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This Old Crack House

From log house to farmhouse. Farmhouse to townhouse. Townhouse to apartment house. Apartment house to crack house. Crack house to our house. Our house to our home.

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Ugly Truth about Brick Houses

It is nice to own a solid house made of brick but it is certainly wrought with problems.
For starters, where insulation is concerned, brick has an R value of 0.2. This means that our 8 inch thick walls with 1 inch of plaster has an R value of 1.8. The recommended insulation in walls is R-11. This means that the resistance to heat flow is pretty piss poor! In fact heat transfer is quite slow but it still occurs. The advantages in the summer are that our first floor stays relatively cool as long as the shutters are closed on the windows. Also, if it gets cold outside, it will be warmer inside for a few days. If you get a warm day or two though after a cold spell, well, the reverse is true. If you open the windows to warm the place up then you get condensation on the interior brick walls that are colder than the air that hits them. The outside temperatures this week have been as low as 10 degrees. The inside temperature on the first floor hit 32 degrees on Friday this week. If temperatures rise above this, it will take several days for the inside to catch up. It could be 60 degrees outside but will be 40 inside for several days and if I open the windows to let the warm air in then my walls will sweat and the acrylic paint will blister.

Another disadvantage is that if your gutters get clogged and water drips on the brick, the brick will suck up the water and transfer it to the inside plaster. This causes paint to peel. We have noticed that since we have bought the house and are slowly sealing it up that old paint is peeling where walls used to be continuously damp and wood molding is shrinking from drying out. This causes gaps between it and the plaster. Another thing to note is that houses built prior to 1920 or so had a high lime content in the mortar. Old brick is quite soft and mortar is supposed to be softer than the brick. Old recipes for mortar were varied and many had no Portland cement. I suspect ours was something like one part lime to 3 parts sand. Often the lime leaches out leaving just sand between bricks. New mortars are harder than old brick and should not be used unless you add lime to them. For my tuck pointing I have added about 1 part hydrated lime to one part masons mortar. It seems to be holding quite well. It is something people should be aware of though because using modern mortars will cause your old bricks to crack eventually. Many contractors who call themselves "masons" don't even know about adding lime to mortar so beware if you need to get a chimney fixed. They will coat it in a Portland cement mortar and ten years from now your bricks will be crumbling. I know because this was done at this place! Any way, whether or not you have a brick house, now you know the ugly truth!


At 12/11/2005 10:49 AM, Blogger Ms. P in Jackson said...

Thanks Gary. My 'rancho carne' in Texas is a full brick and it is a pain in the ass. Soil around N Central Texas is black and sandy allowing for lots of shift and play which causes foundation failure. In every single house, regardless if it is a $500,000 house or a $50,000 house, you will find cracked slabs or wavy pier and beam, and they don't even have to be old. This transfers to your brick walls and voila, a gaping, cracking edifice! I would have given my eye-teeth to have a wood house just so the walls didn't have cracks showing. Also, foundation repair companies that give you lifetime warranties on their work do so because you can't truly fix a cracked foundation in N Central Texas when it is the soil in the first place that caused the problem. Up here, I looked at many many old houses before choosing the one we are in now. Several were what the realtors snobbishly referred to as 'true brick' (this added significantly to the price) because the walls were, get this, three layers thick with brick. I never would have believed such a thing existed unless I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. Can you imagine having to deal with deteriorating mortar on a wall 3 thick??? But, I love brick houses because for one thing, they don't need to be painted and some of the old brickwork is to die for. And darnit, the houses look so damned sturdy and solid. I think your place in Dayton is one of those houses, simply gorgeous. Also, I never would have guessed brick had such a low insulative value, that really surprised me.

At 12/11/2005 12:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in a wonderful old brick house that has the triple core brick walls with the orginal plaster walls, it is wonderful on the first floor in the summer, hot as you know where upstairs in the summer and just like you said if it warms up outside to 60 I am sitting inside freezing. But I will never move it is the most beautiful house I have ever lived in so I stay. Some days I would kill for insulation in the walls but I picked the house, well i think the house picked me. lol Your house is just incredible looking. Good luck with it in the coming year. Norma

At 12/15/2009 10:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can some one out there answer my question? Please. I have a two story brick house built in 1900 and every think is good except for one corner. The foundation is very poor in this corner and the building is leaning toward this corner. Can I fix it with a good foundation in that corner?

At 5/08/2010 3:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous - have a structural engineer look at it and give you a bid. My parent's house needed some work. Cost about $8000, but fixed everything!

At 11/27/2016 1:25 AM, Blogger Mike B said...

Maybe Im reading this wrong but it sounds like your relying on just the brick or stone to keep the house warm. Even a wood house with Sheetrock won't keep the house warm with insulation. Many years ago they only had plaster to act like an insulator. I know it's a pain but I did it...break the plaster wall haul it out break the wooden lats haul them out make sure the studs are clear of nails even them out with eachother using shims throw in some Roxul mold water resistant which has huge R rating put sheetrock 3/4 in thick and you will be warm in the winter.

At 11/27/2016 1:31 AM, Blogger Mike B said...

Sorry I meant to write even a wood frame house wont keep warm without insulation...and I just thought of this if the house is just brick or stone without wood frame inside then you frame it out.

At 4/14/2017 12:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with framing the house out. First put up a vapor barrier! Don't want black mold later.


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