Extreme Curb Appeal, Part 4: When Brick Goes Wrong

When you talk about curb appeal and changing the exterior of your home, usually simple things like landscaping, fencing, and walkways come to mind. However, have you ever thought about what it would take to dramatically change the exterior facade of your home? Well, I have, and I’d like to share a series of posts on what it would take to do just that.
As I’ve been learning all about the wonderful world of masonry, it hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows. Building brick walls is time consuming and often difficult, and though brick is thought to be one of the most durable building materials out there, it doesn’t come without its own stipulations and faults.
Like any surface exposed to both natural and human elements, brick isn’t completely invincible. It can break, shatter, crack, come loose, crumble, rot, and eventually cause larger damage if left unaddressed. Not to mention if it’s done poorly, it can let in anything from rain and snow to bugs and mold into the interior structure walls and cause all kinds of headaches for the homeowner, never mind lots of bills to fix all the damage.

The most common brick failure is actually the mortar chipping, cracking, or coming loose. Obviously, you don’t want the stuff that holds your wall together to stop holding the wall together, so twice-yearly (at least) inspections of your mortar joints as well as your individual bricks in your wall are recommended. Look for cracks, missing chunks, or discolorization. Here’s a great article that helps you fix a basic or minor mortar issue on your own.
However, sometimes it’s not the mortar, but the brick itself that is damaged and needs repair. If you have just one or two renegade bricks, here’s another simple step-by-step article to help you repair both brick faces and whole bricks.
But if your wall looks more like the one in the picture up top, you may require the skills of a mason … which won’t come without costs. And don’t forget that with replacing bricks in an existing wall, you have to match not only the size of the brick, but you have to match the lot number — which can be trickier than it seems.
If you don’t know where the original brick is from, you’re as blind as a bat in this arena, and unfortunately a brick patch with non-matching brick can be noticeable from quite a distance. I know of a brick-repair horror story where the building in needs of repair was discovered to have been built with reject, defective bricks (even though the supplier was paid for, you know, non-defective brick) and the building owners ended up having to pay a great deal extra to custom-order matching bricks since using defective ones wasn’t exactly kosher with their repair-mason.
I wonder, since my love of brick also centers around my love of how paint looks upon brick, how you can do inspections and repairs when you can’t see the actual brick? I mean, I know a crack is a crack, and a missing chunk is a missing chunk, but how would you recognize the beginnings of such issues with a layer of paint in the way? Or how would you know if the elements were seeping in to your walls due to bad bricklaying before your interior walls show signs of water damage or infestation?
I guess what’s so great about brick — it’s durability, it’s timelessness, and it’s permanence — can also make it really hard to repair (or, if need be, replace) if something goes wrong. And in my experience, things rarely DON’T go wrong, at some point.
So what do you think? Does brick’s ease of maintenance outweigh the possibilities of complete failure? Are you intimidated by the thought of crumbling brick destroying your home, or are you confident that your brick exteriors will outlast the end of the world? Hash it out for me in the comments and help me get down off of the fence I’m sitting on.
Photo: Horia Varlan

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