Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The WRONG Mortar?

A few weeks ago we realized that there was NO way we were going to get the house sealed up for winter unless we found the money to fix the bricks around the window so that we could seal up these holes:

A few weeks ago, I called the mason whom we started the work with (and who did a FABULOUS job on the first part!). Luckily, he was able to work us in this week.

They restarted yesterday. Yesterday I came home and thought something was a "bit off" about the mortar. It didn't look quite right... it seemed way too grey and smooth. It was dark out, and the mortar was still wet, so I decided to give a better look at it in daylight:


It looks like cement based mortar. A piece of it dropped on the ground "tinkles" like cement based mortar. And, there is an empty bag of cement based mortar in the pile of things they left overnight.

I'm just sick! Not only does it look like crap up close... it will DESTROY my bricks in the long term. What kills me is that he asked me if the mortar he used last time was looking the way we wanted it! I showed him the pile of sand they used last time, and he said they would use new sand. The owner hasn't personally worked on our house... but it's the same man working on it now that worked on it in July.

I have a call into him, but don't expect to hear back until tomorrow. I don't even know what to do. I HATE confrontation, but I can't let them leave the cement mortar up there. I also can't afford to pay more to fix their mistake. I feel bad... it's two full days of labor wasted, but I need to have it taken care of. Any words of advice?

One last thing... I am NEVER hiring out ANYTHING that I care about how it's done ever again!


Kurt said...

I get so mad when this topic comes up. I hate masons. There is not a single mason in this city that works with lime putty mortar. Some of them claim to, but they really just use hydrated lime and they still tool the joints like a modern mortar joint which pushes all the binder to the front and sinks the aggregate.

I swear a DIYer with an hour of training and the right materials could do a better job than most lifelong masons. They are too suborn and have been trained their whole lives to do things the "new" way.

If you specified lime-putty mortar in the contract they are obligated to comply with those specifications. If they break spec. you have to agree to it in writing. Cover your bases by sending them a letter by certified mail requesting them to correct the error, and follow spec. This will be passive enough to avoid any big confrontation and will hold up in court should something go wrong. Any contractor who knows what's good for them will comply.

If that is not worth all the trouble you could probably do a better job yourself. Get in touch with the US Heritage group, they sell pre-mixed traditional mortars and traditional pointing tools. They also have some great publications on restoration.

Michael said...

Oh Lord - I feel for you.

The sooner you get him back the easier it will be for everyone - removing the new mortar whilst it's green will be far easier then removing it once it's fully cures.

It might have been an honest mistake, it might have been ignorance, either way it is a mistake.

I would suggest the gentle road first - cite the recommendations of the heritage community and ask him if he understands. Escalate as necessary.

Good for you for knowing better! We need to re-point our stone (badly) but are convinced we'll have to do it ourselves as NOBODY we have talked to will work with lime mortar and course sand (to match). There's no bloody way I'm having cement mortar shattering the faces of our limestone.

Fingers crossed, good vibes and wishful thinking sent your way...

Jennifer said...

Kurt~ I'm really wishing we had gone ahead and done this ourselves. We were just so scared of the structural issues. We should have just had that taken care of (the helifix ties) and done the repointing ourselves! Sadly our contract only specifies that the mortar will be a close match. On the bright side, this is NO close match. I don't know what he used for the first section of the house in July, but it was MUCH better.

Michael~ Hopefully he's coming back out tomorrow, so I'll get to talk with him... I'll definitely go gentle first! I'm wishing we had done it ourselves now. Only thing we've hired out... live and learn!

Sarah said...

Gentle but firm road. Basically tell them you're dissapointed as they did such a good job last time, but this is not a)what you wanted and b) what's good for your house. Then ask them what they can do to fix the problem and make it right.

If that doesn't get you anywhere, I'd look and see what your contract says (if you have one) and make a lot of noise, especially certified mail, etc so forth.

Hopefully it will be worth it to them to fix the situation and do it right, rather than to draw out the process.

PlantingOaks said...

That's so frustrating! Especially after they were so good with the first job!

I would hope since they understood the situation before that it's a true oversight that they would jump to make right. Were you there the whole time he was working? Maybe he had an assistant who never got the message?
The person who did our floors had a situation like that. He himself did a good job, but you really had to check the places his assistants handled. You really never can find good help.

If it was your first time working with this person, I would start with the certified letter, but since he was so good before, I hold hope he'll understand. Fingers crossed.

Jennifer said...

I'm WRONG! :) Thanks all for your advice... glad I went with non confrontational and nice.

Amanda said...

What a great post! Be strong.

Why don't you send the contractor a link to your blog and give him a chance to read what everyone has said?