Brick Wall Rebuild
So...I decided to rebuild the delaminated section of wall over one of the kitchen windows, right? It's not getting me any closer to building the porch, but the scaffolding's there and now that I've poked around a little bit, I can say with 4,000% certainty that the wall was/is in ROUGH shape. Best I can tell, it's currently being held together by little more than hopes and dreams.
With the scaffolding kinda tight to the house I can't stand far enough back to get a good, straight on pic of the whole thing so this will have to suffice:
There's a few things working against me.
After replacing a few bricks and then rethinking all of it as I increasingly felt like my plan wasn't very good, I decided to start from a position of relative strength, the bricks on the left side of the window.
Yes, believe it or not, this section of brick is my "strength". It doesn't appear to have delaminated, at least not so badly that the wythes have come apart, and the cornice brick above it is relatively solid as well. That said, during mortar removal for repointing I did manage to pop a few bricks loose with relative ease.
Yesterday I attempted to reset the 3 missing bricks after stuffing as much mortar into the inner wythe as possible, but only 2 of them held solidly overnight. I didn't have enough mortar keeping the 3rd (top) one in place, which was a risk I knew I was taking. That's one of the drawbacks to my approach, only being able to sorta halfway mortar in the bricks so I can pop the bricks to the right free the following day.
Today I popped the poorly set brick free, and the 2 above it. This was big, and scary, because everything to the right is held in place by next to nothing and some amount of beating is involved in removing the incorrect mortar some jackass used previously to repoint the brick. Every blow, no matter how delicate, makes the loose brick shake and threaten to fall right outta the wall.
It probably sounds like the project will take forever, going 2-3 bricks at a time, but I really only have a couple hours to work between the end of my day at the regular job and darkness, and I have to address the inner wythe just as much as the outer wythe. It takes every bit of a full batch of mortar to accomplish that seemingly small quantity of work, but even getting 2 or 3 solid bricks in the wall goes a long way towards making this a substantially less scary operation.
What's exponentially more critical is getting some of the cornice brick mortared in. That's the stuff I'm really nervous about coming down (on top of me), so getting even a tiny bit of that nice and solid as I work to the right helps a ton. This is what all this talk looks like in real life:
Here's another look, showing which bricks are solid, which ones are not, and which ones are halfway in between:
That's kind of the pattern as I work left to right, and so far, it's kinda working like I thought it would. Tomorrow should be a big day; I'm going to remove the left 3 or 4 bricks from the arch and maybe 5 or 6 bricks above them, get the inner wythe all mortared back together, and then if things go well, try to reset as much of the removed brick as I can. If I can pull that off, that might enable me to go ahead and remove the rest of the delaminated brick and work a little more efficiently.
There's also a case to be made for slow and steady wins the race, so I might keep trudging along 2 or 3 bricks at a time.
I've been doing a lot of repointing and masonry work ahead of the porch build because I need to make sure the walls the porch will tie into are solid. While I was up on the scaffolding yesterday, I took a picture of some delaminating brick above a 1st floor window in proximity to where I'm currently working.
What is delamination, you might be wondering? It's when the layers of something start to come apart. In this case the inner wythe and the outer wythe have become separate entities, which has resulted in the outer layer bowing out.
In a 2-wythe wall, there's an inner layer of brick and an outer layer of brick. Each layer is a "wythe". Every few rows ("courses") of brick, the bricks are rotated 90°and, in effect, tie the inner wythe and the other wythe together. The mortar between the bricks holds everything together, and those rotated bricks provide structural stability. In theory, the whole assembly should look something like this:
Unfortunately, the section of brick above the window in question doesn't have any courses of rotated brick. Strike 1. On top of that, at some point water was getting into the wall. Strike 2. Drag that out over a long enough period of time...strike 3; delamination.
The weight of the bricks combined with reduced structural stability due to water-casued mortar erosion, plus built-up piles of soggy, eroded mortar inside the wall putting lateral pressure on the wythes, causes the wall to bow. It'll only get worse with time and eventually it'll fall apart. Currently, the wall above the window - which I suspect has been rebuilt, poorly, at least once in the past - has a bow of maybe 3/4". It's not a lot, but I don't want it to get any worse.
In project management terms, dealing with this is outside the original scope of the project. But I'm there, the scaffolding is there, and while I don't entirely know what I'm doing in terms of fixing it without having it all come crashing to the ground, a case could be made to address the situation right now. I put a poll on the 'gram to see what others might do - fix it now, or come back to it later - and the results were pretty one-sided.
So far, this is how things have shaped up (and you better believe I deconstructed things in the most delicate way possible):
That's the delamination void, or space between bricks where mortar should be. Given how the rest of the walls seem to have been constructed, those 2 bricks should be a LOT closer together. The innter wythe hasn't moved, the outer wythe...that's what I hope to put back in its rightful place.
See those black marks on the brick above the section I removed? That's to help me get the bricks lined up, when I reset them, in a halfway orderly fashion. Building these arches isn't as easy as it may look, and a little help to keep them evenly spaced won't hurt. This ain't my first rodeo.
That's where things stand now. I need to stop typing get to wall-rebuilding.
I know y'all come here to catch up on the latest rehab stuff, and I really appreciate that. But the house stuff happens outside the hours I put into my full-time job, and it happens outside the hours I devote to the dogs. Sometimes work stuff, or dog stuff, takes precedence.
That's what I'm going to write about tonight. Specifically, my dog Roscoe.
Roscoe is 12.5 years old, and I got him when he was 8 weeks old. He's been a part of close to 30% of my entire life, which is kinda bonkers.
In the time we've been together, Roscoe has put 50 lifetimes of mileage on his legs, and I like to think I've provided him with a pretty unique and exciting life. For his first 7 or 8 years of life, I took him to any number of parks - either for a few laps around the place or full blown hikes, all leash-free of course - about 3 times a week.
3 excursions a week X 52 weeks in a year X 7 years....he had well over 1,000 adventures under his belt by the time he turned 8. Rain, snow, woods, trails, hills, fields, rivers, creeks, lakes, he's done it all, hundreds of times over, and I hope he enjoyed every minute of it. I don't know if it's something I did, or if I just got lucky with his combination of breeds (30% lab, 20% border collie, 50% split up evenly between doberman, chow, Australian cattle dog, Australian shepherd), but he's been the BEST park & hiking buddy ever.
Never needed a leash. Always led the way. Never got startled or spooked or ran off. Walked at a steady, solid clip out in front and if I decided to meander away from a trail, 9 times out of 10 when it was time to find the trail again, he'd find it before I did. I have told Roscoe this many times and it's the absolute truth: my favorite thing to do in the whole world has been taking him out hiking, or to one of the local parks @ 6am when we have the place to ourselves.
At home, he always wanted to be close to me. He'd lay on the couch next to me if I was watching TV, for many years he slept in my bed, and if nothing else, he'd plop down wherever I was and made sure some part of his body was touching mine.
But everybody gets old. Things change. Things stop working. Roscoe is not immune to this, and over the past couple years he's slowed down considerably. Lately, it's gotten worse. He's drinking a LOT of water. He can't keep up on hikes now, and trudges along behind me while Freckles, who is almost 2, runs out in front. He pants and breathes heavily. He's got kind of a pot belly look goin' on. I have to pick him up to get him in my truck because he can't do it on his own. He can still do stairs, but barely. A few months back, sort of randomly one day, he couldn't stand up from a laying down position. A reload of joint supplements and about 4 straight meals of salmon and it passed. Now...he's losing hair on his tail and hind legs.
I did some homework and felt like I had the situation diagnosed - but definitely not fixed - and yesterday, after a couple trips to the vet, including an ultrasound that necessitated the shaving of all his belly hair, my suspicions were confirmed: Cushing Syndrome.
Long story short, Cushing Syndrome isn't super uncommon in older dogs. The version he has stems from an inoperable brain tumor that makes his body chemistry real wonky. It's caused the hair loss, the water consumption, the breathing stuff, the belly, and it's also messed up his liver.
It's a situation that can be medicated, potentially, but not cured. The downside is that often times the medication results in side effects that suck worse for the dog than the Cushing Syndrome. We'll give it a shot and see how things go, but I do believe that from this point on, Roscoe will be a little bit limited in terms of what he can do.
A couple years ago, the company I work for asked me to spend 3 months in Sheboygan, WI. It turned out to be a really, really, awesome trip, and part of that stems from waking up stupid early every Saturday and going anywhere, with Roscoe, worth hiking within about a 3-hour radius of our home base in Sheboygan. There's a ton of super cool stuff in WI, and we got to check a lot of it out.
Now...he wouldn't be able to do a lot of those hikes, especially the nonsense we tackled at Devil's Lake State Park. The worst part is that he still wants to; every Saturday or Sunday morning when I ask the dogs if they want to "go on an adventure", Freckles bounces off the walls - she's a pretty excitable little girl - and Roscoe is right behind her, waiting at the door to leave the house to go do some hikin'. He joins us, and every now and then he kinda turns back the clock a handful of years, but those moments only last for a minute or two. His little body - he's 20 pounds lighter than he was in his prime - can't do it like it used to.
I don't believe much in changing a way of life out of fear or because it may not be as easy as it once was, so as long as Roscoe wants to go out with Freckles and I on the weekends, he's gonna get to go. He still eats good, he still sleeps good, and he still growls at the mailman every day. Hopefully the medicine he starts next week will help with some of his Cushing issues.
How does any of this relate to a house rehab? Well...house progress has been slowed down a hair lately, but that's because there are more important things in life than repointing brick or gutting a basement or building a porch, and ol' Roscoe is 4,000% at the top of that list.
On To The Brick
With the foundation that the porch will cover fully repointed, I've moved on to the brick above it. And there's a LOT of brick to repoint, and a lot of brick that's in really bad shape. I'm actually off to a slow start because a fair number of bricks, after a little mortar removal, more or less fall right out of the wall. I've had to reset a couple dozen bricks, which takes a little bit of time and has really slowed down the repointing effort.
The overall plan, before I can start building the porch, is to repoint this area shown in blue:
Right now I'm tackling the area in red, then I'll move the scaffolding into the corner and get after the area in green:
I began at the bottom of the brick wall, right above the basement window, and what started out like this:
Quickly turned into this:
Those arches over the basement windows, for one reason or another, seem to all be in pretty rough shape, and they're not super simple to rebuild because the bricks sit on a little bit of an angle and that's just enough to add an extra little challenge to the equation. I got this one put back together decently and while I wish I had cut a brick or two a little better, I have so much work ahead of me that getting hung up on perfectionist nonsense isn't in the cards.
The repointing work is most efficiently accomplished by working horizontally so before I worked my way too far up the wall, I went around the corner and addressed the beam pocket leftover from the original porch construction. There'd always been a hole in the wall (that's what a beam pocket is), but the inner wythe behind it was trash, and some of the outer wythe bricks around it were busted or falling apart.
See all those little black dots in the debris pile in the hole in the wall? That's mouse poop. I cleaned out the hole and popped a few inner wythe bricks free, and started rebuilding all of it.
When resetting bricks, I try to reset a couple, then work in another area, and come back to reset a couple more. Some of these spots are really difficult to squeeze bricks into, and the inner wythe is about impossible to get mortar into easily so the idea is to let a couple freshly mortared bricks setup for a little bit before I add on and risk having something move if I bump into it with a brick, jointer, etc.
And of course in thise case, I started raking out mortar to the left and 6 more bricks came right out of the wall.
I wound up removing the inner wythe bricks behind the 6 outer wythe bricks that came out of the wall so I could reset them as well. A porch ledge has to get attached to this wall, and I can't do that if I'm trying to anchor anything to loose brick. I fought the mosquitos and darkness last night to get the inner wythe rebuilt and the outer 6 bricks back in the wall, but it all turned out good enough.
Tonight (Friday) after work I finished rebuilding the beam pocket, and did a little more pointing.
It's not perfect - maybe a B, B+? - but the brick in the above pic will get covered by a ledger and, ultimately, the porch, so the goal was primarily getting things solid, relatively decent in appearance, and leaving me in a good position to get after it tomorrow because it's supposed to rain on Sunday.
The work is oddly satisfying, but maaaaaaaan...I'm ready to make some sawdust.
Let's start of with a pic, now that the scaffolding has been moved, of the final result of the wall that was the subject of the last blog post:
I think the repointing turned out pretty well, and I learned a lot on the first wall that I was able to apply to the second wall. Primarily, I got a LOT better at understanding the timing of things and knowing how long to let the mortar on the final pass setup before working it and shaping the joints. It's a lot like grouting tile: shape joints too soon and you'll get a watery mess, wait too long and the stuff is really, really difficult to work with.
After I wrapped up that wall, and after demo'ing the porch - I have a lot of video of that, I'll get around to editing it some day - I started repointing the foundation walls the porch had been hiding for 140+ years.
The wall on the left, the lower section was Swiss cheese, an ideal situation for the mice who've been getting into the house for who knows how long. The lower left side had a couple large holes and there were a bunch more around and under the window sill of the bricked in window. That brick work isn't mine by the way, somebody bricked in what had been a basement window before I bought the place. It's horrible workmanship, but it's solid and I have enough things to deal with so it's staying just like it is (the porch will cover it up).
Anyhow, repointing the stone is both easier and more difficult than repointing brick. It's easier in that the joints are generally a lot larger than they are with the brick, which means they require more mortar, which means there's generally a longer working time. It's more difficult in that absolutely nothing is uniform, straight, flat, etc., so the repointing effort means constantly changing tools to use the one that fits the best, and constantly changing the angles at which the tools are used.
For this job, I removed the brick that had been serving as pavers, excavated down about a foot so I could make sure the fresh mortar extended below grade, raked out the old mortar, and loaded up the joints with fresh type n mortar.
I enjoy the work, but the section of wall closest to the ground...not a lot of fun. There's no good way to get mortar in some of those joints, and/or tool the joints, without laying on my stomach or side. When the ground is loaded with chunks of stone and brick and little mortar boogers, laying down is a lot like walking through a dark room and unexpectedly stepping on a pile of Legos.
In the above pic, the mortar is multi-colored because it's been curing for different lengths of time. When it's fresh it's dark grey, like the lower section of the wall on the right; over the course of a week or so it lightens up, like the upper left section of the wall on the left. Speaking of the left wall, here's a short video of pics showing the main stages of the work:
I ran through almost 2 full 60 lb. bags of mortar mix on that wall alone because a lot of the exterior, un-repointed foundation joints just turn to dust with minimal effort and when that happens, I remove as much old mortar as I can reach. The downside to this - and it's 100% the right way to do things - is that I wind up having to use a LOT of mortar, and stuffing those joints can be a time-consuming process.
I'd get a little more accomplished on the weekends but we start at least 1 Saturday or Sunday - every week - like this:
It's a couple hours out of the day, but we go pretty early and I've been doing this kinda stuff with Roscoe for every bit of the past 10+ years. I don't know how many more hikes he's got in him - we have another vet appointment, a full day event, on Thursday this week to try to figure out what's wrong with him (the vet has been hinting at some sort of inoperable liver situation) - and while it's tough seeing him trudge along at the back of the pack when for over a decade he'd walk out in front, always leading the way, fearless, strong, steady, and poised, if he's up for going, we're gonna go. The other, non-depressing side of that coin is that hikes are now 100% the Freckles show. She deserves the chance to run around and experience all the stuff Roscoe's experienced, and hopefully, learn some things from him. She's a pretty excitable little girl, and I know she likes getting the chance to stretch her legs, swim in rivers, chase deer (I wish she wouldn't do this but it's kinda entertaining), and annoy big brother.
So...sometimes the rehab work gets back-burnered a little bit from time to time.
Unfortunately, I'm going to have to pick and choose my spots carefully because I'm currently in the middle of a pretty healthy brick repointing operation, which has to be completed before I can start building the porch and if I want to avoid building the porch when there's snow on the ground, I need to get some things done quickly. I'll tell y'all all about it in the next one...