Masonry for Your Home's Exterior

Whether you're recladding or simply adding an accent to your exterior, stone and brick provide cozy colors with timeless durability. Here are nine things you need to know about masonry.

Compare natural and artificial

Natural stone is quarried and then transported. Depending on the type of stone and location of the quarry, delivery can cost more than the materials. When quarried locally, natural stone adds a sense of place and timelessness to a home. Artificial stone is manufactured by mixing cement, aggregate, and pigment; it's nearly impossible to discern from the natural stone it imitates. Plus, a look that isn't locally available in natural stone might be possible with artificial stone options. Artificial stone is also known as manufactured or cast stone. Cultured Stone is a trademarked manufactured-stone product.

Consider paint

Depending on architectural styles and brick types, painting an existing brick exterior may be a viable remodeling strategy. But a change like that is permanent and requires maintenance every few years. Also, improper paint application may trap moisture and cause deterioration of the brick's surface and structural damage after freezing. If you're considering painting brick, consult a professional who specializes in masonry projects.

Alter your surface

Change the look of an existing wall with a veneer (a thin layer of material such as brick or natural or artificial stone) that dresses up a surface without the expense or support required for a true stone or brick structure. Veneers can be applied to brick, concrete block, poured concrete, and other surfaces. Artificial stone veneers may be applied to wood framing, rigid foam, and other surfaces.

Discern patterns

For a sense of cohesion, extend your home's exterior style into the landscape with garden walkways and walls. Style statements can be woven brick by brick or stone by stone with a pattern. A traditional running-bond brick layout, for example, suggests a simple cottage feel, while a herringbone pattern evokes formal elegance.

Salvage streets

Looking to add a touch of history? Inquire with local brickyards and architectural salvage businesses to find antique brick pavers reclaimed from old streets.

Make it stick

A typical mortar mix is 1 part portland cement to 4 parts sand (and a bit of lime if the mortar needs to be stickier). Mix it too wet, and it will slump off the materials you are trying to put together. Mix it too dry, and it will set too quickly for you to move the materials into position.

Build it dry

Stones, bricks, and other masonry materials can be laid without mortar (dry-laid); the weight of the material holds everything together and in place. That means width can be as important as height. For example, a wall 3 feet high should be at least 2 feet thick. Taller walls require additional thickness and possibly a footing below the frost line. Ask your municipal building department about regulations, particularly if you're building a retaining wall.

Repoint pointers

If your exterior walls are missing mortar between bricks, you'll need to have the mortar repointed or tuck-pointed by a professional. (These terms vary by region.) A good mortar joint between bricks helps prevent rainwater from infiltrating the wall. In new masonry projects, the spaces between the bricks can be just as important to the visual texture as the brick and color pattern.

Cut it out

Masonry projects such as walkways and low walls are doable for dedicated do-it-yourselfers. Whenever possible, lay bricks or pavers in patterns that minimize cuts. To make a small number of cuts by hand, use a saw with a dry-cut diamond blade. For larger projects, rent a saw from a hardware store; you'll minimize wear and tear on your power tools.

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