Stories From the Field, Page 10 of 16

Post: Some Thoughts About Safety (#2 In a Series)

Thursday July 2, 2015

Dangerous, tippy tower of concrete blocks on a sidewalk.

This is the second in an ongoing series of safety-related posts.
See entries Part 1 and Part 3.

I was driving through Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood and saw how a mason contractor had "staged" these concrete blocks.

When you figure that each of these concrete blocks weighs about 25 pounds when wet (it had rained the night before and these blocks were very saturated), this tippy tower weighs over 3500 pounds, certainly enough to break a bone or worse.

The increase in time required to properly stage materials is negligible if you have the right training and know what you are doing. If you see dangerous and hazardous condition like this, call 311 right away and report it.

Be safe out there.


Post: Some Thoughts About Safety (#1 In a Series)

Monday June 29, 2015

This is the first in an ongoing series of safety-related posts. See later entries Part 2 and Part 3.

I was recently driving up Damen Avenue on the north side of Chicago. A group of masons I did not recognize were working on restoring this garage parapet wall. What I saw concerned me greatly, so I pulled over and snapped this photo.

Masons dangerously and improperly restoring a garage parapet wall.

Regarding safety, this is what concerned me:

  • The metal legs of the pipe scaffolding are sitting directly on the concrete driveway apron. Because the mason did not use base plates and mud sills to level the set-up, the pipe scaffolding is pitching away from the building at the same angle as the concrete driveway apron upon which it is standing. This increases the likelihood of the scaffolding tipping over and the mason getting injured.
  • No back rails have been installed to prevent the mason from accidentally stepping or falling off the scaffolding! Because falls of 6 vertical feet or greater are considered potentially lethal by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), any person standing on this type of pipe scaffolding needs to wear a safety harness and be tied off if no back rails are installed (there are no back rails on this scaffolding and the mason is not wearing a harness).
  • See the assistant standing under the scaffolding? For his own protection from head injuries, OSHA requires that he wear a hard hat. (In this photo the mason standing on the scaffolding is the only one wearing a hard hat.)

Regarding the work performed, this is what concerned me:

  • The mason has elected to strip just the outside layer (i.e., wythe) of brick from this parapet wall and leave the back-up brick wall untouched — even above the roofline. The process of removing the outside face brick requires pounding and vibrating the entire parapet wall, and this action loosens up all the bricks…even the ones the mason is not planning to replace. The compromised mortar bond resulting from all that pounding leads to premature deterioration of the back-up wall he is not rebuilding!
  • The mason has chosen not to remove the capstones and install a through-wall flashing detail. This leaves the wall susceptible to water infiltration between the capstones (where stone touches stone) and under the stone (where stone touches the first course of brick). Any time a mason is rebuilding any number of wythes of a parapet wall, it is always prudent to remove the capstones, provide through-wall flashing and stainless steel drip edges, and re-set the capstones.

Post: Enduring Masonry in Oak Park

Saturday June 20, 2015

Adam about to start tuckpointing a portion of the 100-year-old terra cotta parapet wall.

For the next few weeks we are back in Oak Park working on a lovely double-courtyard brick and terra cotta condominium building constructed in the very early 1900s. It is always a pleasure working on masonry buildings of this vintage because the materials used were of the very highest quality and the building methods employed by the original masons were so fantastic. We consider structures erected immediately following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 through the 1920s to be some of the very best examples of masonry construction ever produced in the Midwest, a period during which enduring quality was of paramount importance. (These days, the drive for quality appears to have been supplanted by the drive for quick profit, as evidenced by all of the split-face block, engineered stone and brick veneer we see in newer masonry structures.)

In the photo at rightabove, Adam is about to start tuckpointing a portion of the 100-year-old terra cotta parapet wall. As you look at the edge of this parapet wall, you can see how each piece of terra cotta was hand-numbered by the original terra cotta fabricator a century ago. The edges of the terra cotta pieces will be covered up with closely matching wire-cut face bricks and tinted mortar as the rebuilding continues. Perhaps AAA-1 Masonry & Tuckpointing will have the opportunity to rebuild this parapet wall in another 100 years?

Whether your masonry structure is a century-old brick and terra cotta building like this one or a single-family home constructed in the last 20 years, we have the experience to diagnose and address your masonry issues. We look forward to working with you!

Post: Whatever the Job Requires!

Monday June 15, 2015

AAA-1 licensed masons pushing a 1975 Pontiac TransAm

Recently AAA-1 Masonry & Tuckpointing's licensed masons were called out to repair a 1920's multi-unit building on the north side of Evanston. Little did we know that the job would require the relocation of the Owner's inoperable 1975 Pontiac TransAm prior to starting our work (we later learned that the car had not been moved in over 4 years…that's four years of dust on the car!)

As is often the case in the restoration business, you never really know everything a job will entail until you get started. Fortunately, many hands make light work, and our 8 pushers and 1 driver were able to make the necessary 5-point turn in the alley and get the car situated on a grassy spot a few yards away.

(By the way, the masonry work looks spectacular!)

Post: Residential Chimney Project in Glencoe

Tuesday June 2, 2015

Shortly after moving in, the new owner of this 1950's-era ranch observed heavy efflorescence on the exposed brick chimney shaft in his living room and on the adjacent ceiling. A new roof had just been installed by a reputable contractor (Warner Nelson at Star Roofing & Siding) so we knew the roof was not the culprit.

The new owner had been told that the rebuilt chimney was about a decade old (that's considered a young chimney by our standards), so we popped up onto the roof to have a better look. A close-up inspection revealed a concrete chimney cap cracked in multiple places and very poor mortar adhesion between the bricks (this can happen when ambient temperatures during construction are too high so the mortar dries too rapidly, when the mortar freezes before it has completely cured, or when the mortar has not been mixed correctly). After we removed the roof flashing at the base of the chimney, we were surprised at the extent of the brick erosion and failed mortar.

A concrete chimney cap cracked in multiple places and very poor mortar adhesion between the bricks, with extensive brick erosion and failed mortar at the base of the chimney.

As we dismantled the chimney we were disappointed to see how the previous mason had elected to rebuild the structure. It was a mess. The mortar contained much too much Portland cement, making the mortar too hard for the bricks and virtually guaranteeing the chimney's early demise; improperly sized flue tiles had been used creating a drafting issue (and, potentially, a carbon monoxide issue); and cinder blocks had been used indiscriminately. (We are not fans of cinder block construction.)

The dismantled chimney showing many problems, including mortar made with too much Portland cement, improperly sized flue tiles, and indiscriminate use of cinder blocks.

After dismantling the defective chimney down to the roof deck, we set about rebuilding the chimney the correct way:

  • We used Belden bricks (some of the best clay pits in America are located in Belden, Ohio). These Belden Colony Red Range bricks are more than double the cost of similar looking bricks but will last for generations…the way all bricks should perform. An added benefit was the spot-on color match with the brick facade which the new owner appreciated.
  • We used only Type N mortar, which provided the right balance between strength and softness so that the bricks will not spall or crack apart prematurely.
  • We worked within the right temperature range so that the mortar cured slowly and appropriately and bonded well to the bricks. (We wetted the bricks as we worked just to be sure.)
  • We saved the owner the cost of replacing the metal rain caps because they were in structurally sound condition and could be re-used.
  • We cleaned up the job site and removed all traces of debris so that the roofer could return to permanently re-flash the base of the chimney using modified roof flashing and galvanized counter-flashing.

Our correctly built chimney, with Belden bricks, type N mortar, and re-used rain caps, cleaned up and ready for the roofer to return to re-flash the base.

Whether your project is a residential chimney or a mile of parapet wall rebuild, we treat every job with respect and care. Exactly what you should expect from a masonry restoration company in continuous operation for over 60 years.

Thank you for the opportunity to be of service!