In some instances, damage to a brick wall or other structure can be fixed by a homeowner, but it is important to know the difference between a DIY-suitable repair and one that calls for a professional mason.
DIY brick repair should never be attempted if a wall is load-bearing and requires you to replace more than four contiguous bricks. When seriously damaged, a load-bearing brick wall is a serious accident waiting to happen, and it's best not to attempt your own repairs. But you may be able to do minor repair projects—defined as replacing no more than four contiguous bricks in a load-bearing wall that is otherwise solid. The brickwork on chimneys, for example, is almost always load-bearing and DIYers should tackle only minor repairs on such structures.
Fortunately, on most brick homes, the outer brick facade is typically a "veneered" brick wall. Veneered means it is a brick skin over wood framing. If that is the case with your home, then the brick wall is not load-bearing and many repairs can be done yourself.
Before You Start
Selecting the right replacement brick may sound easy but it's essential to the aesthetic success of the repair. It's not as simple as it sounds with an older home where the brickwork is many decades old. Even the standard red bricks can vary by color and size. If you have an old piece of the brick you're replacing, take that with you to a brickyard to find an acceptable replacement. If the brick is very old, you can also try an architectural reclamation company where old reclaimed architectural materials are sold.
Study the existing brickwork before starting work so you're prepared to mimic the look as closely as possible with your repair. Pay particular attention to the joints between bricks. You may need pigments and proper tools to create joints that are the proper color and shape.
One of the most common places for brickwork to fail is also the place where DIYers should be most reluctant to work—on rooftops where chimneys terminate, or high above the ground on exterior fireplace brickwork. Masonry work requires carrying heavy materials and working with both hands, and doing this kind of work high above the ground is best left to professionals who have the scaffolding and safety harnesses that allow them to do this work safely.
Equipment / Tools
- Eye protectors
- Leather work gloves
- Mason's chisel
- Power drill with masonry-cutting wheel (optional)
- Mason's hammer
- Wire brush
- Shop vacuum
- Plastic bucket with sponge
- Mortar mixing tray
- Pointing tool
- Jointer tool
- Matching replacement bricks
- Mortar mix
- Mortar pigment (if needed)
Remove the Damaged Brick
While wearing eye protection and leather gloves, use a mason's chisel and hammer to break apart the damaged brick piece by piece. If you are removing several bricks, then start at the top and work down. Be very careful not to damage surrounding bricks.
Once the brick pieces are removed, chisel out any old mortar, making the voids as clean as possible. Clean the joints of any loose mortar with a wire brush and vacuum the opening clean of any dirt or dust.
Rinse the cleaned area with water, including all four sides of the opening.
Mix the mortar according to the manufacturer's directions. If the repair is such that matching the existing mortar color is important, you may have to experiment first with mortar pigment to obtain the proper color for the dried mortar.
Next, use a pointing trowel to "butter" the bottom and both sides of the existing opening with about 1 inch of mortar.
Immediately moisten the replacement brick with water, then "butter" it by applying mortar to the top and both sides of the brick.
Insert the Brick
Now, slide the brick into the opening. Mortar should ooze out slightly as the brick is being pushed into the wall. Tap into place with the butt end of a pointing trowel until it is flush with the existing bricks.
Once the brick is in place, make sure the joints are full to the face of the brick by adding more mortar with the pointing tool if necessary. Remove excess mortar by scraping it away with the side of the pointing trowel.
If your project involves replacing additional bricks, repeat the previous two steps to complete the repair.
Tool the Joints
Tool the mortar joints with the jointer tool so the fresh joint matches the joints found elsewhere on the wall. There are different types of jointer tools you can choose to give you joints of various widths and shapes. Some tools are designed to give you rounded, concave joints, for example, while others are designed to give you flat-bottomed joints.
Once the mortar is almost dry, use a wire brush and gently brush away leftover mortar from the face of the bricks, but take care not to disturb the tooled joints.
Cure the Repair
Spray the new repair lightly with water to aid in the proper curing of the mortar. Keeping the repair damp allows the mortar to cure and harden properly. Keep the area misted with water for three days. Cover the area with a plastic sheet, if desired, to help retain moisture.
When to Call a Professional
Brickwork is a difficult skill to master, and while DIYers can usually succeed in making minor repairs with acceptable results, it's best to call in a professional mason whenever you're faced with serious damage—such as when an entire wall shows ominous cracks, where when large sections of a brick facade are buckling. And brickwork done high above the ground—on a second-story fireplace wall or on a roof chimney, for example—should always be handled by a pro.
Brickwork that features an unusual layout pattern—or that uses unusual bricks—can also be hard for DIYers. Mistakes in brickwork repair will be visible for all the world to see for many years, so if you are uncertain of your skills, it is best to rely on professionals to do the work.