Recently I completed the biggest DIY of my life: I re-built a brick wall that was in danger of falling off of our old house. Megan and I are pro DIYers, but serious home improvement is new territory. And did I ever take the leap. This is a story of how a proud DIY spirit, obsessive nerdy research, and a lot of hard work saved us $3,000.
The problem: There were giant cracks in the side of our house, and after inspecting it, I realized that I could move the wall with my hand! Pretty sure you’re not supposed to be able to move a brick wall with your hands unless you are Hulk. That’s not a good wobble, folks.
I obsessively researched the problem. At first, it was just to get a feel to see if it was a project that could be DIYed. I wanted to get an idea of price points so that I could see if contractors were giving me fair prices. I got in pretty deep, researching architecture design and building techniques from the time our house was built (over 100 years ago!) and types of mortar. The mortar, I learned, is really important, because mortar has to allow bricks to expand and contract with changing weather. I learned that we have historic lime based mortar, which is not commonly used today.
I also had to decide if I should re-point, which involves removing old mortar and replacing it with new mortar, or if I should rebuild, which involves taking down the wall and then building it back up.
The solution: After meeting with a few contractors, I realized that it would be insanely expensive to have someone else do this project. We could only afford to have the wall re-pointed even though it needed to be rebuilt. And I priced the project at a little over $300 to rebuild if we did it ourselves! I was confident I had the knowledge to do it myself even if I didn’t have the experience, so I bought the tools and materials I needed and took the plunge.
I started taking the wall down and I took a picture each day so that I could track my progress. I started taking the wall apart after work a few nights and then took a day off and took the rest apart with Megan. This involved remembering the brick design along the more complicated window area, knocking the old mortar off of the bricks and scraping them clean, and testing the wall to make sure we weren’t removing more than we needed to.
For the rebuilding, I was so lucky to have the help of friends and family. My dad helped me for two days, our friend Paul helped, and my little brother even pitched in for a long while. And Megan’s sister helped watch the kids to free Megan up to help! This project would have taken me so so many weekends if we’d been flying solo.
My dad also let us borrow some essential supplies, like scaffolding, a tarp, and a wheelbarrow, that we would have otherwise had to buy or rent. I’m so thankful for everyone’s help! It was a really time consuming endeavor–especially because we were mixing our own mortar (which was less expensive, allowed me to get just the right color to match our existing mortar, and allowed me to get the right mixture for the era).
That up there is the progress of rebuilding it! Now all we have to do is give it an acid wash to make the mortar look aged so it will match the rest of the house! I’m also eyeballing some other spots that’ll need work next Spring.
Hooray! And, to end off, a few fun Instagrams:
// Safety first: we wore respiration masks when cleaning up brick dust. Ok, it’s 30% safety and 70% pretending to be Shredder. // The tools of the trade. // Up on the scaffolding. // We found paper stuffed in between the bricks. Paper! No wonder it was falling apart. We even found bits of newspaper from the 1930’s. Crazy sauce. // When you have leftover mortar, you have to make your kids superhero stones for the garden, right? // We tied up a tarp as it dried. //
Have you ever undertaken a big project like this one?