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Q: What do I need to know about maintaining a brick home?

A: Brick has been a popular building material for centuries.

It is energy efficient and relatively maintenance free, but many first-time owners of brick homes are unfamiliar with the signs that it’s in need of repairs or maintenance.

Here are a few things to watch for.

If your home receives little or no sunlight, be on the lookout for moss, mold or mildew growth. A solution of one cup of bleach mixed with a gallon of water can be applied with a scrub brush to clean problem areas.

Use a natural- or synthetic-bristle brush and avoid wire brushes that leave traces of steel behind. Those traces can rust and discolor the bricks.

Before you apply the bleach solution, hose down the area thoroughly to help prevent the brick from absorbing the bleach.

If you find water inside your brick fireplace, it is an indication that water is getting in from the top of the chimney or through the mortar joints.

This means the seal of the house has been compromised and water could be getting into places you can’t see, such as the wood framing.

Sometimes the fix is relatively easy and inexpensive and other times it is more involved, but you definitely want to have it checked out.

Another potential sign of trouble: The brick on the outside of your home is turning white. Whitened brick is another sign of water.

The condition is called efflorescence and is caused by the minerals in the brick or mortar leaching from the inside out.

As it dries, it leaves a white, powdery substance on the surface.

Efflorescence is a natural occurrence and does not necessarily mean that water is penetrating into the home.

It can sometimes happen in new masonry work when the weather conditions have been wet or if the brick was laid up wet.

It is cause for concern if this is a new condition on an older home. In that case, it should be looked at by an experienced restoration mason.

I am often asked if waterproofing a brick home is a good idea. The answer depends largely on when the home was built and whether the masonry has previously been restored.

Before the development of systems commonly used now, masonry was designed to absorb water throughout the winter and shed it when the weather turned dry.

Current systems include an extra waterproofing that can be added to any new structure.

But any sealant you add to finished masonry is not real waterproofing. It is more of a water repellent in the same way car wax is a water repellent.

Another common concern is soft mortar in older homes.

But soft mortar is not always a problem. Before World War II, many of the homes in the Seattle area were built with mortar that did not contain cement as we know it today.

So especially in an older home, soft mortar is not always a problem.

However, if the joints are worn and recessed, the integrity of the seal has been compromised and should be checked by a professional.

Marty Smith is the director of business development at Vanwell Masonry in Snohomish and is a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties’ Remodelers Council. HomeWork is the association’s weekly column about home care, repair and improvements. If you have questions about home improvement, send them to