Brick water repellantBrick waterproofing with repellants makes sense when you want to extend the service life of a home or building. It can strengthen (not repair) mortar joints, stabilize the masonry and reduce efflorescence. It can also reduce moss, mold and mildew from accumulating behind the brick. Brick waterproofing can keep a building looking clean and new. A water repellant coating resists the accumulation of dirt.

In older homes, solid brick walls absorb and release water as necessary through tiny passageways that allow the brick and mortar to breathe. In veneer brick homes, there is only one layer of brick. If that is jeopardized, water leaks in the home can become a problem.

It is important to note the difference between water repellants and sealants. Water repellants soak into the brick and coat the passageways leaving them open. Sealants however, form a barrier, closing these passages. When sealants are used in four-season climates such as Chicago, spalling or flaking can occur. It is best to avoid the use of sealants in our area.

Brick waterproofing is beneficial when a portion of brickwork has been repaired alongside older, existing masonry. Having old and new brickwork may cause a negative reaction if not waterproofed. It can also be beneficial when brickwork is below grade, has hairline cracks or is soft and porous with soft mortar joints. Repairs to cracks or deteriorating joints should be made before applying the water repellant.

Visually clear, water repellant will not discolor or change the appearance of your brick. It does need to be reapplied every four to ten years depending on the age of the structure. Does brick waterproofing make sense for your Chicago area home or building? Give Shamrock Tuckpointing a call to find out.

Chicago Brick BuildingsWould you tuckpoint your Chicago business property if you knew you would be able to cover 75% of the cost? If your business property is located within a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district in Chicago, money may be available under the Small Business Improvement Fund (SBIF). Tuckpointing expenses are among the many improvements expenses that are eligible for reimbursement.  The maximum grant amount is $150,000.

The program is designed to help owners of commercial and industrial properties and/or tenants within specific Chicago TIF districts to repair or remodel their facilities. You’ll have to wait for work to be completed all expenses are paid to qualify, but because grants do not have to be repaid, it’s definitely worth the wait. You can find out if your property is located within an eligible TIF district by calling (312) 360-3300. Applications are selected by lottery and processed by SomerCor 504 Inc., a federally certified Small Business Administration lender.

Residential property, residential components of mixed used buildings and property leased to fast-food chains and certain other businesses are not eligible for the program.  There are some other restrictions as well:

Industrial Tenants: A maximum of more than 100 full time equivalent employees.

Commercial Tenants: Maximum sales of $1.5 million annually for the prior three years, or equivalent average.

Landlords: A maximum personal net worth of $4.0 million and a maximum total liquidity of $300,000.

For complete requirements call SomerCor 504. For questions about the cost of tuckpointing your Chicago business building call Shamrock Tuckpointing, located in Alsip, Ill. (708) 388-2871.

Masonry contractorSome people find a masonry contractor by searching various terms on the Internet. Some ask friends. Some drive around their neighborhood looking for good examples of what they want. They get the contractor name and call. Others ask contractors they’ve used for a recommendation. Before you start calling the names on your list, identify what work you want done. Be as specific as you can be. For instance, do you need brick replacement, brick chimney repair, tuckpointing or capping concrete? You want to give the masonry contractor an idea of the size of the job and any special requirements.

Call the contractors and ask them to describe their business. Listen for how long they have been serving customers and for the size and duration of projects they’ve worked on. This will give you an idea if it’s the right fit.

Questions to Ask a Masonry Contractor

You may want to ask more questions to learn if this contractor is the best one for your work. Try these.

Do you have testimonials or recommendations from previous clients? A good contractor will supply you with names.

What mortar mix do you use? This may be important especially when restoration work is involved.

What preparation is needed? Make sure the cleaner used is appropriate for your masonry. You don’t want anything damaged by water or abrasive blasting.

Will cold or hot weather affect my masonry project? In cold climates like Chicago, tuckpointing is not recommended during winter since cold can damage the mortar. However, the area can be masked off with a tarp and positioned with heaters to protect it.

How will the joints be prepared for the new mortar? Ask about the use of power tools, which can damage masonry. Loose mortar should be raked out by hand and brushed, then watered down. This allows the new mortar to retain moisture as it cures.

What style of tuckpointing will be used? Concave, flat, European? Ask the tuckpointer to explain the difference between the three.

By asking these questions you will learn how to find the right masonry contractor for your tuckpointing or masonry job.

Chicago chimney repair

Failure to address early signs of damage can result in more expensive repairs.

Harsh Chicago winters can take a toll on your chimney. The best way to avoid a costly brick chimney repair is to watch for early signs of deterioration. Inspect the brick, mortar, flashing and caulking of your chimney annually.  Here are three early signs that your chimney may need repair

1. Cracks in the chimney crown

Cracks in the chimney crown are one of the leading causes of leaking problems with a masonry chimney. Designed to divert water from the top of the chimney, the crown is sometimes incorrectly constructed of mortar which is vulnerable to cracking when exposed to freezing and thawing.   A small crack will quickly enlarge when water fills it, as it expands and contracts during freeze and thaw cycles. Replacing or repairing the crown is a relatively minor repair. The crown should be constructed with cast-in-place concrete, precast concrete or stone.

2. Cracks in the mortar

While bricks have a lifespan of 100 years or more, mortar has a much shorter life.  On a chimney, mortar can deteriorate faster because it is exposed on all sides to the wind, rain and the freeze and thaw cycles of Chicago winters. Removing the mortar and tuckpointing the areas affected is a minor repair.

3. Efflorescence on the brick

Efflorescence is a sign that water is penetrating the brick, leaving behind salt stains. When water gets between the flue and the structural masonry, this can cause efflorescence in the brick, and eventually spalling. Water penetrating the brick can also freeze and thaw, sometimes causing the chimney crown to loosen.

As unpleasant as it is to be facing a chimney repair, building owners are smart to address the problem sooner, rather than later. Left unchecked, a small crack could eventually cause structural damage to the chimney and a complete chimney rebuild may be required.  In addition to the chimney repair itself, there can also be residual damage to your home or building in the form of water damage or mold.

After a thorough inspection from the roof, an experienced masonry or tuckpointing contractor can find the source of the problem and propose a solution to these and any other problems with the chimney’s masonry construction. Protect your investment by hiring a fully bonded and insured contractor with a long history of customer satisfaction.

Barrington, Ill. home needs brick step maintenance

Brick stairs on a home in Barrington, Ill.  show signs of mortar deterioration and efflorescence.

As if Chicago’s weather wasn’t hard enough on brick stairs, homeowners can unknowingly make it worse when their  garden sprinklers water the stairs as much as the landscape, or when  salt is applied  to the stairs to melt ice.  When homeowners use rock salt on brick steps, the salt becomes dissolved in melting snow or ice and seeps into the mortar. Expansion and contraction eventually cause cracking of the mortar.

Regular brick stair maintenance can prevent costly stair replacement

Spring is a good time to assess your brick stairs to see if repairs are needed. Look for loose or cracked mortar joints as well as flaking and spalling brick. If you can scrape a knife along the edge of the brick and it flakes and crumbles, it needs immediate attention. Take care of the problem at the onset and you may only need spot tuckpointing and a few bricks, versus a complete stair rebuild.

Older brick is generally more porous.  If water is immediately absorbed and turns the brick dark, the brick may be in need of waterproofing.  Choosing the right sealer is important because the wrong sealer can actually trap in moisture and accelerate the problem.

Before repairing brick stairs with tuckpointing or repointing, a tuckpointing  contractor or masonry contractor  will identify and address the source of any water damage. This is the only way to ensure that repairs will last. Make brick maintenance part of your annual routine and you will probably be able to avoid a costlier project such as a complete stair rebuild. Always seek out a licensed, insured and bonded tuckpointing contractor to provide advice on how to protect your investment.

John Gallagher is the owner of Shamrock Tuckpointing,  a licensed, insured and bonded tuckpointing contractor serving Chicago and the suburbs.

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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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