Q: The brick-lined columns outside my front door attracted some kind of climbing vine a few years ago that looks pretty embedded in the mortar. Can I remove the vines without damaging the brick or mortar? – Carol in West Virginia
A: Pulling the vines away from the brick surface might cause some of the mortar to be pulled away with them. The tendrils can be pretty tenacious.
Instead, cut the vines away from the surface of the brick. Gather up the parts that fall away along with the remainder of the plant. Stems and tendrils that stay attached should be left alone until they’re completely dry and shriveled up, then scrub them away with a stiff bristled brush and soapy water.
If some mortar crumbles away during this process, note the damaged area. This should be repaired as soon as possible after the brick is cleared of vines, using a process called tuckpointing.
Tuckpointing can sound a bit complicated, but it’s really worth it to learn the process for small patch jobs. It can save you hundreds of dollars in masonry repairs and potentially thousands of dollars by protecting your house from water entering via the damaged mortar.
Head to the home-improvement store. You’ll need to buy a concrete-fortified mortar mix (just enough for a smaller patch job), a mortar pigment to match the existing mortar color, a trowel and a jointing tool. If you don’t already have them, you also should get a hammer, masonry chisel and a stiff brush. Finally, ask for a grout bag. This is a cheaper alternative to common masonry tools like a joint filler and pointing tool. It works just like an icing bag used for cake decorating, only larger.
Clean the damaged area with a stiff brush. If more mortar crumbles, don’t worry. You want to remove as much of the loose mortar as possible, to at least 1/4 inch deep.
Mix up the mortar and pigment in a sturdy bucket, to the consistency given on the instructions on the bag (or until it just slides off the trowel). Fill the grout bag about half full of the mixture.
Wipe the area to be repaired with a wet rag or wet brush. Cut off the pointed end of the grout bag and twist the wide end tightly. Pipe the mortar mix along the damaged area, getting as deep into the groove as you can. Smooth the newly piped-in joint with the jointing tool. Repeat the process, piping in mortar and smoothing down, until the new mortar is flush with the old mortar joint.
Finish the job by brushing away excess mortar with a stiff bristle brush.
Finally, let the repair area dry for several days. Unlike other types of repairs, you want to slow the drying time – this allows the mortar to bond more securely to the brick and the older mortar. Either spritz with water a few times a day, or cover the area with damp rags for several days.
HOME TIP: Old paint drips or spills on brick can often be scrubbed away; newer paint can be cleaned off with a solution of trisodium phosphate and water.
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