Repointing Brickwork

Written by  John Davies
Last updated: July 5, 2023

Brick walls are beautiful. Few architectural styles compare to it. A brick wall has been a staple in many parts of the world for centuries now, particularly those areas that are prone to cold weather. The latest trend is to have exposed brickwork on internal walls, and I have to say they look fantastic (pictures below).

Like all other parts of your home, brick walls need regular maintenance and care, or else they will begin to look messy and unkempt. Is the mortar is damaged and exposing the internal wall to moisture it’s something that can lead to a lot of bigger problems, so it’s worth sorting.

In these walls, the mortar fillings can cover up to 15% of the surface. However, these fillings tend to weather away in time, which is why they need constant refilling.

The technical term for refilling the mortar in between the bricks on your wall is known as “repointing.”

In this article, we will go over all you need to know about repointing.

Are you ready to learn more? Let’s dive right in!

Can You Repoint Brickwork Yourself?

If you’re wondering whether or not you can repoint your brickwork by yourself, the answer is yes, you certainly can! Hiring a professional to repaint your property’s brickwork can cost a pretty penny, so it should come as no surprise that most people choose to do their home’s repointing by themselves.

It depends a lot on where it actually is, there isn’t anything too technical about repointing, you need to clear out the bad mortar clean it and put more back in, nothing too tricky. But if it’s halfway up a 3 story house, probably better to hire a professional.

How to Repoint Brickwork

If you’ve decided to repoint your wall’s brickwork, you’re in the right place! Below is a detailed, step-by-step guide on how you can repoint brickwork all by yourself. Don’t worry we’ll include a video at the bottom so you can see EXACTLY how you go about it.

But first, here’s a list of the supplies you’ll need:

  • Water
  • Hammer
  • Narrow chisel or screwdriver – To get the old out
  • Wired brushes
  • Lime mortar
  • Sand
  • Mortarboard and trowel

You’ll need water to spray the bricks with and a hammer and chisel to remove the old pointing as required. Once you’ve beaten at the old mortar fillings, you’ll need a wired brush to dust remains out of the crevices. Lime mortar serves as a new filling material that you can apply using the mortarboard and trowel.

Once you’ve got everything in order, you can begin the repointing process:

  1. Begin by lightly spraying the wall with water. The aim is to slightly dampen the surface. Do not try and douse the entire wall in water with a hose. The slight dampness will help prevent the new mortar from drying out too quickly once it’s been applied, hence protecting it from cracking too soon in the future.
  2. Now that your wall is damp, take a hammer and chisel (or screwdriver) and attempt to remove the old mortar from within the bricks. How much mortar you remove from the whole wall is up to you. Just be sure to address all the spots that have cracked or deteriorating mortar.
  3. Once you’ve removed all the damaged mortar, use your wired and soft brushes in turn to remove any leftover debris or dust. Make sure you’ve removed all the remnants so that you have a clean slate to work with for the next step. Soft brushes are better for this purpose, though some people might like to use a wired brush, too, if it feels necessary.
  4. Once you’re done tidying up, it’s time to start applying fresh mortar into the gaps. Begin at the lowest point of the wall as this area is the most likely to get damaged by any extra moisture around it and needs to be filled immediately.

Start at the very bottom and build upwards for the first meter or so. Once you’ve filled it, switch over to the top and begin filling in from there. The middle section will be filled in last.

You’ll need your mortarboard, trowel, and lime mortar mix for this.

Don’t worry too much about neatness right now but try to avoid spilling mortar over the bricks. What’s important is that you get enough mortar into the empty sections. Watch out for possible air bubbles, too, and try to get the mixture into all the nooks and crannies that need filling. Don’t be stingy-apply as much mixture as needed wherever you have to!

  1. Allow the mortar to dry. You can tell it’s fully dry by touching it lightly; if your fingertips come away completely dry, your brick wall is ready.
  2. You’re going to need that wired brush again now. Use it to scrape away excess mortar and remove any mixture of stains from the surrounding area.

Once all this is done, your wall will be left looking brilliant and brand new again!

How Often Do You Need to Repoint a Brick House?

Typically, the mortar fillings in your brick walls will last between 20 to 30 years. However, using remarkably high-quality mortar can even give you up to 50 years’ worth of deterioration-free filling.

Internal walls will typically last a lot longer, just because they don’t see the same wear and tear.

Most commercial-grade mortar fillings being produced today won’t last you beyond 30 years, though.

Suppose you live in an environment that’s prone to harsh weather, like regular and strong rainfall or daunting sunlight all year round. In that case, your brick wall may need to be repointed sooner.

How Do You Tell if You Need Repointing?

Your property’s brick-clad boundary walls are the first thing any passer-by is going to notice, so it’s essential to keep them looking polished and groomed. But how exactly do you tell if your brick wall needs repointing?

Below is a list of things to look out for when deciding whether or not your wall needs to be repointed:

  • Clearly visible mortar cracks: If the mortar in between your wall’s bricks has begun to crack, take it as a clear sign that a repointing job is in order.
  • Gaps between brick and mortar: Sometimes, the mortar fillings degenerate and leave behind obvious gaps within the brickwork. If you’ve noticed this, start planning for a repointing job!
  • Dampness: Damp surfaces within your wall’s masonry is another indicator that your wall needs repointing.
  • Water infiltrating: Gaps between the mortar filling can allow water to seep through the wall. This, in turn, can weaken its structural integrity and damage your wall from within. If you’ve noticed this happen, don’t waste any time! Your wall desperately needs repointing, or else it will keep raking up internal damage till it fully decays from the inside-in extreme cases, your wall may even collapse!

A simpler way to check is by taking a sharp knife and running it across the mortar fillings. Try scraping away at the mortar, too. If you can easily remove the filling, it may be time for a repointing job.

Can You Repoint Brickwork in the Rain?

Working on repointing your brick wall under a light shower should be completely fine. However, if it starts raining cats and dogs, it’s best to avoid repointing or outdoor masonry of any kind. Who wants to work out in the rain anyway?!?

Heavy showers can damage your wall’s internal integrity, especially when you’ve removed all of its mortar and the insides are exposed to the harsh water that beats down upon it. The rain can seep in through the empty crevices and make its way to your wall’s basic framework, hence weakening it from its core.

Also, strong showers can wash away wet mortar and leave you in an exceptionally messy position. Hence, it’s better to avoid repointing your brickwork in the rain. A light drizzle that doesn’t interfere with the wet mortar should be okay, but anything more than that can have an adverse effect.

Mortar also needs to dry itself. Freshly installed mortar should be kept damp for the first 36 hours, but it needs to dry after that without rain interfering with the process, but we live in the UK, unless it’s in the summer this is unlikely. So just keep an eye on it.

What Temperature Can You Repoint Brickwork?

Temperature bears a significant influence on how well your repointing job turns out. Too hot, and your new mortar job will begin to crack. Too cold, and the fresh filling may never dry!

The ideal temperature for mortar-related masonry is 21 degrees Celsius, give or take another 10 degrees. Colder temperatures (4 degrees and below) can make it difficult for the mortar to dry and set.

If the environment is too cold, the water between the mortar and bricks may freeze over and cause the expansion of the new fillings. The repointing job might also begin to weaken due to this disruptive expansion.

If the temperature is too high (at above 26 degrees Celsius), the fresh mortar may dry out too quickly. Cracks might appear, and the entire repointing job can go to waste.

Hence, it’s best to get the job done when the surrounding temperature is between 15 to 26 degrees Celsius. This can help you avoid unwanted trouble and create a longer-lasting foundation.

What is the Best Mix for Pointing Brickwork?

There are a couple of excellent mortar mix options to choose from for your next repointing job.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when choosing or creating a mix:

  • Avoid using monofilament sand as it lacks essential fine particles.
  • If you’re using “wet sand,” make sure you follow the instructions on the packet and don’t end up adding too much water into the mix.
  • Always use appropriate containers and mixing tools, or else you might end up with air bubbles or a mixture that’s either too coarse or too fine.
  • When adding water, do it in gradual stages and not all at once, or your mix might become too watery and weak.
  • Use soft sand and a high-quality plasticizer for top results.

Type O mortar is an excellent option for repointing. It has a low compressive strength of just 350 psi and is also known as high-lime mortar. It is softer than the older bricks within your wall and won’t exert unnecessary pressure onto the rest of the wall.

Some people prefer using type N mortar. This is a preblended mixture of sand and masonry cement, sand, lime, and Portland cement. It’s perfect for laying fresh bricks onto a wall or for repointing old brickwork.

Type N is known as a general-purpose mortar mix. It contains 1 part Portland cement, 1 part lime, and six parts sand. This is the most commonly used mortar mix out there, so you can’t go wrong with it. However, if you’re dealing with a brick wall that is over a century old and contains ancient bricks, then it’s best if you stick to type O mortar, which will help preserve the integrity of your older bricks.

Type S is also an option, though it’s uncommon to use it for brick wall repointing. This type of mortar contains two parts Portland cement, 1 part hydrated lime, and nine parts sand. It isn’t commonly used for repointing, so it’s better to use either type N or type O.

As you can see, there’s much more to repointing brickwork than what first meets the eye. However, refilling your wall with mortar isn’t as tricky as it sounds. Just make sure you have the right tools and an ideal environment, including a healthy outdoor temperature and top-notch mortar mix.

Once you have everything set in place, you can begin working on repointing your brick wall and have it looking brand-new in no time! 

exposed brick wall
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