Rotten bricks and mortar in exterior wall, basement

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Old 07-04-18, 03:41 PM
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Rotten bricks and mortar in exterior wall, basement

I have a basement window with a rotten frame. The frame was poorly installed in the first place, which was years or decades before I bought the place. They used wood for the sill and didn't flash it or protect it from the elements, so eventually it rotted. The rot spread to the lower part of the frame and to the window itself, and inside the exterior wall.

I should say I 'had' a basement window, because I went out there to try and fix it, and it broke like nothing while I was attempting to carefully remove part of the rotten frame. The whole window was shot, it's better to replace it anyway. But that isn't the issue. I think I could handle replacing the window, and the sill, if it actually had a solid base to set it on, and solid framing to screw it into. The issue now is, the bricks and masonry underneath and beside the window are rotten. They flake off when you touch them or vacuum the area. The mortar is either completely gone, or has been replaced by dirt. There were actually weeds growing INSIDE the bricks. There is an outside course and an inside course, which must have had mortar in between at one time. But now it's all dirt and weeds, possibly all the way down to the foundation. There are weeds in between the rows too. As I was brushing debris off them, I realized I could just pick the top inside course of bricks out. They weren't stuck to anything. The mortar is totally finished. It's crazy... My question is, how safe is it for me to replace the bricks. It's obviously a structural wall. I removed the top course of bricks that were under the former window frame and am capable of replacing them with new bricks and mortar. But below that course, I will check to see if the bricks and mortar below that are in the same condition. If they are, is this a serious problem that I'd need to call somebody for, to erect some kind of support beams or something? Or is it safe to work on the area? Worst case scenario is, the bricks and mortar are all like that, down to the foundation on the inside course and the outside course, and spreading a few feet to the left and right of the window. I guess it could be even worse than that, the bricks and mortar above the window could be in the same condition, but I don't want to rip off the siding to check.

Or it could be even worse, the damage could be all along that entire exterior wall. Obviously if I was going to be stupid enough to remove all the bricks in that wall, the house would collapse. But if it's just the window area, possibly down to the foundation, is that safe to work on?
 
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Old 07-04-18, 04:12 PM
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The deterioration says more about the age of the house than anything. Cement back then is not what it is now. The wall was likely built with a space between the bricks which has since filled in with dirt due to wind, and over 100 years of the elements.

The best thing to do is excavate the area from outside. The danger (besides opening up a hole in the wall wider than your window opening currently is) is that the weight of the soil can cause the wall to collapse inward if you start removing a lot of bricks and weaken the wall.

Rather than actually removing bricks, I would probably get a tuck pointing blade for a grinder, ground out as much mortar as you can, then repoint the bricks.
 
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Old 07-04-18, 04:36 PM
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Originally Posted by XSleeper View Post
The deterioration says more about the age of the house than anything. Cement back then is not what it is now. The wall was likely built with a space between the bricks which has since filled in with dirt due to wind, and over 100 years of the elements.

The best thing to do is excavate the area from outside. The danger (besides opening up a hole in the wall wider than your window opening currently is) is that the weight of the soil can cause the wall to collapse inward if you start removing a lot of bricks and weaken the wall.

Rather than actually removing bricks, I would probably get a tuck pointing blade for a grinder, ground out as much mortar as you can, then repoint the bricks.
So should I just replace the top course that wasn't stuck to anything, and don't go any further? Unless somebody tells me different, I will tuck point whichever bricks are exposed on the exterior and interior walls, but I won't remove them. There is deteriorated sheetrock on the inside which is separated from the bricks and I think I'll have to remove the section below and beside the window - but first I might have to remove some of the stairs because they're in the way. You can never just fix one thing. You start, and it turns into a nightmare. There's probably going to be a lot of deterioration behind the sheetrock which I should fix, right? I already dug down a few inches on the outside below the window hole and a few feet on each side of the window area. Above ground level, the parging came off in a few areas and some of the bricks behind them are in bad shape. I assume from water infiltration. The mortar mostly appears to be in better shape than below where the window was. But below surface level, they're covered in moss, there is some deterioration, and they need to be tuck pointed.
 
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Old 07-04-18, 04:46 PM
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If you have bricks that are completely loose, yes, you should mortar them back in, and tuck point the rest.

Problem is, I know what you are talking about... sandy mortar that you can just scrape away. Sometimes once you remove one brick, the next is loose, and the next, and so on. It's really best to just tuck point what you can to restore some structural stability to the wall. The wall gets its strength as a unit so try to look past a single brick here and there, and just repair what you can.

It is a can of worms... trying to fix an old house up to "new" condition is usually a lost cause, so don't drive yourself crazy. Learn where to draw the line and stop.
 
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Old 07-04-18, 04:54 PM
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Originally Posted by XSleeper View Post
If you have bricks that are completely loose, yes, you should mortar them back in, and tuck point the rest.

Problem is, I know what you are talking about... sandy mortar that you can just scrape away. Sometimes once you remove one brick, the next is loose, and the next, and so on. It's really best to just tuck point what you can to restore some structural stability to the wall. The wall gets its strength as a unit so try to look past a single brick here and there, and just repair what you can.

It is a can of worms... trying to fix an old house up to "new" condition is usually a lost cause, so don't drive yourself crazy. Learn where to draw the line and stop.
Yeah, after I picked up the bricks from the top inside course, I shook some of the bricks below that, gently, and it would be really easy to remove them as well. But I won't if it's not necessary. I'll go into the basement and tuck point them instead, after I rip off the sheetrock. I have to repair the top courses, and replace at least one of the boards that the window frame was connected to, because it's rotten. I half expect the bricks that board is connected to will disintegrate when I remove the board, which will be another problem... Assuming I can solve that, then I need to get a new window in there fast. I needed to know if I could do that part first or if I was going to have to repair the whole area below that first.

What about in between the courses. Should I scrape out as much of the dirt as I can and pour cement in between?
 
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Old 07-04-18, 05:27 PM
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It won't hurt if you can scrape and vacuum out the dirt, and use mortar mix in its place. I think the space there was probably acting like what we would call a "thermal break" today.
 
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Old 07-04-18, 05:36 PM
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So is it better to insulate the gap, or just leave it - does it actually work as an effective thermal break, or did they just not know what else to do back then. That part of the house was built some time between the mid 1800s and 1925.

Or is the gap supposed to be acting as an escape route for moisture. I don't think that's a good solution long term, based on the amount of damage in that area.

Is it better to pour mortar into the gap, or stuff insulation in, or waterproof it with one of those foam spray cans?
 
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Old 07-04-18, 05:45 PM
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I don't think you need to fret over it or overthink it too much. One window opening v.s. an entire foundation that you can't remove dirt out of. ANYTHING you do will be better than it was before.
 
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Old 07-14-18, 07:59 AM
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Do I have to replace this section with new bricks, or can I just repair it.

Hi, I need to know if it's ok to repair this area with mortar or if I have to tear out the remaining bricks and mortar and install brand new bricks. The last photo is the other side of the window area, which I repaired with new mortar (not finished yet, I plan on levelling it out. I want to know if it's ok to do the same thing on the other side or if the other side is too deteriorated and won't hold up the weight.
 
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Old 07-14-18, 11:30 AM
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KInd of hard to tell what you have, it appears to be an opening in a basement for a window?

Anyway the bricks look solid, I dont see anything crumbling, if the mortar is solid then it appears some finish work is all that is needed!
 
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Old 07-14-18, 11:52 AM
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The background info is in this thread. This post makes more sense once you have that background information.

https://www.doityourself.com/forum/b...-basement.html

As I said in that thread, it's an old house... and what you are seeing is normal deterioration due to the age of the home. Grind and tuck point whatever you reasonably can.
 
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Old 07-14-18, 01:27 PM
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Originally Posted by Marq1 View Post
KInd of hard to tell what you have, it appears to be an opening in a basement for a window?

Anyway the bricks look solid, I dont see anything crumbling, if the mortar is solid then it appears some finish work is all that is needed!
There's hardly anything solid there. It is a window opening. The side of the opening I'm asking about, near the top, on the inside, there's next to no material left. Just attempting to brush debris away caused more of it to crumble. What's left is a bit more solid but it wouldn't take any effort for it to crash down too. Just hitting it by mistake with a board or something would probably do it. So should I look for a professional to fix it, since it would require professional bricklaying, or is it something I can fix myself with new mortar? The last photo is what I did on the left side of the window opening. That side was in better shape than the right side. So if that's good enough, I'll do it myself. If I hire somebody they'll probably refuse to use the right mortar anyway. This is an older house. You're not supposed to use modern mortar.
 
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Old 07-14-18, 02:10 PM
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Originally Posted by XSleeper View Post
The background info is in this thread. This post makes more sense once you have that background information.

https://www.doityourself.com/forum/b...-basement.html

As I said in that thread, it's an old house... and what you are seeing is normal deterioration due to the age of the home. Grind and tuck point whatever you reasonably can.
Unless anybody tells me different, I'll repair that window frame section with mortar and will probably add a half brick or two at the top, where the bricks are missing. After that's done, do you think I should reinforce it with a steel plate or an angle iron? I was thinking about attaching a steel plate to that side of the opening. It would go from the top of the opening to the bottom. I could attach it to the horizontal rows with brackets, and drill holes in it to connect it to the repaired mortar. Would that help? Or is it unnecessary.
 
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Old 07-14-18, 09:08 PM
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Iron would be unecessary.
 
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Old 07-18-18, 06:42 PM
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Question about mesh

I want to make the sides of the window opening perfectly straight and level. I can make a form. But I can't pour mortar into the form because there's no room at the top so I have no angle to pour it at. What do you do to make it straight in that situation? Do you use mesh? Or do you just keep adjusting it with more mortar and repeatedly holding your spirit level up to it at every point? I don't think that will work...
 

Last edited by doublezero; 07-18-18 at 06:58 PM.
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