What Should We Be Looking For In A Mason?
May 8, 2012 7:33 AM   Subscribe

What should I know before finding a mason/masonry company to do brick repointing and foundation repair?

We have an old (c. 1903) house, made of brick. The mortar is crumbling on the outside to the touch. We will need the bricks repointed, probably the full height (3 stories) of the house.

Additionally, our basement has a small crack in the foundation and we will need this repaired as well.

My questions: what exactly does a masonry company do? We have leaky walls in our basement, do they do waterproofing? How much is typically charged? What should I look for in the company?

I am not home much during the day and feel rather uneducated about repairs. What are some tips to hire a quality mason, and what should I expect for the price?

Additionally, if anyone has recommendations for masons in the Pittsburgh area, we would be glad to hear them!
posted by amicamentis to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
What are some tips to hire a quality mason

Contact your local BBB. They generally have good information about quality local contractors.

But always, always, get a contract. Not just an invoice, not an estimate, and honest-to-goodness contract.

Two reasons.

First, and most obviously, having a contract means you know what's going to happen if things go south. A lot of "contractors" are really just some guy running a "business" out of his garage. No license, no insurance, no real game plan, and frequently surprisingly little experience. So if there's some kind of problem--and there's always some kind of problem with projects like this--your typical small-time operator can get in over his head pretty quickly.

But second, a contractor that does have a decent contract is less likely to be the sort of fly-by-night operation that guys like me wind up defending in court. A businessperson professional enough to put decent effort into their contracts is far more likely to show that same professionalism throughout their business operations. So yes, you may pay a bit more, but odds are decent that the "extra" you're paying over the lowest bid isn't really "extra," it's just a more reasoned, experienced take on what the job is going to cost, i.e., you'd wind up paying that anyway, only how there's no surprises.

As far as price goes, it's impossible to give even much of a ballpark without knowing far more about your property than we do. But know that foundation work is expensive easily five-figures expensive, depending on the nature and extent of the problem. Waterproofing a basement is also a bigger job than it sounds, as you generally can't just slap something on the inside wall. Odds are very, very good that this is gonna cost you.
posted by valkyryn at 7:45 AM on May 8, 2012

I'd start out by only considering someone who is a licensed contractor within your state, reading the Pennsylvania AG's Q&A about home improvement consumer protections and paying the nominal fee required to look at consumer ratings on Angie's List.

Once you've identified possible workers, get at least three quotes. On a non-masonry home improvement project, my first quote was $10,000, the second - from an equally well-recommended contractor - was for $2,000.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:49 AM on May 8, 2012

I don't know enough about the history of brickmaking to pin down the relevant dates / ages, but I know that a lot of "old" brick is softer than modern brick (which gets fired at higher temperatures), and modern cement-based mortar is not compatible with old, soft brick. Using the wrong sort of mortar will actually do damage to the brick itself over time. Cement-based mortar is easier to get, easier to work with and cheaper, and symptoms of using the wrong stuff take a while to show up, so many masons don't worry themselves with this rather important little detail. Get somebody good.
posted by jon1270 at 8:38 AM on May 8, 2012

Make sure they have experience working on older houses. Are there other brick houses of similar vintage in your neighborhood? do any of them look like they've been recently repointed? Knock on doors, ask for recommendations. Are there any museums/historical societies in old brick houses? Ask them for recommendations.

For the foundation repair they may have to dig a trench around the outside of the foundation. This can sometimes destabilize walls and chimneys so be sure to ask the contractor how he or she will prevent that.
posted by mareli at 10:02 AM on May 8, 2012

More info that might help you choose.
posted by mareli at 10:41 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding jon1270 about mortar types and getting someone who knows what they are doing. Older homes (usually pre-1920) often have soft lime mortar rather than Portland cement mortar. Basically older homes have soft mortar and hard bricks while new homes have hard mortar and soft bricks.

Can you rub your finger on a grout joint and have it rub off like sand? That's likely soft lime mortar. If nothing rubs off it's likely cement.

If you use cement mortar to repoint lime mortar it will be too hard and can start popping the faces off all of your brick. You definitely needs someone who can determine what you have and who knows how to deal with older homes.

As far as the crack in your foundation conventional wisdom is that a repair done from the inside will never be as effective as one done from the outside. But outside obviously tends to cost more and be more disruptive to landscaping, driveways etc. My parents had their home re-waterproofed from the outside which involved digging trenches and treating the exposed foundation. I believe it was in the $5000 range and they did two sides of the house.
posted by pixlboi at 10:41 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older Is blood donation an efficient way to help others?   |   Poetry & poignancy for the end of an era... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.