masonry caulkingCaulking provides an airtight, watertight seal between two materials. Polyurethane, butyl rubber and silicone caulks are specially formulated to ensure good adhesion on brick and other masonry services. But for various reasons, masonry caulking can fail, creating much more expensive repairs such as cracking, water and brick damage. While masonry caulking is designed to last about 20 years, both new buildings and old are susceptible to caulking problems. When the caulk is no longer adhering to both materials or is cracked, it’s a sure sign of failure.

Problem 1: Caulking Doesn’t Adhere

If the surfaces are not properly cleaned prior to the application, or joints are not cleaned out and tooled, the sealant may not adhere properly to the surfaces. Problems can emerge days, weeks or even months after the application.

Problem 2: Tears or Cracks in the Caulking

Poor joint design can result in tears within the caulk itself. Generally the design will call for a foam backer rod, or a specified ratio of width to thickness as well as proper tooling of the joints.

Problem 3: The Installer Misses a Spot
Caulking is subject to human error. Even a small break in the caulk can result in a leak.

Problem 4: Caulking Is Under Water

Constant exposure to water will cause caulking to fail prematurely. A professional tuckpointing contractor or building professional can diagnose structural issues which result from improper drainage. For example, a window sill or porch sloped the wrong way can keep caulking permanently wet.

Problem 5: Caulk Incompatibility

Sometimes different materials just don’t like each other.  In certain situations, the caulk can react to another material that is present or to a substance used as a cleaner. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s directions explicitly.

Because failures do occur, it’s important to check caulking regularly. And while caulking appears to be a simple task, the problems above demonstrate it can actually be quite complicated. A professional installation ensures the right materials, tools and techniques will be used to keep a tight seal for many years to come.

Not sure if you need new caulking? Give us a call.

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ChimneyThe best way to avoid chimney leaks is to do periodic preventive maintenance. In particular check the chimney crown, chimney flashing, and brick and mortar. These areas are vulnerable to leaks. Water or moisture can penetrate, causing problems inside the home, including mold.

When talking to a tuckpointer about chimney leaks you may be asked how old the chimney is, what materials were used to build the chimney and how it was constructed. These three variables can reveal potential problem areas. The average homeowner may not know the answers but with a physical inspection,  a tuckpointer can find out quick enough.

Check chimney materials

☑ The chimney crown is often an area where leaks can occur, especially if it is made of mortar rather than concrete.  Mortar is not as strong as concrete and can absorb water as it deteriorates over time.

☑ The kind of brick and mortar used in the chimney is also a factor. Soft, porous brick is more likely to leak. Mortar mixed with too much sand can actually soak up water. Water repellant products can limit the impact and prolong durability.

☑   Chimney flashing is used in the area where the chimney and roof line meet. Flashing requires two layers of sheet metal. One layer covers the sides of the chimney and the other is embedded in the mortar joints (counter flashing) then folded down for further protection against moisture.

Check chimney condition

☑ Look for crumbling or missing pieces on the chimney crown.  Structural damage needs immediate attention. Small cracks in the crwn can often be repaired with a sealant.

☑ Rainfall can gather in the flashing area causing leaks through the joint. This can be repaired with a sealant and mesh fabric to make the joint stron enough to  repel water.

☑ For large cracks in the brickwork, tuckpointing with new mortar is recommended.

Chimney leaks can cause damage to a home. Understanding the problem is the first step to keeping your Chicagoland home in good condition. Finding someone who can repair the problem is essential and prudent.

Ivy on brick at Wrigley FieldIn Chicago there are legendary homes, civic buildings, and even a baseball stadium beautified by ivy on brick. Chicagoans can’t imagine Wrigley Field or the University of Chicago without the ivy-covered walls.  A lot of people like the look. Ivy can complement well-constructed and well-maintained brick walls. Still, there are some concerns about ivy growing on brick.

You should be concerned about ivy on brick if cracks appear, the mortar is crumbling, or brick is loose. Ivy leafs won’t cause damage but the roots growing in these vulnerable areas of the wall can expand cracks allowing water to penetrate the surface. I know one incident where the ivy opened a caulked crack in a foundation and water seeped in. Homes built before 1930 may be susceptible to damage because of the softer lime-based mortar used then. Mortar replacement or what’s called repointing, may be required.

Tuckpointing ivy covered brick requires removing or carefully pulling the ivy loose to apply a coating of cement-based mortar over existing joints. The ivy can then be repositioned or replanted. The ivy at Wrigley Field is Boston Ivy and Japanese Bittersweet. Bill Veeck planted it in 1937 during an outfield beautification project.

For your own beautification project keep the brick and mortar in good shape.  The ivy won’t infiltrate a well-built, solid brick wall. If you have questions about tuckpointing your ivy covered brick walls in the Chicago metro area give me a call.

painted brickMost experts aren’t fans of painted brick is because it’s a porous material that tends to hold moisture. Once you make a decision to go with painted brick, there is no going back. It is difficult to remove paint from brick.  However, proper prep work you can ensure that the paint that goes on, stays on.

Keep in mind that if brick and mortar joints are loose and in disrepair before the brick goes on, the paint won’t adhere. If your bricks are dirty, the paint won’t adhere. If your brick isn’t sealed, it won’t adhere.  A professional tuckpointer is your best source to evaluate the condition of your brick and prep work needed before you paint.

Step 1:  Determine if your brick has a sealer

A sealer keeps water from penetrating. Spray brick with water and observe if the water is beading on the surface.  If it doesn’t bead, you will need to purchase a primer to put on before the brick. You can also perform an adhesion test. Apply a small amount of paint to the brick and allow it to cure for three or four hours. If you can rub the paint off, after that time, you need to use a masonry primer.


Step 2: Get rid of the grime.

Power washing cleans dirt and grime off of brick. Allow unsealed brick to dry for at least four days.

Step 3: Remove loose or deteriorated mortar.

A professional tuckpointer will remove clean loose or deteriorated mortar from the joints and replace it with new mortar.

Step 4: Remove mildew.

A special solution is used to remove mildew that sometimes appears on north facing falls, near the ground or where rainwater accumulates.  Allow the brick surface too dry completely before applying  paint or primer.

Step 5: Apply a primer.

A masonry primer improves adhesion, resulting in less chipping, peeling and cracking of paint over time.

Proper preparation for painted brick  will pay for itself time and again with fewer maintenance issues down the road.

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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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