Posts Tagged hydraulic lime

Frozen Lime Mortar

Our team last week installed a repointing test panel on a project in St. Louis. Being the first week of December in the Midwest we knew we were taking a chance with the weather. Question: Are we going to have enough time for the mortar to cure before frost set in? We prepared for winter protection and had the wall and working area at 75F during the installation of the hydraulic lime mortar and left the temperature at that level for five hours after installation.

If you have not seen a frozen surface of a newly installed mortar joint well now you have! As it turns out the weather was below freezing for the critical 4 days after our installation and thus the surface of the mortar froze. I have only received images at this point on the condition so my involvement is somewhat limited as to the severity of the problem. The solution to fix frost bitten mortar is to reinstall the material if the damage is justifiably deep and out of the specification requirement for the joint profile finish. We do have an open stipple finish profile which may come to our rescue, but we must be certain the bond between the mortar and stone has not been jeopardized in any way.

Frost damage on a newly repointed wall with hydraulic lime mortar

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Moisture – Part Four, Solutions

Part of the solution to the problem of moisture migration is allowing the water to have its way. In above grade walls, that means letting it go through the wall, then redirecting it through flashing and weep holes if possible, and most importantly, using a breathable mortar that is more porous than the brick or stone.

Below grade, keep water from resting on the outside of the foundation walls in saturated soil conditions. Create a drainage system, a way for the water to move away from the foundation, perhaps installing perforated foundation tile at the base footing of the wall with gravel fill. Again, check gutters and downspouts to ensure they are clean and take water away from the wall, extending downspouts at least three feet past the elbow at grade level is a good idea. Grade the soil and pavement materials around the building to encourage water runoff and avoid collecting and pooling near walls.

A digital moisture meter in use

Detecting trouble in advance – The use of a moisture meter can sometimes be helpful in determining a baseline for acceptable moisture content in a historic masonry walls. Because not all masonry walls are created or built equally, all have varying levels of moisture depending on conditions. What is important in establishing a baseline is looking for the wall sections that are performing well.  In these areas, take readings to compare to areas with deteriorating brick or stone. This will put you on a specific path toward understanding what to expect in the future.

Also consider choosing breathable mortar materials like lime putty or hydraulic lime blended with coarse aggregate particles – often the vary material that has turned to dust over the past 100 years. Do not try to make it stronger or better. Just match the old lime mortar and move onto the next project. If the original historic mortar has turned into dust or is falling out of the wall, it is likely a lime mortar. It has done the hard work of absorbing more water than the brick over and over again and now needs replacement. The brick or stone is generally preserved in these cases.

The new lime mortar replacement mixture should match the old mortar and perform as the old mortar did – it to will turn to dust and fall out of the wall in the next hundred years, giving the next generation something to fix.

Lime Putty Suppliers in the US:

U.S. Heritage Group, Inc.

Virginia Lime Works

Hydraulic Lime Suppliers in the US:

Limeworks.us

U.S. Heritage Group, Inc.

Virginia Lime Works

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Hot Rocks and Compressive Strength

Looking down into a rotary kiln - the limestone can be seen on the right

Ever wonder why portland cement gets so hard? Why it is so high in compressive strength? This blog post is a continuation from an earlier one from last week titled “Hot Rocks” which most people seemed to enjoy. Early lime kilns could operate only up to around 1600F — just hot enough to activate the clay, turn the limestone (calcium carbonate) to quicklime (calcium oxide) and combine them both to form belite (dicalcium oxide) to make hydraulic lime.

Joseph Aspdin (1824) had achieved a slightly higher temperature of around 2200F forming some liquid phase and combining the belite with the remaining quicklime to create alite (tricalcium silicate), the base compound for portland cement. The vertical shaft kilns could burn slightly hotter, but temperatures were mainly kept below the maximum heat achievable to limit the liquid phase and prevent the danger of a kiln blockage, a situation created when the molten mass of materials cooled within the kiln. Kiln blockage was something kiln operators historically and understandably feared; crawling down into a shaft kiln and chopping away with a hammer and chisel at a molten mass of material was to be avoided at all costs.

The rotary kiln, however, not only helped to overcome the kiln blockage challenge, but it also allowed the higher temperatures necessary to produce portland cement with a much higher compressive strength. Before the rotary kiln was invented (1889) most kilns were constructed vertically, loaded with alternating layers of limestone and fuel (wood and/or coal or both) until the materials reached the top. A fire was started at the base of the kiln and allowed to burn for a day or two depending on how large the kiln was. The entire kiln was cooled down another few days until the materials were discharged from the bottom. The process would start over again for the next batch, a very labor intensive process. The rotary kiln also allowed for continuous feeding of the kiln without the usual starting and stopping and could run 365 days per year without interruption in production.

So just how hard is portland cement? Well, in a paper presented at the American Lime Conference in Lynchburg, Virginia in March 2003, Paul Livesey of Castle Cement presented the following information about the answer to this question. When matching a “portland cement” mortar from the period between 1871 and 1920 then, we should not be confused by the terminology. Portland cement of 1871 was a different material from that of 1920 which, in turn, is totally different from portland cement today.

Portland cement products produced at the turn of the last century were fired at temperatures from 2300F to 2600F. In comparison manufacturers making portland cement in this century fire at temperatures ranging from 2800F to 3000F. The differences in mineralogy and the effect that burning at higher temperatures has on strength development are well known. For example, in 1871, portland cement tested in the 1800 psi range; today’s portland cement are in the range of 8,000 psi, an increase of 344 percent in compressive strength. Indeed, the portland cement of 1871 bears more relation to modern, higher-strength hydraulic lime (NHL 5, 1000 to 1500 psi) than it does to modern portland cement.

And when making decisions on the appropriate mortar match for historic buildings remember that the National Park Service as well as leading American experts agree that it is always better to err on the side of a lower strength mortar replacement in order to protect the historic masonry materials. Even adding a small amount of modern portland cement can have a significant affect of increasing strength when maybe you did not intend to in the first place.

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Mortar Evolution in America

The evolution of masonry mortar in America has undergone many interesting      changes over the last two centuries. The ingredients of mortar, methods of producing mortar, and specifications have all changed in some way. Many of these discoveries originated in Europe and eventually reached America many decades later. For example, Smeaton’s discovery of hydraulic lime in 1756 was not fully realized in America until the building of the Erie Canal in 1817, some 61 years later. The English discovery of portland cement by Joseph Aspdin in 1824 took 47 years before it was ever manufactured in the United States in 1871.

The development of masonry cement in the 1920s was the most interesting of mortar developments in the United States. The relationship between the cement and lime industries has been strained ever since, due to the fact that masonry cement was the first formulated mortar product that did not contain hydrated lime as a major ingredient. As a result, two sides of the mortar industry have evolved since the early 1930s. Some promote mortar products with hydrated lime, and some promote mortar products that do not contain hydrated lime.

The methods of producing cement and lime changed at the beginning of the 2oth century, allowing much more material to be fired in a shorter period of time with the use of the rotary kiln. The use of the mortar mixing machine after World War II and the introduction of the mortar silo systems after 1988 were both substantial improvements that directly influenced the methods of mixing mortar at the jobsite.

The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM, 1902) has been instrumental in providing the construction industry with voluntary standards on mortar products. The society has ultimately pioneered the way to standardization which has lead to better mortar products and more efficient methods of production. By taking this look into our past, it is hoped that we can gain some insight into our future.

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