Posts Tagged lime mortar

Preservation – Looking Back to Look Forward – Workmanship of the Mason

US Treasury Department Building under construction, ca. 1867 - Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington DC

US Treasury Department Building under construction, ca. 1867 – Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington DC

I encourage the next generation of future masons to always look for opportunities to embrace mentors in our trade. And to the older masons I say make a difference in the world of a young person looking for a trade and openly share your professional experience in masonry knowledge in the preservation of important historic architecture. We each bring to the table a skill set that can, and will, make a difference – if, or course, we are given the chance and awarded the projects we seek to secure.

Many of you may not know about my background and experience in masonry preservation – so I will provide you with just a brief overview of how I ended up where I am today with the title of: “Historic Masonry Preservation Specialist”  I grew up in the masonry construction business working for my father, uncles, and grandfather in a family owned business located in Toledo, Ohio. This opportunity to be birthed into a family of working brick and stonemasons was not by choice but to keep me out of trouble in my teenage years.  And yes, it did work. There is something about carrying brick and stone, building scaffolding, mixing mortar, and cleaning out the toolbox that keeps one honest. I think I was just to tired after working all day to have the energy to get into trouble as I learned the trade of masonry construction is most demanding on the body.

As it turns out I developed a lower back injury that kept me from working in the trade actively – so I decided to go back to school and study architecture. It was in college that I began to appreciate the art of design and the process of construction as it related to historic and traditional masonry architecture. If I could no longer lift and set the stone – I could learn about how to preserve its original condition – and more importantly to do this in the means and methods of the original builders. This meant I needed to be willing to learn about traditional masonry construction tools, methods and materials. It also meant I needed to find other masons that understood these aspects of my new desire. The year was 1990 – 26 years ago. I researched my own family of origin in the masonry trade which dates back to 1870 in Posen, Prussia. So I was the 5th generation in my family to be involved in the masonry business.  The problem; however, was that the oldest living relative that would had known about traditional masonry construction methods, workmanship, and materials was my great grandfather and he died in 1951. My grandfather died in 1979; my father in 1985.

As luck would have it I secured a job at a lime manufacturing company in 1991. It was during my employment I discovered an enthusiasm for historic mortar materials, which of course are based upon lime, and have been for thousands of years.  Working with several conservators, architects, and a masonry contractor based in Toronto, Canada I began offering lime putty for use as a binder (without Portland cement) combined with sand at the jobsite. It was not long after; however, that I realized the need to train masons on the jobsite to use the Portland-free mix design and assist them in delivering the best quality possible. I traveled to England, Ireland, and Scotland over the next several years to work alongside other masons who generously mentored me in preserving historic masonry using lime mortars and traditional methods on castles. Then I brought that information back to the United States to assist in our training efforts here. That was 1998.

Lime Mortar Training Workshop at the U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC 1997. Image Courtesy of the NPS.

Lime Mortar Training Workshop at the U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC 1997. Image Courtesy of the NPS.

We made mistakes; we learned from our mistakes, we improved our methods, tools, equipment and materials. We did not give up. Encouraged from my mentor masons in Europe and Canada – I completed one project after another across the United States monitoring the progress as I went along. Writing, speaking and communicating with industry professionals I stayed focused. I wish to gratefully thank the pioneers in the masonry preservation movement in Europe that encouraged and personnally helped me like; R.H. Bennett, MBE, Winchester, England; Dr. Gerard Lynch, London, England; Mr. Douglas Johnston, Glasgow, Scotland; Mr. Patrick McAfee, Dublin, Ireland; Ms. Pat Gibbons; Charleston Fife, Scotland; the late Mr. John Ashurst, London, England; Mr. John Fidler, York, England; Mr. Colin Burns, Manchester, England; Mr. Stafford Holmes, London, England; Mr. Tim Meek, Charleston Fife, Scotland; Mr. Michael Wingate, England; Mr. Sam Trigila, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Scottish Lime Centre; and English Heritage and the Society of the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) in London, England.

Since the early 90s I have been privileged to assist in the effort to establish (or best said, re-introduce) the lost art of true traditional masonry preservation with the use of lime mortars leading the way. As we continue this effort in 2016 we will actively be searching for architects and historic building owners that seek to preserve the architectural history and character of their properties by supporting the masons by offering onsite historic masonry training that is project specific. I strongly believe that by understanding our past and acknowledging the workmanship, trade practices, techniques, and tools used by the original masons in the process of the original construction we will have a better chance at success in the authentic preservation of historic masonry.

If we go into historic masonry preservation projects expecting that masons today should know all the details that are vital to the success of a masonry preservation project – I think we are asking for too much – especially in a low-bid environment in which many design professionals must deliver their services.  Let us expect the best, write excellent specifications to support quality assurance – but we must be realistic in the understanding of what that actually means to the mason working at the site. In many cases these men and women have never worked with a straight pure lime mortar before so there is a natural learning curve that must be acknowledged. But we can not, and should not, let masonry contractors figure it out on the jobsite without proper guidence. This is why I started my company to do just that – mentor and help the masons through training. The same way I learned in Europe.

Speweik Preservation Consultants are not masonry contractors. We use our hands-on historic masonry experience to provide the necessary technical consulting services in: condition assessment, material testing, specification assistance and masonry contractor training at the project site. We strive to support the efforts of the Architects and Historic Building Owners in meeting the US Department of the Interior’s Secretary Standards for Rehabilitation in Division 4 and to protect the historic integrity of the architecture under repair consideration.

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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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Moisture – Part Two, Capillary Suction

As promised from yesterdays post we were going to take a look at how water enters a building. We know water can enter a building in many ways, through masonry walls, roofs, windows, and saturated soil surrounding the foundation just to name a few. There is also interior sources of water, such a condensation from cooking, cleaning, showering – generally occupying the home. However, this is not the whole story when it comes to historic masonry walls. What we don’t talk about much is the “embodied water,” the water that remains in the walls at all times. Old historic masonry walls are moist in the center, due to the porosity of the masonry units, the lime mortars, and the thickness of the wall – it’s just hard for them to dry out completely. They really never do completely dry out, especially if they are foundation walls. We must consider this condition and account for moisture already present within the wall, because if we don’t, we could unintentionally trap moisture even when the outside of the wall feels normal and dry.

Capillary suction of water at different widths

Load-bearing historic masonry walls (16 inches to 24 inches in thickness) are porous, capable of wicking large amounts of water great distances due to capillary suction. The smallest cracks and pores found in mortar, brick and stone can bring on water in a big way. The action of wicking is energized by the horsepower of smallness. The smaller the pores or cracks in the wall, the more powerful the draw of the wicking action. If you have given blood, you may recall the very small glass tube the nurse uses to take a droplet of blood from your fingertip with a seemingly invisible vacuum cleaner. The blood droplet instantly goes up the tube – effortlessly, capillary suction at work.

The horsepower of smallness regarding the capillary action of water should be cause for concern, because architects and contractors are often focused on repairing large cracks in buildings while leaving the small ones untreated. Don’t be deceived. The small cracks, even the hairline cracks, are where the suction power is. One way to slow down the power of capillary suction is to reduce the surface area of the material that comes in contact with the water source. For small hairline cracks, injecting dispersed hydrated lime (DHL) into the crack with a syringe will sometimes do the trick. Unlike epoxy or cement, DHL remains flexible after it cures and maintains good vapor transmission, allowing the wall to breathe while at the same time halting the water – pulling the plug on the vacuum of capillary suction.

Dispersed Hydrate Lime (DHL) is a product imported from Germany and has been used successfully on many historic masonry structures here in the United States for over 10 years. Information on the product can be obtained by contacting the U.S. Heritage Group based in Chicago. Other vender choices I’m sure are available, but this is the product we have specified and are most farmiliar with using.

SPC Training video on DHL injection: http://www.youtube.com/user/SpeweikPreservation?blend=4&ob=5#p/u/4/mlGm2XvEGF8

 

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The Lime Revival

J. Speweik during on-site masonry inspection

As a young boy growing up in a family of stone masons mixing mortar was like brushing my teeth…I did it every day, at least during the summer months when school was out. Who would have thought that in the age of technology, speed and convenience that my great great grandfather’s 1846 mortar formulation would return. The trend seems to be one that is sweeping across Scandinavia, Europe and Canada as architects and heritage masons work together to preserve their country’s historic masonry properties built hundreds and often thousands of years ago.  They call it the “Lime Revival” It’s been 30 years for Sweden, 20 years for England, 10 years for Canada….its America’s turn now.

The oldest archaeological sites in the world are, of course, masonry. As early as 2450 B.C., masons began using lime and sand for mortar. Lime is made from limestone (calcium carbonate) which has been heated to temperatures exceeding 1,650F where the heat drives off the carbon dioxide and water turning the limestone into quicklime (calcium oxide). Traditionally this quicklime (sometimes called lump lime or hot lime) was delivered fresh to construction sites or made on-site in a temporary kiln just for the job. The quicklime was mixed with damp sand and stacked up into piles for slaking into a hydrate powder (calcium hydroxide) and run through a screen or the quicklime was combined with water in the ground, formed into a putty (also calcium hydroxide), and mixed with the sand at a later time depending on the project needs. Either way, the mixtures were left to mature or rest for a time before use, due to the expansion of the lime particles during slaking.

The lime was generally mixed with local sand in a ratio of 1 part lime putty to 3 parts sand by volume. Other ingredients like crushed brick, clay, lamp black, and natural cement were sometimes found in smaller quantities before 1870; however, the basic lime putty/quicklime sand mortar formulation has remained unchanged for centuries.

Portland cement was first manufactured in America in 1871, but did not become truly widespread until the 20th century. As late as 1883 there were only three portland manufacturing plants in the U.S. Up until the turn of the last century portland cement was considered an additive, or “minor ingredient” to help accelerate mortar set time. By the 1930s, most masons were using equal parts of portland cement and lime putty or quicklime. Thus, masonry structures built between 1871 and 1930 might be pure lime and sand mixes or a wide range of lime and portland combinations.

What we do know about lime, and the reason for its come-back, is its incredible performance characteristics, and versatility as a time-tested building material – and not just as a masonry mortar either, but also as paint, (limewash/whitewash) exterior stucco/render, and interior plaster as well. Lime, when properly combined with clean, sharp, well graded sand can perform for many centuries in masonry applications. Lime has the ability to handle water without trapping it within a wall structure. It is breathable, flexible, obtains high bond strength to masonry units, it is truly sustainable (less energy is required to heat a ton of lime as compared to a ton of cement) and it has autogenious healing capabilities, often referred to as “self-healing” where hairline cracks do develop over time water combines with the lime again to re-knit the cracks back together. Limes durability comes through a process of what’s called carbonation. Carbonation is a process by which lime turns back to limestone by reabsorbing the CO2 back from the atmosphere though wetting and drying cycles. You can say that the material interacts with nature on a daily basis.

Portland cement mortar "Cover-up"

As portland cement became more widely used many lime sand mortars were being “covered-up” during repair projects. Exterior masonry buildings suffered badly from hard portland cement mortars (1940s until today) which did not accommodate for movement or stresses within the wall systems, and as a result, many historic brick and stone units got damaged by this un-sacrificial material. When cracks did occur, in the portland cement mortars, water would migrate into the wall cavities and not be able to escape or evaporate back out as they once had done with the lime sand combination mortars.

But times are changing. We are seeing signs of the “Lime Revival” hitting the shores of the United States. Mortar manufacturing companies are now offering lime mixes now for restoration and a few specialty companies offer traditional lime putty, quicklime and imported hydraulic lime for sale.

Lime mortar materials, that I am currently aware of, are available from the following U.S. companies listed in alphabetical order for your convenience.  Be sure to ask questions about each of the company’s offerings, as they differ. Some still use portland cement in their lime mortars. It’s best to know what you need first – then go out and find a supplier that can meet that need.

Cathedral Stone Products

Edison Coatings

LimeWorks.us

SpecMix

Transmineral

U.S. Heritage Group

Virginia Lime Works

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Measuring and Mixing Historic Mortar

Various Sands for Comparision / Matching Historic Mortar

The traditional volume mix design of 1 part lime putty to 3 parts sand may be insidious to follow straight up without more details. First, mix designs historically used quicklime as the 1 part of lime mixed to the 3 parts of sand by volume. Quicklime when it is slaked with water will increase volumetrically 70-100 percent – or basically double its size. This fact would reduce the sand content closer to that of a 1 part lime to 1.5 parts sand – a much sticker richer mix design.

Secondly, sand must be measured in a damp loose condition according to ASTM C270 when mixing mortar. Dried sand will bulk up to 30 percent and grow volumetrically by the addition of a small amount of water. This can send your mortar mix designs at the construction site off the specified requirements.

I recommend everyone take a moment to read Gerard Lynch’s article on the subject it is well done. http://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/mythmix/mythmix.htm

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History of Mortar Types

Ever wonder how Type N mortar came to be? or Type M for that matter? Well the story goes something like this…In 1931 a group of non-mortar producers and representatives from the lime and cement industries got together and formed a committee to discuss the issue.

The issue was that mortar “types” needed to be established to distinguish high compressive strength mortars from soft flexible ones, so in 1944 the designations using A-1 (2,500 psi); A-2 (1,800 psi); B (750 psi);  C (350 psi); & D (75 psi) were adopted, with minimum compressive strength requirements specified.

In the United States, “A-1” had become synonymous with “the best” or “top quality” and some committee members felt that the designation for the higher compressive strength cement mortar was misleading. The possibility did exist that an architect desired a flexible lime mortar type for a particular project, but he might mistakenly specify the A-1 type, thinking it was the best. In an effort to avoid confusion on the subject, the committee adopted a new mortar type designation in 1954.

The new designation letters were taken from the two words, MASON WORK utilizing every other letter. The compressive strength minimums for each mortar type are still recognized in the current ASTM mortar specification C270.

(2,500 psi)  Type M  replaced  A-1

(1,800 psi)  Type S  replaced  A-2

(750 psi)  Type N  replaced  B

(350 psi)  Type O  replaced  C

(75 psi)  Type K  replaced  D

Most historic load-bearing masonry buildings have original mortars with low compressive strength, but yet are very durable (well carbonated lime mortar).  We have plenty of architectural inventory around the world that supports this statement. High compressive strength in historic masonry mortar (Type O or higher) is not a direct reflection of durability and maximum life-cycle performance.

In fact, to give you some perspective, a certain material scientist/university professor studied historic mortar for his entire career. Traveling the world he collected samples from some of the oldest historic masonry structures. Very seldom did he ever run across a historic mortar with compressive strength of over 300 psi.

As you climb the scale from Type K upward, you are adding more and more portland cement by volume. As a result, the mortar becomes less permeable, less breathable, and more inflexible in exchange for the increased compression. Historic masonry on the other hand needs mortars to accommodate building movement (flexibility), exchange moisture readily from the face of the wall (breathability), and most of all have excellent bond strength-all natural properties of lime mortar (“Type L” introduced in 1998, ref.  NPS Preservation Brief 2).

Preservation Brief 2, “Repointing Mortar Joints in Historic Masonry Buildings” http://www.cr.nps.gov/hps/tps/briefs/brief02.htm

The History of Masonry Mortar in America 1720-1995 http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-history-of-masonry-mortar-in-america-1720-1995/11271764

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