Stories From the Field

Stories From the Field

Post: Masonry Restoration Work & Cold Weather Considerations (#1 in a Series)

Friday January 20, 2017

Winter weather in Chicago is anything but predictable. Last year the balmy late-season weather allowed our masons to work until just a few days before Christmas. This year, the first cold snap arrived shortly after Thanksgiving, followed by early December snows, followed by a lovely stretch of balmy January weather. (I saw lightning in the skies last night, and this weekend’s temperatures are predicted to be in the mid-50s!)

If your masonry wall or chimney is being rebuilt (“brickwork” as we say in the trade), then all of that fresh mortar needs a minimum of two weeks of above-freezing weather day and night in order to cure properly. If your mortar joints are being restored (i.e., ground out & tuckpointed) then a minimum of three days of above-freezing weather day and night is required in order to cure correctly.

If the mortar freezes early on during the curing process, then chances are very good that it will not perform as expected. Yes it is legal to add mortar conditioners like anti-freeze to prevent the mortar from freezing and accelerants to hasten the curing process, but as far as we are concerned their use is entirely unethical since they have the effect of reducing the integrity (and therefore the longevity) of the mortar by a significant amount. How would you feel knowing the longevity of the mortar used to restore your building was reduced by 50% because the mason used season extenders?!?

AAA-1 Masonry only performs cold weather work if the job site is heated around the clock. That means the job site remains above-freezing at 5:00pm when the masons pack up for the day, at 1:00am when the masons are fast asleep, and 7:00am when the masons return to resume their work. In order to achieve a heated work site 24/7 the site must be wrapped in tarpaulins or plastic, and heat piped to the site. Other than AAA-1 Masonry, I have yet to see any masonry restoration company go to these lengths to ensure their mortar does not freeze during the colder months. (Typically, masons turn off their worksite heaters at the end of the day when they leave and fire them up again the next morning when they return, guaranteeing that the curing mortar freezes every night and thaws every morning. Shame on them!)

In the photo at rightabove AAA-1 Masonry & Tuckpointing completely enclosed this commercial building’s facade and piped in heat in order to ensure the January worksite temperatures never dipped below 45 degrees day and night. The extra effort ensures that our brickwork will cure correctly and last for generations.

Should your next masonry project extend into the colder months, make sure your contractor understands the importance of maintaining above-freezing worksite temperatures day and night.

- Rob


Post: An Industry In Growing Demand

Tuesday December 20, 2016

Now that the weather has turned cold and the work season has drawn to a close, I found myself with extra time on my hands—at last!—and started perusing the Midwest edition of Construction Equipment Guide. It’s full of advertisements for heavy machinery, trucks and tools of the trade and does a nice job of keeping its fingers on the pulse of the construction industry in aggregate. On the lower half of page 49 of the December 17, 2016 issue, I read this article:

Being a part the construction trades, we at AAA-1 Masonry & Tuckpointing have observed what the article affirms: private sector construction activity has been increasing steadily and, apparently, outpacing the corresponding decline in public sector construction activity.

As a masonry restoration company, AAA-1 Masonry & Tuckpointing has benefitted from the steady growth in demand for private sector construction activity, yes (a rising tide lifts all boats). But from my perspective, the bulk of our company’s growth since taking over the reigns of the company more than a decade ago is directly attributable to our artisans’ critical attention to detail, insistence on quality and craftsmanship, and impressive communication with our clients. I am extremely proud to have the opportunity to work with such talented and motivated men and women…many of whom measure their tenure at the company not in years but in decades!

Thank you for allowing us to remain an industry leader in the field of quality masonry restoration. We wish you and your family good health, peace and prosperity and a very blessed New Year.

With gratitude,

Rob


Post: Some Thoughts About Safety (#4 in a Series)

Thursday July 28, 2016

This is the latest in an ongoing series of safety-related posts. See earlier entries Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

I was driving through Lincoln Park this week and happened to look out the passenger-side window while stopped at a red light. I saw a mason working on top of what appeared to be a 20’-tall chimney (which itself was built atop a 50’-tall building) and fumbled for my camera to capture what I saw.

A mason working in dangerous conditions on top of a chimney

I had so many concerns about this mason’s safety that I parked the car, ran over to the job site, and suggested to the worker that he return to the job after he had the equipment needed to perform his work safely. He told me he did it all the time and I didn’t need to worry. Yikes, I hope he and the property owner both have good insurance (he needs it when he gets injured, and the property owner needs it when the worker’s personal injury attorney suggests suing the building owner for unsafe work conditions).

Several work site safety violations scared me into action. Did you happen to notice them?

Safety Violation #1: The ladder used to access the top of the chimney is not tall enough. So, simply getting to the top of the chimney and getting down off the chimney are themselves risky endeavors.

Safety Violation #2: The ladder is not tied off to anything. If you look closely, the rope in the mason’s hands is for pulling materials up and down.

Safety Violation #3: The worker is not wearing a safety harness with a lifeline tied off to anything secure and immovable. That means he could easily fall into the chimney shaft (likely an uninterrupted fall to the basement about 70 feet down) and break his neck.

Safety Violation #4: The mason appears to be working alone. If he runs into a jam and requires immediate assistance (e.g., the unsecured ladder blows over in the wind while he is standing on top of the chimney), no one will be present to respond.

An easy solution to these job site safety violations would be to erect pipe scaffolding upon the flat roof, secure the scaffolding to the walls of the chimney using scaffolding clamps, and stand on this stable platform instead of the edge of what appears to be a 100-year-old chimney.

With good training, thoughtful job site set-up and an awareness that comes from decades and decades of field experience, we mitigate work site hazards and provide you with peace of mind.

Be safe out there and thank you for your support!

- Rob


Post: "High Quality" Masonry Sealers

Monday June 20, 2016

A client whose masonry home we repaired back in 2014 recently requested an inspection of a just-constructed home in the Bell School neighborhood that he was interested in purchasing for his family. The home was really lovely, the floors gleamed, the walls were pristine, and it had GREAT curb appeal.

But closer inspection of the building’s envelope revealed a lot of short cuts. Most disturbing was the admission by the developer (after constant hounding for clarification) that the exterior brick walls were constructed with only a single wythe of brick with stick-frame construction behind it. With a price tag of almost $2 million that was a big disappointment. I would have expected the walls to be comprised of a minimum of two wythes of real brick (i.e., no cinder block back-up). The quality of the brick selected for the project was also a disappointment because the developer felt the need to seal it with a “high-quality sealer.”

Masonry sealers are used to provide a hydrophobic barrier against wind-driven rain. (Learn more about masonry sealers in the ‘Services’ section of the website.) Masonry sealers are critically important for newer buildings constructed with a single wythe of brick or cinder block (also known as split-face block).

The term “high-quality sealer” means little in our business. Sales reps from masonry yards will tell you they only sell “high-quality masonry sealers” (why would they sell low quality products, right?) but these products do not hold up for very long against our Chicagoland wet weather events and should not be seriously considered.

Eventually, the developer sent my client this promotional data sheet, which describes in more detail the masonry sealer he used. I was pleased to see that the active ingredient in this sealer was silane. Silane is the most effective substance you can apply to a masonry building, allows the walls to retain a moisture transmissivity rate in excess of 99.9% (so the walls breathe as though nothing at all had been applied), and when applied in sufficient quantity provides the very best protection against wind-driven rain events.

Unfortunately, the percentage of active ingredient in this product was only 7%. That is regrettably low. AAA-1 Masonry & Tuckpointing uses only 100% silane solutions. Years ago, we offered a 40% silane solution to our more price conscious clients. (So even our price sensitive clients received a product containing over 5-1/2 times the amount of active ingredient as the sealer applied by this developer to his very expensive home.)

While the percentage of active ingredient is a crucial component to ensuring a long-lived sealing job so, too, is the amount of sealer applied. There is no legal minimum application rate at which developers and masons must apply their sealers. That means developers can apply one gallon of sealer over 500 ft2 of a masonry wall and deem it “sealed,” whereas AAA-1 Masonry typically uses 1 gallon of sealant over an area more like 75 ft2 of masonry wall.

I have yet to find out if my client decided to go ahead with the purchase of the home, but I hope he didn’t.

If you need an honest and thorough assessment of the true quality of your masonry dream house, please give us a call.

-Rob


Post: Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Wednesday May 18, 2016

Personal protective equipment are items worn to minimize exposure to hazards that can cause serious injury or illness. In the world of masonry restoration, our most common forms of PPE include hard hats, protective eye wear, face masks and respirators, work gloves, and steel-toed work boots.

An AAA-1 licensed mason grinding a defective mortar joint

During a recent project on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago, the men ground out and tuckpointed defective mortar joints on a very lovely and historically significant century-old fountain (see image at rightabove). PPE on this project included full face masks with pink P-100 filters to avoid inhalation of mortar dust (a common cause of silicosis), long pants and gloves to avoid cuts and scrapes, and steel-toed shoes. The grinder held by the mason has a safety guard installed over the blade to avoid serious injury, as well as a vacuum attachment to minimize the amount of dust released into the environment.

From senior project managers to laborers, every one of the men at AAA-1 Masonry & Tuckpointing, receive on-going PPE training. We all carry OSHA 10 certification, scaffolding certification (suspended, fixed and system), and maintain an impeccable safety record.

— Rob