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Crumbling Masonry: The Importance of Repointing Stone Walls

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By Legacy Stoneworks (806 words)
Posted in Stone Masonry on March 14, 2011

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The Northeast region of the U.S. has experienced unprecedented snowfall totals in the 2010-2011 winter season. Between December 2010 and March of 2011 an average of more than 50 inches of snow has fallen in the New York - New Jersey area. In New York's Lower Hudson Valley, temperatures fluctuated wildly in February from the teens to near 70 degrees. Heavy winds, ice storms and rains have added to the winter weather mayhem. All of this weather chaos takes a huge toll on existing masonry work, new and old. Now more than ever, stone masonry work needs to be inspected and likely repointed.

What is stone masonry repointing? In short, repointing is a masonry maintenance and repair process whereby a stone mason scrapes out old cement mortar, cleans the joints between stones and repacks the joints with new mortar to properly set and secure the stones in the wall. This process ensures the integrity of the masonry work for years to come.

Stone masonry work, when installed with the proper professional labor and materials, can last for decades. They say "stone is forever" and that is pretty much true, but the cement mortar bonds that hold stonewalls and masonry work together are prone to degradation due to snow, water flow, ice expansion, frost heaves and invasion by plant life.  When mortar between stones breaks down, it can retain water like a sponge further exacerbating any freeze-thaw destructive expansion.

Example of plant invasion and missing mortar:


Masonry degradation often becomes evident during the spring thaw. After months of freezing temperatures and ice expansion and contraction, masonry work gets pushed and shoved breaking down its original bonds. After initial masonry bonds are broken, the subsequent melting of more winter ice can wash out mortar joints between stones. And, by late Springtime, heavy rains further degrade soil retention behind retaining walls and push water flow through degraded masonry wall joints.

Combined with winter's ground freezing, snow and ice and the heavy rains and warming spring temperatures, all types of masonry take a beating. Further, when masonry work is already degraded by plant life, the end problems can be even worse. After years of wearing through masonry joints, enough spring thaw and running water can create real problems with stone walls. As ice melts and waters rush through freeze, expand and breaks apart the mortar even more, stones integral to the structure of the wall fall out and the wall begins to fall apart completely.

Degraded mortar joints combined with missing stone leads to structural breakdown:


What does this mean for our property? At a minimum, a crumbling wall on the border of your property may be plain ugly, unsightly and an unfriendly sign to your neighbors that you just don't care about the curb appeal of your property.  With more serious conditions, broken and crumbling patios, walkways and walls may decrease the value of your real estate and are a potential threat to the integrity of your landscape architecture. A crumbling retaining wall on a driveway can cause the entire driveway to wash out and fall apart. A crumbling masonry foundation on the base of a home or building can cause the building to shift balance and go off level causing drastic structural problems.

So how do you prevent the breakdown of your masonry walls? To prevent this, regular wall inspection and masonry maintenance is required. Your stone masonry work should be inspected annually for: cracks where water can penetrate, degradation of masonry joints, bio growth including moss, grasses, ivies and other plant life and loose cement joints, concrete foundations and loose stones. Masonry work should be cleaned as frequently is as needed to keep plant life from taking over.

Even with the aforementioned annual maintenance, eventually cement mortar joints between stones will begin to break due to ice expansion, heave and water penetration. Beyond the annual checkups and cleaning for your masonry, repointing of masonry work is required over time. As soon as cracks appear, masonry joints begin to break and before cement begins to fall out of your wall, a qualified professional stone mason should be hired to repoint your masonry work. Professional stone masonry maintenance can prevent total breakdown of your property and maintain the integrity of your masonry work for many years to come.

Properly maintained mortar joints with structural integrity:


A wall with a proper foundation, below grade and which was constructed with good stone masonry techniques should last for several decades. As mortar joints are repointed a stone wall could last more than a hundred years. This spring, inspect your stone walls, patios and walkways and make sure that you hire a qualified stonework professional to repoint your masonry work before it begins to break apart.

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Legacy Stoneworks, Inc. – Architectural Stonework & Granite Building Stone Supply

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PO Box 832, Tuxedo Park, NY 10987

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