Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Did I fix my bricks? I don't know . . .

I guess I'd be in trouble if the Big Bad Wolf came by, since -- even though my home is made of bricks -- huffing and puffing seems to be bringing it down.  Or, rather, one part of one brick wall inside my house has been flaky for a while. 

Here's the wall: it's in a room we call The Library; it's a wall we share with our neighbors (an interior, not exterior wall, therefore).   Clearly there's some kind of difference between left and right, and I don't actually know the architectural reasons for why those two sides are different.*   

*update:  It's possible there's a moisture source we'll have to fix --- I just double-checked, and it turns out that that portion of the wall is actually shared with my neighbor's porch, not interior space, so there might be a longer term issue.   Eh, we'll figure it out.

At any rate, the right side seems generally fine, but the left side has been gently crumbly for a while now.  Above and below are photos I took last September (2020).   It looks like someone tried to seal the brick with some kind of (varnish?) something, and it was flaking off, and the bricks underneath were likewise kind of soft and crumbly.

I send these photos to my favorite home repair team, Nate and Todd.  Is this something they felt comfortable dealing with?

They referred me to one of the masons they work with.  I forwarded the pictures along to the mason, who came over sometime early fall 2020 for a [pandemically moderated, masked] in-person inspection and consultation.   He suggested I could probably take care of it myself.   I should sand the bricks down ("like, with my belt sander and regular sandpaper?"  yes), and then paint the bricks with a sealant from the local stone supply store. The dust from the bricks would be a hassle -- cover everything, open the window, grab a big fan, wear a mask, etc.  ("Ooh, I already have masks!").

Nate and Todd agreed this job could well be feasible to do on my own.  They suggested wire brushes instead of a belt sander, and they regaled me with the proper use of multiple drop cloths and ways to seal off the room from other, cleaner, parts of the house because of brick dust.  I stored away the knowledge and thought about dealing with this between semesters, in December . . . but December came and went, and so the project lingered, and the brick flaked gently, and we eventually arrived at May.

Last weekend, fully vaccinated and having a bit (= a lot) more freedom in my schedule than I did during classes, I finally went to the stone supply store.   They scoffed at the idea of sanding or scrubbing the brick, and offered me a slightly different kind of sealant than the mason had suggested.   I felt like a patient getting second and third opinions.

You know how sometimes you put something off forEVER because you think it's going to be a major project, and then it turns into Not a Big Deal?  I think, all told, working on the wall took a bit over one hour, maybe 2 hours, tops.   Much better than the 2- to 3-day project I'd envisioned.

A bunch of that time was spent hauling stuff around.  Our home is very linear, so getting stuff from the basement up to the second floor involves a lot of walking --- zigzagging, but in an upward direction, as we walk long hallways from one stair to the next.   I brought up the shop vac, and a step stool, and a bunch of painter's tarps.  

I started by reading the instructions on the sealant, and then started gently removing the most egregious flakes.  It didn't take long before I realize  that opinion #3 wouldn't cut it; the wall still had layers of flaky white varnish that were incompatible with sealing the brick.  Since I didn't have wire brushes, I grabbed the belt sander, put tarps all-the-heck-over-everything, and got to work removing the flakiest stuff.  The dust wasn't nearly as miserable as I'd feared it would be, and the shop vac was a champ at cleaning it up.   And then I sprayed the sealant on, and let it dry.  Then I packed everything up and zig-zagged it back down to the basement.

Will this work?  No idea.  The wall definitely looks much better right now than it did a few days ago, and it's not snowing on the bed anymore.   

* Now that I know the exterior side fo the brick needs work too, I'll get back in touch with the mason again.  In the meanwhile,   $80 worth of sealant and a few hours of my own time seems like a reasonable first attempt to avoid a more costly and elaborate procedure. 

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