Tag Archives: masonry

2nd floor kitchen window

This falls into the déjà vu category:

The west facing kitchen window is so tall (or reaches so low for that matter), that any cabinet with a countertop would partially block it. I assume that the original kitchen layout must have been such that no counter was located at the window – which wouldn’t have left much room for countertop space.


Or, the previous owners were content with the countertop partially blocking the window. This is a scenario I dislike as the window sill hidden behind the kitchen cabinet is hard to reach and would just accumulate… well – let your imagination roam.

I really am curious as to what the original kitchen layout may have been!

Anyway, we already solved this problem in the 1st floor kitchen, and were to repeat it on the 2nd floor – by raising the bottom of the window above the countertop height.

This means getting rid of the existing window altogether and calling our mason.

The masonry work was a big deal for me, but not so for the mason. “Just half a days’ work…” Great, then I can spend the other half day on building and installing a new window buck.

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Pocketing for the green roof

The masonry repair work in the attic is done. But I have that one more task waiting for me, and it is green roof related. I need to get those pockets punched into the masonry wall for the sistered joists.

The process is similar to the range hood exhaust installation. I use the hammer drill with a masonry bit to drill out the mortar joints and set up a perforation line across the brick. Once that is done, I can grab a hammer and chisel and carve out the joist pocket.

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In the kitchen at the chimney, the two joists stop short of the masonry wall. I placed a sister joist mock up along the roof joist, which allowed me to mark the exact location for the joist pocket. As for all the pockets, it was a tight space to work in. Nevertheless, the pockets turned out all right, and a test placement confirmed that the sistered joists would fit right in.

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Attic masonry repair

There is a laundry list of masonry repair items on the 2nd floor waiting for me. Not just the masonry pockets from the ceiling joists, but re-pointing and brick replacement too.

As with the basement and 1st floor, we will install a layer of polyurethane spray foam (SPF) across the interior masonry walls. The SPF will help with the insulation and air sealing of the building envelope. Before we install the spray foam, I need to get those masonry repair items done. Once the SPF is installed, I won’t have access to the brick any longer.

Damage to the masonry wall is almost always moisture related. A quick inventory showed that most of the damage was confined to the attic area. This included efflorescence and crumbling mortar joints.


This damage had been caused by water infiltrating into the masonry wall through the parapet, until we fixed it back in the fall of 2009.

I ground out the damaged mortar joints for re-pointing and removed all bricks that showed some level of spauling. Most of those bricks were along the north wall – the front of the building.

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I suspect that I still have some water infiltration into the masonry along the north wall, right behind the cornice, where I can’t see it.


Fixing that problem will be a very interesting task, and probably requires me to take off the cornice and reinstall it.

For now, I had our mason come in to repoint the mortar joints and install the replacement .


That took care of the masonry work. Well – almost…

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Turning the table…

… on you. Yep, you – reading these lines!

Rather than documenting our thought processes, decisions and installation efforts, this time I need to solicit ideas from you to inform our next task at hand:

I would like to get the limestone foundation wall insulated from the outside. The foundation wall is all below grade except the top four inches, which stick out above grade. There are a number of different steps involved:

  1. Excavate around the foundation wall down to the footing
  2. Re-point the exposed foundation wall
  3. Install a foundation drain around the entire footing
  4. Install the insulation up against the foundation wall (four inches of XPS rigid foam insulation sheets)
  5. Install water proofing
  6. Install flashing at top of the insulation assembly
  7. Back fill and clean up

It is step #6 in this process I need help with. I can’t figure out how best to go about the flashing.

Here are two sketches: 1) The foundation wall as is, and 2) the foundation wall with the insulation assembly. (Click on the images for a larger view)


The red line in the second image represents the flashing component I need. It prevents any water from entering into the insulation assembly and thus keeps the foundation wall dry. The flashing will need a water tight connection to the brick wall and needs to extend over the water proofing component.

What would be a suitable material or product to use? Ideally I am looking for a prefabricated product that I can buy off the shelf. If not, I am open to fabricating something.

I can’t wait to hear your suggestions!


Masonry and windows – Part 3

Our masonry fixes around the 1st floor windows concluded with the west facing kitchen window.

So far, the repairs focused on the window guards and other exterior fixes. To get to the bottom of this window, we’ll need to look at the inside, at the kitchen layout.

The window in question is marked in red. Our kitchen counters run along the north and west wall, with a corner sink next to the kitchen window. Unfortunately the window dimensions—or to be more precise, the window height—does not agree with our kitchen counter plans.

The bottom section of the window would be hidden behind the counter. We decided that this is not a good idea. As it is with kitchens, debris from food preparations would end up in this hidden space and we would constantly have to clean it out.

Instead we opted to make the window shorter by bringing the sill above the kitchen counter elevation. And this is where Antonio, our mason, got back to work.

As before, he removed the window guards and did the necessary brick repair work. But he also filled the bottom of the window with brick and raised the limestone sill, while I adjusted the existing window buck to the new dimensions.

We feel that the new and shorter window is a much more elegant solution and avoids the creation of a garbage trap behind the kitchen counter.


Masonry and windows – Part 2

There is one bedroom window one the 1st floor that was added sometime later. That work was done rather poorly. So poorly, in fact, that we knew we had to redo the masonry work.

I took care of the interior brick repairs almost two years ago. The outside did not look any better, and it has been on my to-do list for a while.

If you take a close look, you can see where the original masonry wall meets the more recent work of the added window. The brickwork for the new window was never properly woven and anchored into the original masonry. What aggravated the situation further is that cement based mortar was used for this work instead of lime based mortar.

Over the years, the more recent brick work slowly but steadily began to separate for the original masonry, forming small cracks through which water could enter, which further accelerated the decline of the masonry. In short, the brick work around the added window was in an accelerating tail spin.

Well, I guess you can say that I had a pretty good incentive to get this fixed.

While our mason removed all the old window guards, I also asked him to fix the masonry around this window.

Once the window guard was taken out, we removed the deteriorating brick, but also cut pieces out of the original masonry. This gave us a weave pattern that allowed us to properly anchor the repair work with the original masonry wall.

We were careful to make sure we used the proper lime based mortar. This should now last a long time, even longer than we could live in this building.


Masonry and windows – Part 1

The season and the approaching cold weather begin to dictate the various tasks at hand. One of them is the masonry repair work around the 1st floor windows.

Almost all the 1st floor windows have window guards. These have been sitting there for a long time with no maintenance and have slowly begun to corrode.

That includes the anchors that are let into the first wythe of the masonry wall. When metal starts to corrode, it begins to expand with an amazing force, pushing some of the surrounding brick work out.

We decided to remove the guards and restore them like we did with the basement windows.

To save time, I called in our mason, who was happy to stop by and take care of the repairs.

He cut and removed the damage brick, removed the guards, which I stowed away in the basement for the time being, and patched the holes with salvaged common brick. As with all masonry work on our old building, I was careful to make sure that we use the right lime based mortar.

This took care of most of the windows, except two, which are a little more involved. More on those in the next posts.


1st layer – closed cell insulation

After months of researching and weeks of preparations, the day has come to walk the walk.

A truck drives up and the insulation crew takes over the basement. Windows, doors and other materials and equipment get wrapped in plastic, the concrete floor is covered with tarps and a big old heated hose snakes it way into the basement. A spray gun is mounted to the hose and the fun begins.

The gray stuff that is sprayed onto the wall is the one inch layer of closed cell foam. It is the first of three layers in our insulation assembly.


The closed cell foam has a density of two pounds per cubic foot, and once cured is pretty rigid and stiff. It adheres tightly to the masonry wall. There are no gaps between the foam and the masonry, which is important. No gaps, no space for interstitial condensation to occur, and thus a very low risk for future moisture problems.

The one inch of closed cell foam has an R-value of 5.2. It delivers the all important air barrier, giving us an almost air tight building envelope. This prevents warm air escaping to the outside in the cold season and hot moisture laden air infiltrating into the living space at the height of summer.

Although the closed cell foam acts as an air barrier, it is not a vapor barrier. This product has a perm rate of 1.3 at three inches. With our one inch application, the perm rate will be greater than 1.3, which is important to us. It allows water vapor to pass through the wall assembly and as such keeps the drying mechanism intact.

It is not recommended to use spray foam before the moisture management of a masonry wall is resolved. Thus our eagerness to have had the parapet rebuilt, basement walls re-pointed and the brick around the bottom of the building replaced.


B4 and after brick replacement

We thought it may be a good idea to share some more detailed pictures of the brick replacement around the bottom of the building. Below you find before, intermediate and after images. May be they convey why we are so excited and happy to have this problem fixed.

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Mending more masonry

I have learned a lot about masonry and its inner workings. One lesson I took home is how cement parging can ruin common brick.

Cement parging traps moisture, which then begins to deteriorate the brick over time, because it cannot dry out. The deterioration may manifest itself through freeze-thaw damage or spalling caused by efflorescence.

That is the theory and it makes sense. But I had the privilege, if you will, of witnessing the theory confirmed on our own building.

I wrote about moisture damage in the basement that was associated with the exterior cement parging, which led to the need for re-pointing. That parging covered the bottom two feet of the east and west elevations.


The darker spots on the parging are evidence of trapped moisture. The brick above the parging deteriorated under the pressure of moisture from below moving up and dissipating outwards.

We are about to install Spray Polyurethane Foam (SPF) insulation in the basement and there is a level of urgency to get the masonry moisture problems fixed. In short, the parging had to go … and we began to chip away.


Based on the uncovered deteriorated brick, we concluded that the parging was installed to cover it up minor damage. It’s one of those ‘sweeping it under the carpet’ things.

That brick elevation is three wythe wide at the bottom of the building. The inner wythe, facing the basement, was recently repaired and the middle wythe is still intact. The outer wythe needs our attention.

Ironically, the brick repair needed before the parging was applied was relatively minor. Now, with the extended deterioration, we have to replace the entire out layer or wythe.


I initially intended to leave this job for next year. But looking at the mess day in and day out became unbearable. I purchased good quality reclaimed common brick, but rather than having fun replacing the brick myself, I opted for enjoying the brick being replaced by someone else. I found a mason that had time to squeeze us in before it gets too cold.

With the intent to restore moisture balance and drying mechanisms in the mass assembly (the masonry wall), it is important to keep an eye on the following factors:

  • Match the original mortar (in our case Type O mortar)
  • Make sure that all bricks get thoroughly soaked in water to get the best bond to the mortar. If the brick is too dry, it will suck the moisture out of the mortar, which compromises its bonding strength and caused small fissures through which water may enter the assembly.

We are happy with the results. The building looks again like a house and not any more like a crumbling shack. And believe me; I now sleep much better at night.