Since the last time we talked, I got the lower section of the wall with the bricked-in basement window redone, including closing up the last remaining beam pocket from the original porch.
I had the good sense - finally - to stuff fresh mortar in the arch bricks before removing the mortar from the loose, garbage bricks above them, all of which had to come out and be reset. Had I not done that, the arch would have come apart entirely and those things take forever to rebuild. With the arch bricks firmly in place, removing the couple courses above them, both wythes, and resetting them was no problem. And since this area will be covered by the porch, I didn't get too hung up on the appearance of the arch. It is what it is.
With that section taken care of, I got the scaffolding back out and started working my way up the wall just left of the one that had the delamination issue.
I'm not going to repoint the entire wall because I'm fighting the calendar - weather, really - to get this porch built in 2021 and at this point, I'm really only focused on repointing the areas that are critical to the porch: the strip of unpainted brick near the top of the wall. That's where the ledger boards, pressure treated 2x8s for the floor and 2x6s for the roof, will get bolted to the house and I need those areas to be rock solid inside and out.
At the bottom of the wall, just right of the door, the brick was in decent shape but it had all been repointed - poorly - previously and somebody did a rock star job of caulking the joint between the brickmold and the brick. I guess if you're going to half ass the former, you might as well nail the latter. It took me HOURS to remove the caulk.
Up above the door, that's where things get exciting. Remember, the primary goal is to make the unpainted brick as solid as I can without rebuilding the whole damn wall. The secondary goal is to repoint enough brick on either side of that strip that if and when I come back to repoint the rest of the wall, I'm not running into the porch ceiling, posts, etc. And it should go without saying, another goal is to remove all the crap leftover from the previous porch's roof, or at least as much of it as I can.
The mortar in this section is horrible, which at first thought doesn't make a lot of sense given that it's been covered for the past 140+ years. Unfortunately, there must have been some spots along the joint between the porch roof and the house that allowed water to get into the wall, which sort of rotted the mortar from the inside out.
All that cracked paint along the mortar joints, that's evidence of moisture trying to escape the wall. That much wear and tear means a LOT of moisture was passing through, and that much moisture had to come from water getting into the wall. In those situations, over a long enough timeline, Mother Nature wins, always. That paint, all the layers - and there are quite a few - couldn't hold up.
As a side note to that, the brick should allow moisture to pass through the wall. That's why brick really shouldn't be painted, because then the moisture gets trapped in the brick and all sorts of bad things happen.
Anyhow, the mortar came out easily enough. I removed, by hand mostly, pretty much all of it that I could until the bricks started getting loose.
That's as far as I needed to go with the mortar removal; from there I started slingin' new mortar into the joints. With joints as empty as these were, the process essentially takes places in 6 steps:
Overall, as is usually the case, I got a lot done, but not as much as I wanted to get done.
Emptying out the joints as much as I am comes with positives and negatives; on the bright side, these repointed sections are crazy solid but man, does it take a lot of time to stuff mortar into the deepest recesses of the voids. Those head (vertical) joints, I have to use the side of my jointer to get mortar pushed to the back of the joint and with no room to see what I'm doing I have to work by feel and not much else. It's a time-consuming ordeal.
The good news, however, is that whenever I get back at it, I'll be able to tackle the unpainted section all at once. I just don't know when that'll be; Roscoe has another vet appointment for blood work after work tomorrow (his Cushing Syndrome meds haven't caused any side effects and they seem to have drastically reduced the panting, water consumption, and pot-belly look, but they haven't done anything to slow down his hair loss - he's basically rockin' a giant, hairless rat tail - or improve his complete lack of energy), I have to work late on Thursday, and then the temperatures Friday through Sunday may not allow for any mortar work, since it needs 14 hours above freezing to cure properly. So there's that. I'm close, but I need big chunks of hours to get this stuff done and the weather may just not cooperate.
At the end of the day, right as I was cleaning up the last few joints, I felt like something was moving just above me and to the right. I glanced up and in the spot where a brick is missing, this was goin' down:
I won't make your eyes bleed with the words running through my head at that moment, but that little thing was fearless.
Obviously, I still have a mice issue but then again, I've had some gaping holes in the house over the past couple months so it's not entirely surprising. At first I felt like I could just reach up with one of my jointers and flick the little thing to the ground 16' away, but his bravery impressed me so instead I went back in the house, got a random cardboard box that was laying around and carried it back up the scaffolding. If the mouse was still there, I was going to try to get it into the box so I could let it loose somewhere on the ground (800 miles away from the house, obviously).
But the mouse was gone and didn't return. I didn't think much of it and moved on to the rest of my work. I've had mice in the house before, it's a situation the gets dealt with. Not the end of the world, right?
Care to guess who did NOT forget about the mouse?
Later that night I was at the kitchen sink getting some dishes cleaned up and Freckles was laying down a few feet away. The back door is next to the kitchen and out of the blue Freckles jumped up, went to the back door, and immediately started sniffing and sort of tracking something too small for my old man eyes to see. I figured it was a bug or cricket or something like that; she loves chasing those things around and occasionally one gets in the house.
When you have 2 dogs, 1 that LOVES being out in the yard and another that HATES being out in the yard, won't go down the deck stairs without me watching him, and half the time can't get back up the stairs unless I help him, that back door gets opened and stays opened for a minute or two many times over the course of a day. Sometimes a little something or other sneaks in.
Not this time. It wasn't a little bug, it was a baby mouse. Freckles tracked and chased the thing for a few feet and then BAM!, it stopped moving. She must have bitten it and killed it but thankfully she didn't eat it. I picked it up, threw it away, the end. Well, the end after I gave Freckles a bunch of treats and told her 300 times how she did good.
Except it wasn't the end.
The following morning we were all in the living room eating breakfast, watching the first little bit of pregame NFL shows on TV, and getting ready to get back to work. All of a sudden Freckles jumped up, ran over to one of the fireplaces - spots where I know mice have accessed the main floor from the basement - and started sniffing around. She was tracking something again.
Another god damn mouse.
The mouse had the advantage of hiding behind some of the living room decor (rolling scaffold, tile saw, etc.) on the floor, but Freckles stuck with it. Before I could even get off the couch, she struck again, mouse kill #2. Again, she didn't eat it, just incapacitated it. I got rid of the mouse and got on with my morning, after rewarding Freckles handsomely of course.
Maybe her hunting DNA and insane desire to chase every squirrel, rabbit, bird, and deer that's ever lived will pay off after all. I hope so...because I saw a 3rd mouse later that day and it's still roaming the place freely.
What a project. And, it's finally allllll wrapped up!
(I still have a little caulking to do, but whatever, it's COMPLETE.)
For the quick and dirty version of the work that took place, check out this 10 second video:
This wasn't even on my near-term list of things to do; I've still got a porch to build before Thanksgiving. But I was repointing the lower and left portion of the wall, and as the scaffolding went higher and higher, I came closer and closer to getting an up close look at the delaminating section.
The middle of the arch was protruding about 3/4", and 3/4" is a whole lot larger when viewed from 1 foot away vs. from the ground, 15 feet away. I decided to rebuild that section, ideally without the entire wall collapsing on me in the process.
I painstakingly removed and reset about 3 dozen bricks, working in 3-4 brick chunks at a time so as to never have too much cornice brick unsupported. I probably came up with 8 different plans on how to go about all of it, but long story short, the plan I selected, as it turns out, worked. Here's what the process looked like:
Here's where things started to get extra precarious and I had to stuff shims in a bunch of spots to keep everything together:
There came a point where I'd poked and nibbled and tip-toed as much as I could, it was time to bite the bullet, and I removed the last bad section of 20+ bricks all at once. There was no way around it because they were so loose and unsupported that I felt like 1, they weren't really doing anything to hold anything up above them, and 2, better to take them down on my terms than on theirs. But ya better believe I was super nervous and I worked super fast.
I'm not gonna lie, reaching the point where all the bricks were back in the wall, that was a big moment. I am NOT a mason, and while heights don't bother me the idea of working on a sketchy wall from an elevated position was NOT real awesome, but the whole thing came together pretty well. She's solid, the bricks are as coplanar as humanly possible given the starting points at the corners of the wall, and all the challenges I encountered along the way were overcome.
I still had to point it, which sorta took forever because the arched brick is kind of a pain and a LOT of the head (vertical) joints in the brick off camera - stuff I didn't remove - were 100% free of mortar but only about 1/8" wide, and the only way to get mortar into joints that narrow is to use the side of the jointer and sloppily push mortar into the joint, 1/32" at a time. But I got it done. Took me 2 days, but I got it done.
In addition to the brick resetting and pointing, I had to add a sloped mortar bed on top of the lower cornice.
The rest of the house has the exact same sloped mortar bed, but it's in ROUGH shape. It's cracked in a million places, there's vegetation growing up outta the cracks, etc. I don't know how else to shed water from up there so I figured I'd replicate the setup but hedge my bets a little bit by 1, cutting in some expansion joints, and 2, chamfering the edge that meets the house. The expansion joints - which I'll caulk once the mortar cures for a bit - give the mortar bed a little wiggle room should the bricks move at all due to expansion and contraction, and the chamfer gives me a place to lay down a bead of caulk, which will keep water out of the wall if the mortar bed separates from the house at all. It actually turned out really well, considering I freehanded the whole thing; I wanted nothing more than to be done with climbing scaffold and slinging mortar, I didn't want to waste any time with measurements, straight edges, etc.
Next up, addressing this wall:
Getting rained out on the weekends is really slowing my progress on the brick delamination repair, but this is where things stand now:
So many challenges, the least of which is having to climb up and down to and from the 3rd scaffold rack every time I need a tool or to reload the grout bag. I'm doing the best I can with strings and levels and every trick I know to get things straight(ish) and plumb (ish), but it's not easy. It is, however, tedious, as is talking about bricks nonstop because that's the only thing I've dealt with for the past what feels like forever.
Let's take a break from the brick talk for a minute; instead, I want to talk a little bit about the youngest dog in the family, Freckles. She turned 2 over the weekend and we did a celebratory birthday hike (that turned into a celebratory birthday swim), and she got some new toys and treats but to be fair, we go hiking at various places pretty frequently and it's rare that a day goes by without the dogs eating grilled chicken or steak or scrambled eggs or mashed sweet potatoes or beef stew, so in Freckles' world, her birthday was like most other weekend days.
Freckles and Roscoe remind me of my brother Andy and I. Maybe I just want to see it that way, or maybe their differences in demeanor, personality, and ability are common among younger/older siblings, but whatever it is, it's kinda neat to see. If I had to use a few words to describe Roscoe I'd use words like steady, dependable, sturdy, smart, curious, etc. He's gone about life with a confident calmness and been content to, when he was younger and able, serve as leader of the pack and caretaker of those around him. Quiet, no frills, nothing fancy, but as rock solid as they come. In hockey terms, he's been a phenomenal stay-at-home defenseman.
And then there's Freckles, who is more like the undersized-but-wildly-talented winger that flies around the rink, is a little bit unpredictable, and will follow up insane highlight reel goals with a penalty for spearing a ref and then throw something at the opposing bench on the way to the box while smiling through all of it. She's 800 times the athlete Roscoe could have ever dreamt of being. She's super high-energy, and comes absolutely unhinged when I come home from work each day, or when I say things like "wanna go to the park" or "wanna ride in the truck". She swims (Roscoe doesn't). She will play "fetch" anytime, anywhere, with anything (Roscoe doesn't). She loves sticking her head out of my truck's windows (Roscoe doesn't). She will chase any and all wildlife to the ends of the earth (Roscoe doesn't). She is nonstop super happy, she's amazingly excitable, she's fearless, she's playful, she wants to follow me everywhere I go, and she 100% attacks life with reckless abandon. She's small, but she's fierce.
I've done my best to provide Roscoe with a relatively exciting life, whether it was mile after mile after mile of leash-free hiking excursions multiple times a week or getting a pretty solid diet of "people food", and he's always been welcome on any furniture I own. Things are no different with Freckles; here's a look at how she spent her 2nd year of life:
For as much of a pain in the ass as she can be on hikes sometimes - we still can't go 100% leash-free just yet, but she's getting close, and she's knocked Roscoe, who isn't real steady on his legs anymore, over a time or 17 - it's hard not to laugh at her shenanigans and I hope she never loses her enthusiasm for everything she gets to experience. She's no longer a puppy, but I have a feeling she'll occasionally get referred to as "baby girl" for the rest of her hopefully long and adventurous life.
Next time we talk, I'll hopefully get to tell y'all about finishing up the wall rebuild.