What is Tuckpointing for Commercial Buildings and Why Do It?

Walk through most any historic downtown district and you’ll see it lined with brick structures that may be more than 100 years old. Commercial buildings like courthouses, libraries, churches, hospitals, and jails are often constructed with stone or brick masonry as well.

Over the decades, however, the mortar between bricks and stones can become compromised by moisture, mold, and other environmental elements. If not dealt with in a timely manner using a technique called tuckpointing, it can lead to even more costly repairs. Tuckpointing is one of the reasons why regions like Europe have so many wonderful old masonry buildings that are still standing and should be considered during the construction process.

What is Tuckpointing?

Tuckpointing, sometimes referred to as repointing or brick pointing, is a process to finish or repair mortar joints between bricks or stones with a narrow ridge of lime putty or fine lime mortar. It provides a facelift to the exterior of a building, but its purpose is more than aesthetic; it also helps maintain or strengthen the integrity of a structure by helping to seal out moisture. An experienced mason is required to perform tuckpointing to help prevent further moisture problems and damage to walls and chimneys. 

When is Tuckpointing Necessary?

Mortar typically lasts between 20–30 years before it needs maintenance. A trained mason or construction expert can inspect your building’s exterior to determine if and when tuckpointing may be necessary. It’s important to proactively plan and budget for tuckpointing down the road as part of a master plan, even if you don’t have an immediate need.

Obvious signs of mortar damage may include mortar joints that are cracked, broken, partially missing, or protruding from the surface. In serious cases, bricks or stone can also show spalling, cracking, or crumbling and may even break away from the building. These conditions require immediate attention to prevent further damage to the structure. In severe cases, replacing a masonry facade may be necessary. 

Ideally, tuckpointing is performed as a proactive measure long before a brick wall or masonry structure shows the obvious need for repair. It can be a challenge for the average person to notice the early signs of mortar damage, so enlist an expert to assess your needs. If you’re looking to add on to your facility, ask your construction manager to inspect your existing facility for any needed repairs and work it into your construction budget.

It is especially important to tuckpoint mortar joints in older masonry buildings because they typically lack air gaps, weeps and vents which are common practices today.  Without these features, moisture can continue to migrate through the masonry all the way to interior finishes. Along this path, it is possible to develop mold and mildew which are additional health concerns. In cold climates, moisture that enters or condensates can freeze in a wall assembly and break down building materials if it doesn’t have a place to escape.

It’s important to note, however, that cracks in mortar and brick aren’t always a result of normal wear and tear. Cracks in a brick exterior could be a signal that the building’s foundation is shifting or compromised, in which case, you’ll need to enlist the help of a structural engineer to determine necessary repairs to the foundation prior to any repairs.

How is Tuckpointing Done?

Tuckpointing is labor intensive and the costs can add up if there is extensive mortar damage. That is why it’s best to be proactive to minimize future repairs. 

A mason begins by using a router or grinder to remove any damaged mortar. Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as respirators, goggles, face shields, and other dust suppression systems are often used to help minimize the risks associated with fine dust particles.

Typically, new mortar that matches the brick is used to fill the routed areas, followed by cutting thin strips down the middle of the joints to form grooves. The final step is to blend the final coat of mortar to match the original mortar color and fill in the thinner groove. This technique results in clean lines and strong joints. Coordination with masons and the mortar supplier is often required to properly match the new mortar so it blends in as seamlessly as possible.

Professional tuckpointing will help extend the life of walls and chimneys by preventing further damage from the elements. When renovating or adding on to your brick or stone facility, be sure to discuss whether tuckpointing should be part of your construction bid or master plan. Also download our checklist below outlining additional questions to bring to the table and contact the experts at The Samuels Group to make sure your tuckpointing is done properly.

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