Brick Paving Problems – What To Look For

Nothing is so earthy, natural and so beautiful as a well executed mortared in place brick terrace, walkway or patio. However, in recent years the quality of installation has been dropping and major problems are arising that you should be aware of if you plan to have brick paving installed.

Why is brick paving so problematic? – This is an excellent question and this article will provide the answers to that question. It should be read carefully if you are thinking of hiring a mason to build you a mortared in place walkway, patio, porch, etc.

As with most problems in masonry it usually comes down to two things; design and installation. Brick paving construction is probably the most susceptible to errors made by impatient or in-experienced installers and here's why.

Since most brick paving is in close contact with the earth it is subject to the deteriorating power of the elements. The freeze-thaw cycle can have the most devastating effects especially if there is a substantial amount of moisture present in the region and temperatures fluctuations are frequent above and below freezing.

So the choice of the paving materials, the mortar and the installer is extremely important if you wish to get the most out of your paving dollars.

What brick do I use? – This really does not pose much of a problem since your local brick supply companies will only carry products that are recommended for the weather conditions of your geographic area. What you are looking for is a solid, dense brick designed for paving and preferably full thickness. Do not use any bricks meant for vertical applications. Check with your supplier and they will show you what they have available.

What type of mortar? – The setting bed mortar should be a cement-sand mix at a ratio of between 2 to 3 parts sand per 1 part cement. This will be a very rich mix which will give the bricks and the setting bed a good bite into the concrete substrate.

Type S mortar is recommended for the joints between the bricks as it is more elastic and better able to resist cracking but the cement mix could be used but may create other problems for the installer. (Ask your contractor) You may also use Type N mortar which would be more suitable to areas of warmer climates where no fear of freezing is expected or rare.

The installer … – This is the most crucial part of the whole brick paving process and here's why. You see, all damage that occurs in any mortared in place masonry can almost always be traced back to water and freezing. So it is very important to keep water from entering into the brick paving substrate and freezing there.

How is this done? The only way to achieve this goal is by the use of full and complete head and bed joints in the paving. In other words there should be absolutely no voids, none, in any area of ​​mortar including the bedding mortar that the bricks are set in.

How is this achieved?

Most 'average' masons will attempt to give you a good job however they will not have the knowledge or the attention to detail that is necessary to achieve the desired result. Their workmanship may be excellent for vertical work, where water runs down the face of the material but sorely inadequate for paving where the chances of excessive water infiltration is most likely.

How do I find the right installer? – The only way to hire a competent brick paving contractor is by references. Check your supply companies first and ask their opinions. Next if you have an engineer or architect involved in the project, consult with them. Remember though that their opinions are just that.

After you have a few names that sound promising, call them. Tell them what you are doing, that they are prospective contractors and ask them for a couple of installations they have done that are over 10 – 15 years old and tell them why.

Then go inspect those jobs. If the installation was exceptional you will find that the paving is still in excellent condition. If it was not, you will see the tell tail signs of deterioration.

Here's what to look for when inspecting their work …. – Any grass or weeds growing between the joints is not good. This suggests that an excessive amount of water is below the bricks. Settlement or shrinkage cracks may be apparent due to slab movement which may not the responsibility of the brick mason and may be beyond his control.

Pay close attention to the condition of the mortar joints. If they are recessed, dark or moldy then they may be ending their useful life. You want to see joints flush with the surface or 'tooled' concave and still showing cement content in the surface of the joint. Missing joints and 'popped' bricks are reason for concern as well.

This is the most powerful tool you can use to assure the highest chance of success for your paving project. Yeah it is time consuming but the results will be well worth your investment of time.