When you build a house or wall from stone, brick or concrete block (the ‘hard bits’) you need something soft and malleable to mould itself to the contours of the ‘hard bits’; will act as an adhesive to hold the ‘hard bits’ together; and to waterproof the joints between the ‘hard bits’. A professional will use a mixture of sand, cement and water, called mortar for this. The visible lines of mortar between the bricks are known as ‘pointing’. A professional bricklayer or mason will repoint a wall when the original pointing ages or weathers and starts to crumble away. Before the original mortar starts to lose its adhesion, he must reinstate the waterproofing by replacing the pointing.
How do you repoint a wall?
Repointing looks very easy to do, especially if a professional is doing it. However, if it is done in the wrong way, it can sometimes cause more problems than if the old pointing was left alone.
First, you should realise that the professional must be able to reach and have full access to every part of the wall without stretching. He will also need somewhere to stand his pile of mortar while it is being used. Scaffolding is the answer to this problem, and although can represent up to 25% of the total cost to repoint a wall, is vitally important to ensure the smooth running of the job and the safety of the workforce.
Remember that scaffolding is an expensive but useful item, so its best to do as many other jobs as possible while you have it on site. Jobs such as repairing chimneys, repairing and painting upstairs windows, replacing fascia and guttering and replacing roof tiles are obvious ones. But I expect you can think of a few others relevant to your situation.
Clean and inspect the wall
The job starts by cleaning out any old, crumbly and loose mortar that you can see between the bricks. This is a very time-consuming task and can be extremely boring. But it mustn’t be rushed as the integrity of the new pointing depends on the bond between the old and new, which depends on how well the joints are cleaned out.
Inspect the wall face for any obvious trouble spots such as places where bricks need replacing because they are loose or broken, or cracks running from ground level to top. Repair these and any other problems before starting to repoint. A professional will know what to do in both these situations and more, which is one reason why you should leave the job to a professional.
Repoint using a cement mortar mix
Mix some mortar to the consistency of thick porridge and starting from the top fill two or three rows at a time. As the professional works his way along the wall, he will spray the existing bricks with water so that the brick and old mortar doesn’t suck the water out of the new mortar too quickly. Press the soft mortar into the joints, ensuring there are no air pockets and that the new mortar adheres to the existing surfaces. Smooth off the surface of the pointing using one of the various tools for the job, depending on the finish required. Gradually work from top to bottom until the entire wall is repointed.
Repointing a house is very labour intensive and takes up about 66% of the total cost. In practice, the professionals will work as a team of two persons, one labourer whose job is to mix the mortar and assist with cleaning out the joints and a mason who will do the repointing.
How much to repoint a house?
The cost to point a wall is split between the costs of labour, materials and support equipment. The actual amount charged by the professional will depend on:
The size of the area to be repointed.
This will not only determine the time taken to do the job but will also determine how much sand and cement to use.
The condition of the brickwork.
Eroded bricks are a sure way to allow ingress of damp. Inspect the condition of the wall and replace any bricks that are too far gone.
The difficulty of access to the worksite.
There must be access for the workforce and their transport. Bricklayers depend on their vehicle to store small tools and other items. Larger equipment such as cement mixers and ladders need security to prevent pilfering. Bags of cement are sensitive to damp so need a sheltered storage place. Usually, a lockable container will serve all these requirements.
How much scaffolding do you need?
This will depend on the area and height of the wall. The professionals will also need a waste shute and some way of lifting mortar to the topmost level.
Skip hire and disposal of waste.
Every construction job needs a way to remove waste from the site. Ensure you hire
The type of pointing required.
There are many different styles of pointing, some more difficult to produce than others. The chosen style will depend on the professional’s skill as well as the architecture of your property. Some traditional buildings require the use of lime mortar instead of cement and using lime needs a very skilled professional.
Mixing mortar and spraying the existing brickwork requires fresh, clean potable water as does being able to clean tools after use.
Under UK health and safety law, the workforce needs to have somewhere dry to take a break, wash their hands and use the toilet. If they don’t have access to the house then they can hire a hospitality unit including a mess room, toilets and fresh water.
Whereabouts in the country you live.
Work done in the London area and the South East of England always carries a premium.
Repointing Cost Breakdown
The amount you will be charged for labour will depend on the day rate of the professionals. An average bricklayer charges about £150 per day while labourer charges from £75 to £100 per day. As stated earlier, repointing is often done in teams of two but sometimes a bricklayer will work singly. Remember that if this is the case then job progress will be slower.
|Repointing a wall (per m2)
||£20 to £30
|Repointing one elevation of the house
||£1,000 to £1,500
||5 to 7 days
|Repointing semi-detached house
||£2,500 to £3,000
||12 to 15 days
You can break down the total cost for a typical repointing job as follows
||Materials & waste disposal
Other aspects of repointing you need to know
Although repointing a wall doesn’t require a great deal of skill, it has to be done properly or the new pointing won’t do what it is meant to do. The US Department of the Interior, provides a very useful webpage which, although aimed at the North American audience, will be equally as useful for the UK readers. It explains just about everything you need to know when repointing and covers both cement and lime mortar. It’s well worth a read.
Although this is definitely a task that needs to be done properly and by a professional, there are a few other things you need to know if you insist on repointing the wall yourself.
Always finish any repairs to the brickwork and sort out any structural problems before you start applying the new mortar. Apart from any protective finish such as paint or sealer, repointing should be the last job you do to the wall before removing the scaffolding.
Remember, old buildings need a different kind of pointing to modern houses because they weren’t constructed with a damp proof membrane. Lime mortar allows moisture to evaporate from the wall, unlike cement mortar. Ask your local authority for advice on the best type of mortar to use. Especially if you have a listed building.
Only do construction work involving cement or lime mortar when it isn’t raining or freezing. Rain will wash the lime out of the mix and extreme cold will cause ice crystals to form, damaging the mortar.
Do I need a permit and how much will it cost?
You probably won’t need any permits or planning permission to repair pointing, but it is wise to contact your local authority before you start in case there are any mortar specifications you must adhere to for your situations. This might occur if you have a listed building or live in a conservation area. It doesn’t cost anything to ask and you might save a lot of problems later on.
You will need to notify Building Control and comply with the Building Regulations if you do any structural repairs during the course of the repointing. You need to comply so you can be sure the house won’t collapse around you. The costs of Building Control permits vary depending on the type of inspection and which local authority you are with. Always consult them before starting. If you need structural work done, it is always better to hire a professional. Not only will they know what they are doing, but the Building Inspector will be happier that the work has been done properly.
Scaffolding standing on public or council-owned land will need a permit and warning signs. Contact your local authority for information, but the scaffolding company should include this service as part of their package.
Health, Safety and Environmental Considerations
Cement and lime are very caustic materials and will damage unprotected skin. Wear barrier cream, protective gloves and wash hands after handling wet mortar and before handling food.
Take care not to splash lime or cement in the eyes and do not inhale the dry powder. Use safety glasses and a dust mask.
Scaffolding on public land needs warning signs and lights to prevent accidents.
If you are using a ladder, ensure it is tied at the top and rests on level ground. Do not work from a ladder, always use a work platform.
Dispose of any waste products responsibly. Always use a registered skip hire company to dispose of your waste.
Is repointing a DIY or Professional’s job?
Repointing is a relatively simple task. As such, almost anyone can make an attempt, but to do a good job requires skill and experience. Gaps or air pockets left in the mortar will allow rain and frost to infiltrate the wall and cause damp and structural problems, later on. In addition to this, it needs an experienced eye to notice any structural defects that may only become obvious when the old mortar has been removed.
If structural issues or listed building consent needs the local authority involved, it is always advisable to hire a professional bricklayer or mason to do the job.
Q. How often should I repoint a wall?
A properly pointed wall can last for at least 50 years.
Q. What time of the year can I have repointing done?
Repoint a wall at any time of the year. In fact, as soon as you notice the old mortar starting to crumble, plan to have the work done as soon as possible. The only requirements are that it isn’t raining and the temperature isn’t below 4 degrees Celsius.
Q. Should I use lime or cement mortar?
This depends on the age of your property. Traditional buildings never had a damp proof membrane installed when they were built so need lime mortar to allow the moisture to evaporate. Lime mortar is also softer than cement and will accommodate slight movements in the walls structure without cracking. Hard cement mortar will trap moisture behind the pointing and cause damp problems over time.
Q. How do we choose a competent professional
A good best way to hire a competent bricklayer or stonemason is to ask for a personal recommendation by family or friends. An even better way is to use the tool on this website to ask for three different quotations for the work.
Whoever you ask to give a quote, read each one carefully and examine exactly what you are paying for. Pay particular attention to those that seem too low or too high, they may be omitting a vital task or including extras. Because of this, it is always worthwhile to never automatically choose the cheapest option.