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mgbinspect

The Durability of Solid Masonry Construction

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Recently, I was contacted by a fellow local home inspector regarding a mishap that caused significant structural damage to a solid masonry Episcopalian church in Powhatan, Virginia. The elbow joint of a bucket lift struck the side of the building and punched the masonry inward several inches sending cracks outward and upward throughout that side of the building. They wanted me to look at the damage and tell them how best to make repairs.

Upon arriving, I surveyed the damage. The brickwork was punched in about two to three inches on the outside surface, but the inside wythes bulged in exponentially more as would be expected due to rotation.  This inward rotation lifted up the masonry above the point of impact which caused diagonal stair-stepped cracks to radiate outward from that point. The plaster was severely cracked and had popped off in several locations. No doubt the initial impact pushed the wall in even more, but when the outside force was removed the masonry settled back down some.  

My first thought was to remove bricks from the center of the point of impact and hope that as this was progressively done the brickwork might close back up to leave a small repair. But, as I mulled things over in my head I concluded that, because this was lime mortar and the separation between brick and mortar was so clean, the brickwork should return to its original position with the right pressure. Exerting force to the wall from the inside or outside was out of the question because lateral force might compound the structural damage. It needed a force that would not exert lateral force to the building. I finally recommended drilling holes through the wall and drawing lumber plates together with threaded rods, washers and nuts to press the masonry back together in a vice like fashion. This approach was considered by a local licensed structural engineer who agreed that it was worth a try. I spoke with that engineer later the same day, and we agreed that we did not expect this  to be 100% successful but 85% would be enough to point up re-apply plaster and go on with life.

I did not hear from anyone for three weeks, so I called the fellow home inspector a couple of days ago to see how things were going. He informed me that the repairs had just been completed that same day and that it worked beautifully. All of the cracks closed up completely and the wall was straight and plumb. He sent pictures and the only disappointment I experienced was that the mortar used to point up the masonry was cementicious. But the exterior of the building was painted and the inside plastered. And the point up work was very cosmetic, so I'm thankful that everything went back together so nicely.

In retrospect, I suspect that this approach might not have been the first thought to a modern masonry or general contractor, but it probably would have been for a mason back when the building was constructed. Now autogenous healing will hopefully knit things completely back together over time.

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Edited by mgbinspect
To add a conclusion

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That was a success!  Kurt M was involved with something similar years ago.  Your thought process was the key.  

These masonry stories always make me think of Tom the Builder from Pillars of the Earth.

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I wonder if the deleterious effect of cementitious re-pointing of lime-mortared brickwork is reduced or perhaps eliminated in cases where the brickwork is painted with non-lime paints.

The wall can still breathe through the interior plaster, yes?

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15 minutes ago, Marc said:

I wonder if the deleterious effect of cementitious re-pointing of lime-mortared brickwork is reduced or perhaps eliminated in cases where the brickwork is painted with non-lime paints.

The wall can still breathe through the interior plaster, yes?

That is my assumption. The point up was superficial. 

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1 hour ago, Jim Katen said:

I'll bet the insurance company was thankful for your insight. 

I had not given that a thought, but I'm certain you are right. :-)

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