saturated_masonry_wallNearly five inches of rain hit the Chicago area on Thursday. If you thought you might have a water leak in your building, you surely could confirm it this week. Before you replace or repair your roof, you should consider if masonry issues are the source of the problem. There are two kinds of leaks that stem from masonry-related problems, saturation leaks and void leaks.

Saturation Leaks

It may surprise you but masonry is not entirely waterproof. Brick does absorb water. When water passes through or absorbs entirely into the porous surface of a masonry wall to the extent that moisture finds its way into your living space it is called a saturation leak.

Saturation leaks don’t show up every time it rains. That’s because light rain won’t provide enough moisture for the masonry to become saturated and transfer completely through the wall.

Saturation leakage becomes a problem when the water shows up in some occupied or living environment, causing noticeable damage to ceilings, walls or floors.  Staining is more often the sign of a saturation leak, rather than water drips or puddles on a floor. Efflorescence or a powdery white substance also appears with saturation leaks. If under wallpaper, efflorescence will give a bumpy like appearance. Paints will eventually blister and crack if efflorescence is present on the wall.

A common area where saturation leaks are found is where the chimney passes through the roof. However, whenever water can run down or moisture is held against a masonry wall (snow) there is a possibility for saturation leaks. Look for failed gutters or downspouts that may be streaming water onto the masonry.

Problem masonry areas can be treated with a water-repellant sealant that reduces the porosity of the masonry. Consult a tuckpointing or masonry professional to determine the right sealant for your building.

Void Leaks

Leaks caused by stress cracks, holes, or missing mortar can sometimes look similar to a saturate leak. Exterior walls should be inspected for problems that could cause or contribute to a saturate leak. It is not uncommon for leaks to have multiple causes. Unlike a saturation leak, void leaks usually occur almost every time it rains. Water streams are visible running down a wall or spread out from a center point of origin. These leaks are usually isolated to a single area.

Leak diagnosis is no easy task, but experienced masonry professionals can help identify problems and find solutions. Shamrock Tuckpointing can keep your Chicago masonry buildings free from leaks.

We’ve seen a number of moisture issues appearing on relatively new commercial shopping centers recently and the culprit has been failed caulking.  It serves as an important reminder to building owners and property managers that while caulking is a small part of a structure, it plays an important role in keeping a building watertight. Both new and old buildings can be vulnerable to failed caulking.

The wrong caulking or improperly applied caulking is a major cause of moisture problems. Moisture stains are a sign that the caulking has failed.  Look below windows or near the roof line.  Windows and roofs are especially prone to water penetration.  By conducting regular inspections and paying attention to minor repairs, building owners can avoid major repairs down the road.

Reasons for Caulking Failure

Sometimes shoddy construction can lead to a leaky facade.  In the rush to finish a job or faced with inadequate supply, a contractor might use whatever caulking is on hand, rather than what was specified. Use of the wrong sealant with masonry and concrete can cause  discoloration, stress on concrete or even spalling.

In other cases, joints that are too narrow or wide can cause the caulking to fail. If the joints are too narrow, the expansion of the substrate can cause the joints to close too much and extrude the sealant. Later when the building contracts, the caulking is no longer in the joint. If a joint is too wide (more than one or two inches, depending on the sealant), the sealant may sag out of it.

Misapplication may also be due to weather.  Brick or masonry must be completely dry to get proper adhesion with caulking. Applying when moisture is present causes the sealant to lose viscosity. It is too thick to properly tool.  Similarly, applying caulking when it’s too hot can cause the sealant to sag or even flow out of the joint.

At Shamrock Tuckpointing we take caulking seriously. With careful selection of the proper sealants for the job and application, we make your commercial building watertight.

Tuck pointing in cold weather Our first dusting of snow fell last night and people are asking if it is too cold for tuck pointing in Chicago. Some of these people are buying or selling a house and want to have tuck pointing completed as part of the sale.

Temps Should be Above 40 Degrees for Tuck Pointing in Chicago

Generally, tuck pointing in Chicago is best done when the surface material is above freezing and future temperatures are above 40 degrees. If you can’t wait until the weather gets warmer, you can try to keep the area warm enough using tarps and portable heaters.

If facing cold temperatures, there’s a possibility that the mortar won’t generate enough heat especially when wind and frost are a factor. While curing, ice crystals may form jeopardizing the mortar integrity.  Last  year the weather was so mild we were able to tuckpoint through December without any problems.  If you think you would like to get the job done now, give us a call and we will assess the situation. If it’s best to wait until Spring, we’ll let you know.

Brick maintenanceOwners of brick buildings have a lot to worry about these days:  the cost of taxes, insurance, and other “must-haves” keeps rising.  Sold as a maintenance-free exterior, many owners don’t realize that brick requires regular inspection and periodic maintenance. Putting off routine inspections and minor repairs can seem like a good idea in the short run. However, in the case of masonry repair, you’ll likely pay the price.

For example, a brick chimney with cracked mortar or a deteriorated chimney crown is a fairly minor repair. However, once masonry starts to deteriorate, the rate of deterioration grows exponentially.

Chicago’s freezing and thawing cycles work to turn small cracks into crevices, quickly.  Other forces may be at work as well, including rusted metal adjacent the brick, incorrectly formulated mortar, and moisture trapped behind painted or improperly sealed brick.

Left unattended, minor masonry problems can result in not only an unsightly appearance, but also in an unsafe structure that could potentially collapse or prevent proper ventilation.  In the case of a chimney, a total rebuild may be necessary.  Lack of knowledge about brick maintenance has serious consequences.

Sometimes the source of a masonry problem isn’t always obvious. For example, water that enters through a cracked chimney crown can leak down and cause problems elsewhere.  Similarly, water in the soil can also move upward through capillary action.  A masonry repair professional is trained to diagnose the source of the problem and provide a permanent solution.

If you are concerned, contact us and we’ll come out and take a look. An early assessment may prevent structural failure later.

lintel_repairA lintel is a horizontal steel beam support placed over a wall opening to carry the weight of the masonry placed over it. In most situations, the lintel above your windows and doors will be steel angle iron, or I beam. Either due to age, improper rustproofing or weep chord and flashing placement during installation, lintels will begin to rust. Rusting lintels can expand to become much thicker then their original size. The expansive forces can shift structures. Diagonal “step” pattern cracks, which can be found on either end of the window or door opening, are a sign that your lintels are rusting.

In majority of situations, rusting lintels must be replaced.

Unfortunately, unless you go to the trouble of having the mortar custom made to match, the repair will stick out like a sore thumb forever. Hire a a professional tuckpointer for a perfect match.

What’s involved in lintel replacement?

The first step is to remove the bricks above the lintel. A replacement lintel should be installed that is galvanized to prevent rust.  Proper flashing is also installed. Lastly the brick is reinstalled with weep holes above the flashing, allowing moisture to escape.

Custom mortar is well worth the wait, as it will ensure a seamless repair.

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Brick Maintenance and Repair Blog

Find useful information and tips for maintaining the value of your brick buildings.
About the Owner


John Gallagher

John Gallagher learned the craft of tuckpointing while in his late teens. His father, a first generation Irish immigrant and construction worker, encouraged his son’s entrepreneurial spirit. John earned a business degree from Loras College, and soon afterward he founded Shamrock Tuckpointing.


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