Winter Masonry

There is frequently concern about the wisdom of masonry work during the winter months.  Obviously it is performed with new construction in large buildings as well as new residences.  Repair work must be completed to avoid more structural damage.

If at all possible, it is preferable for any type of outdoor masonry work, including chimney repair, tuckpointing joints and the like, are best left for the warmer months.  Mortar can be mixed with anti-freeze in order to make it workable but the result will be white streaks down the brick work.  It is also thought that this will corrode the mix.  If the temperatures are above zero, it is fine to work with mortar.

Other techniques include mixing the mortar in smaller batches and in a warm space.  The mortar is then carefully and quickly transported to the mason so that the mortar will not be exposed to the bitter cold for any longer than necessary.  While this is acceptable, it is important to adjust the curing process and time accordingly.  By incorporating heaters and heavier tarps, pouring concrete floors and laying bricks are possible. 

A good rule of thumb is:  if it is too cold to work outdoors, it is too cold to do masonry.

On the other hand, indoor work is perfectly fine. 

As temperatures moderate and improve, it is a good time to inspect any work that was conducted during the cold spell and to look for any damage.  If you notice anything, call the contractor promptly so that the necessary repair can be completed before further damage occurs.

Another place to look after a nasty winter is driveways and paths.  If you have used salt to remove ice from walkways or drives, this can degrade the composition of the cement.  Bricks are porous and moisture and freezing can infiltrate and cause cracks or other damage.  Look at the area around the foundation of your home or business to be sure the cement is intact as well as the grading of soil is still away from the structure and has not eroded.

So, before spring is really here, it is a good time to consult with a professional mason to conduct an inspection of any questionable areas.  After you have the estimates, book your appointment for the repairs.  Traditionally schedules fill quickly in the spring and can be booked into the summer.  Especially if you have major work planned, it is beneficial to have your time slot solidified.  It also allows the mason to begin securing materials, very important if you are dealing with a heritage property.

Areas to inspect include:

  • Porch support columns
  • Chimneys
  • Walls
  • Foundation
  • Garage floors for cracks or heaving
  • Leaks in basements or lower levels
  • Walkways
  • Steps
  • Concrete sills
  • Decorative pieces like planters
  • Outdoor equipment like ovens

Just because the weather doesn’t cooperate doesn’t mean masons have time off.  In addition to indoor work, they use this time to upgrade their skills through accreditation or to train apprentices.  While there is still a strong demand for good masons in Canada, there is still plenty of room for new workers.