Frequently Asked Questions


Q:
I’m planning to build a new home and would like to use masonry on the exterior, but my concern is the initial cost of construction. What should I be considering when I make my decision?

A:
There is generally a higher initial construction cost with masonry versus other materials such as wood. However when considering long-term costs and maintenance, masonry is quite affordable. It can greatly improve the resale value of a property, reduce heating and cooling costs, and lower the cost of homeowners insurance.

Q:
Are there any maintenance issues with Masonry construction?

A:
Masonry is known for its durability and low maintenance. The biggest issue with masonry, and for that matter most materials, is water entering where it’s not suppose to be. With wood for example, this can lead to rot, mold, and infestation issues, whereas masonry is subject to damage from water freezing and thawing. With proper design and construction however, these issues are minimized if not entirely eliminated.

Q:
What are the primary differences between real stone and cultured stone?

A:
Real stone is generally harder and more durable, and possesses the appearance subtleties only nature can provide. Cultured stone is a man-made, cast cement product with sprayed-on surface colors. It’s designed to mimic the appearance of real stone, but is more susceptible to wear-and-tear, UV fading, and water damage. When considering long-term costs and maintenance, natural stone is the better choice, but cultured stone is a good alternative for price sensitive budgets.

Q:
Is it possible to build a masonry project during the colder months or even winter?

A:
It is possible depending on conditions and the ability to control the environment being worked on. Water freezing within the mortar is the biggest problem when working in colder climates. Two primary ways to deal with this is to either add an anti-freeze product to the mortar mix and/or “tent” the project with tarps, then implement a heat source. If freezing is prevented and conditions aren’t too severe, work can often continue.

Q:
I need to replace my driveway and front walk and I’ve been thinking about using brick. How durable are brick and how would these areas be constructed?

A:
Construction methods and the type of brick used often affect durability. Brick used for driveways and walkways are often called “pavers” and are generally a cast cement product, a clay-based/kiln-fired product, or natural stone. Cement pavers are the most budget friendly; clay pavers are more durable with a higher price point; and natural stone is the most durable and at the highest price point. All can be installed in a similar fashion, but a proper foundation is critical to keeping the finished surface from deforming or breaking apart.

When choosing a construction method the biggest factors are soil or ground conditions, and the amount of weight that will be placed on the finished surface. The greater the weight and less desirable the ground conditions means the subsurface or foundation will require more consideration.

There are two primary foundation types or methods used in driveway/walkway construction and both begin by shaping and compacting the natural base soil several inches below the required final grade. The second step is to overlay either a compacted layer of material such as granite chips/dust, or pour a cement pad similar to a standard driveway/walkway. Over either, the pavers are then placed in the desired pattern using mortar joints or lose laid with sand. (Note the use of mortar joints is only recommended when placing pavers on a cement pad.)

Due to cost considerations, cement foundations are used less often, but they generally provide greater durability particularly when heavy load weights and poor soil conditions are an issue. Another consideration in colder climates is snow and ice. To minimize safety and snow removal issues it’s becoming more common to install subsurface heating systems to keep driveways and walkways clear.  These systems are typically installed within a cement pad under the pavers.

Q:
Are all brick equal in quality?

A:
The quality of brick and their “qualities” vary considerably. What geographical region the brick are to be used and what area of the project the brick are to be applied, dictates what type is necessary to have the desired brick life expectancy. For example, adobe brick are satisfactory in hot, dry, desert climates, but completely inadequate for cold, wet climates that have freeze/thaw cycles. Another example is a common brick used on an exterior would not be suitable for the interior of a fireplace box due to the high temperatures.

One of the most important factors that determine brick performance is the raw material, which is clay. Mined from the ground it can vary greatly from region to region. Another important factor is the Kiln process that bakes or fires the brick. The temperature used, the amount of Kiln time, and the cooling time, all play a part.

A qualified mason or brick supplier can guide a customer through the process of selecting the appropriate brick based on the desired performance, appearance, and budget requirements.

Q:
I’ve seen chimneys constructed of wood or masonry, what is the difference?

A:
Masonry chimneys are just one component of a fireplace system that’s made completely of masonry. This includes the base, a bottom to top substructure, full firebrick firebox, flue, chimney, and finish surfaces. All are part of a centuries old construction technique that’s proven the test of time to be very durable and the most authentic in appearance.

Using quality brick or stone on a chimney should minimize maintenance and only require a new concrete chimney cap every 30-50 years. Masonry fireplaces can burn either wood or gas logs, and may be finished with full - brick, stone, or other masonry veneers.

Wood framed chimneys are part of a fireplace system that includes a wood framed substructure, a metal firebox lined with firebrick, and a metal flue within the chimney. This is a relatively new construction technique with short durability experience due to metal fatigue and rust issues. If deterioration becomes sever enough the entire chimney will often require rebuilding.

Though some wood framed fireplace systems can burn wood logs, most only allow gas logs. Also, due to weight restrictions only standard siding materials and thin masonry veneers can be used for finish surfaces.

Wood framed fireplace systems are favored only for budget reasons whereas masonry systems are chosen for their durability, low maintenance, and their authentic and lasting beauty.

Q:
Does mortar hold the brick together or keep them apart?

A:
When mortar is wet and first laid in place, it keeps the brick apart. When it dries however, it holds the brick together.

(Actually, there is no correct answer to this trick question. We at Donald Baker Masonry take our work serious, but not ourselves.)

ROCK-ON!