it’s likely the problem will be made worse.  

When it comes to cleaning brick, aesthetics as well as building integrity are at stake. Efflorescence, dirt, grime, and moss all threaten the integrity of masonry and take away from the allure of brick buildings. Washing brick buildings is not as simple as washing a material like vinyl siding, given that brick and mortar are more delicate, and due to dispersed wear and tear, not all surfaces should be cleaned the same. While pressure washing is effective, its use on masonry is nuanced, and should be done by a professional who can determine which chemicals and PSI are suitable for certain masonry areas. For example, older bricks and grout can crack under too high a pressure or be compromised by harsh chemical detergent and given that brick deteriorates at different rates based on element exposure, the whole building cannot be treated the same. Tough stains can be faced with a scrub brush, which is less abrasive than power washing and works detergent into the brick to loosen the stains but should still be done by a professional who can determine the proper methods, which includes sealing the surface.   

The application of protective sealant, which differs from the sealant used between materials, augments defenses against moisture infiltration, staining, and nature. However, product selection is incredibly important, as inappropriate coatings may aid in trapping moisture. While paint can be used as a sealant on some surfaces, this is not true for brick. Brick is smothered or suffocated when painted, which gives moisture no way to escape. Waterproofing should be done by a professional who can determine which product is best for your buildings.  

Given that almost all masonry maintenance should be conducted by a professional, choosing a contractor is a decision boards should make carefully. Depending on what an inspection deems necessary, whether that be a simple sealant application or an invasive structural repair, boards should be sure to do their research, seek out references, and ask in-depth questions of any contractor in the running.  

In tandem with addressing immediate problem areas, condominiums and community associations should devise comprehensive long-term maintenance blueprints to safeguard their brick buildings. This entails budgetary allocations for routine inspections, remedial interventions, and anticipatory measures such as repointing or facade refurbishment.  

By using effective maintenance methods and investing wisely in preserving brick and masonry buildings, communities can make them last longer, maintain their aesthetic value, and save money by avoiding expensive repairs, all of which contribute to a desirable property value. With careful attention and smart planning, these buildings can remain beautiful and structurally sound for generations to come.  

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