A masonry chimney is supposed to be strong. After all, it’s made from the same materials as the house that the Big Bad Wolf couldn’t blow down in the Three Little Pigs, right?
Masonry chimneys are strong. Bricks are strong.
But they are very susceptible to damage. Bricks and the mortar that holds them together are porous, which means that they can absorb water fairly easily. Even the smallest amount of water can contribute to cracks and leaks.
Even aside from water, brick and mortar joints can become damaged due to harsh weather conditions. Tuckpointing is the repair process that stops the destructive process and provides several benefits.
What is Tuckpointing?
Tuckpointing is a technique used in masonry that involves filling gaps between mortar and brick on masonry chimneys and walls. Tuckpointing creates the illusion of very fine joints within the walls.
A lot of times, tuckpointing is used simply for aesthetic purposes. But it’s also used to improve the function of the wall by keeping out the moisture and other substances that can damage the brick and mortar joints.
Is Tuckpointing Necessary?
Bricks on your chimney can last for more than a century. In fact, the last thing standing on a lot of old, dilapidated houses is the chimney.
But mortar is a different story.
It’s only expected to last about 25 years, depending on how much your chimney is exposed to excessive water and other harsh conditions.
The layout of your roof and the position of your chimney may affect how much or little water drainage contributes to the deterioration of the mortar joints. Sometimes, we may recommend a chimney cricket.
When your mortar joints become damaged, the most cost-effective solution is to repair the damaged mortar with tuckpointing.
The other option would be to let the mortar deteriorate to the point that your chimney collapses. Of course, this isn’t recommended, nor is it safe or cheap.
Why You Should Get Tuckpointing
The short answer is to protect your chimney’s mortar joints from damage. And because it looks nice.
The long answer is actually six answers.
Tuckpointing is needed to preserve the life of your chimney. Here are the six reasons:
- Tuckpointing stops mortar joint corrosion
- It restores the structural stability of your chimney. If you don’t repair your chimney’s mortar joints when it becomes damaged, your chimney structure will weaken and will eventually lean and/or collapse
- Tuckpointing helps prevent water from penetrating the chimney system. Moisture is the first domino to fall in a very expensive domino effect. If mortar joints aren’t repaired, water will seep down into the chimney and between the flue lining. If the water isn’t taken care of, you’ll get mold, mildews, and rotting wood.
- Tuckpointing is way more inexpensive than a chimney rebuild, which is what you’re heading towards if you skip on tuckpointing.
- Tuckpointing restores your chimney’s masonry to its original condition
- Your home’s value is increased when you keep your chimney in perfect condition.
How We Do It
Tuckpointing is a process that dates back to England in the late 1700s. At first, it was a means of imitating a popular form of brickwork at the time where the mason would cut oversized rubbed bricks to a precise size after the firing process was done.
Masons used a very fine white lime mortar joint with the bricks to create an aesthetically pleasing final product.
Tuckpointing was initially used to make that old process easier while keeping the same look. But tuckpointing didn’t require rubbed bricks, so it was much more cost-effective. Then, the masons would use a colored mortar to lay the bricks.
The masons would take a fine white mortar and place it in the open joints to create the illusion of cleaner brickwork.
Back then, masons would use manual tools, such as chisels, wire brushes, and trowels. Today, we still use a lot of manual techniques, but we’ve replaced abrasive disks with wet cutting diamond blades for much better precision.
When we’re repairing your mortar, the idea is simple – we remove the damaged mortar and replace it with fresh mortar.
Here are the four steps we usually follow:
- Ground or rout out the old mortar at a uniform depth
- Fill in the red mortar in the newly routed grooves
- Cut thin strips down the middle of the red mortar to form grooves
- Fill in the grooves with a mortar color that matches the original mortar on the outside of the structure.
After that, we’re in business and your chimney is as good as new!
When is it too late to Tuckpoint?
Mortar deterioration reminds me a little of a roller coaster.
It starts slow. You know, it’s just getting going. The roller coaster takes you up to the top of the hill. And then suddenly you drop and there’s no turning back.
It’s the same concept with mortar deterioration.
At first, water gets into the brick. During a cold night, the water freezes and expands, cracking the brick just a little bit. Not enough to notice. Just enough for a hairline fracture.
Well, that fracture is enough for more water to enter. That water freezes causing a bigger crack. And that bigger crack allows for more water to come in. You know where I’m heading with this.
After a little bit, before you know it you are past the point of return. Your brick is loose. We are over the hill. The only way to fix your chimney at this point is to tear down the brick, layer by layer, to the loose brick. And relay the whole thing again.
Of course, this costs a lot more money than tuckpointing would have.
Luckily, this can be avoided. All you need to do is have your chimney inspected by a certified chimney professional at least every year. You can climb up on your roof and look at your chimney more frequently than that, but I’ll warn that it’s pretty easy to look over things if you don’t know what to look for.
Hire a Professional Chimney Company
When you’re hiring a chimney company, you should always ask the following questions before allowing them to come into your home:
- Can the company provide references?
- Does the company carry a valid business liability insurance policy?
- Does the company ensure that a certified chimney technician will be on the job?
If they guarantee all three of those, then you are in a good spot. The technicians don’t necessarily need to be certified by the CSIA, but I do recommend putting in a bit more due diligence before accepting a certification that’s not by the CSIA.
This is because certifications are a tricky thing, especially in an unlicensed industry like ours. Any company can craft a list of job-related questions and sell them as an exam and certify those who pass.
I recommend you take a few extra minutes in your research before making your hiring decision to learn more about the certification the company has. Here are a few tips to make sure the certification is reputable:
- Is the word “certified” just part of the business name or is it an earned designation?
- Is the certifying body a for-profit business or non-profit?
- Does the certification need to be maintained and renewed through continuing education as the industry evolves, or is it well enough to be certified through a one-time exam?
- Is the certifying body well-established or are they relatively new to the scene? New doesn’t mean “bad” but you should make sure the requirements for certification are more or at least equally stringent as those of more established certifications
- Is the mission statement of the certifying body focused on educating and protecting homeowners or is it more focused on making it easier to earn a certification?
- Does holding the certification require following a code of ethics?
If you can answer all of these questions, then I think it will be safe to allow the company in your home to work on your chimney.
It doesn’t matter if you are in Roanoke, Lynchburg, Blacksburg, or some other city anywhere in the USA — if you have any questions about the safety of hiring a chimney company, please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 540-225-2626. I’m happy to help!
Schedule Your Inspection with Patriot Chimney
Patriot Chimney has a few CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps that you can trust with your home and family. During your service, you can expect your technician to inspect your chimney with a video camera so we can give a full top-to-bottom, inside out inspection.
We’re licensed, insured, certified, and guarantee you’ll be happy with your service.