“Roland, we have a problem,” I said. “The water that caused this buckled basement floor is coming from the upper front porch, leaking through cracks and bricks, entering the basement around the door and more cracks.”
He said, “Call someone.”
And we found ourselves facing a home repair project, the likes of which we have never before seen.
As homeowners, we manage basic repairs, upkeep and décor on our own. Roland picks paint colors like a professional, and I wield a mean paint roller. Sew curtains? Check. Design the landscaping? Check. But fix cracks in bricks to stop a major water leakage problem? Um. No, we have never done that.
So I called Someone. It turned out Someone did not do that kind of job, but he made recommendations on what he thought should be done. I am not exaggerating when I say that his recommendations would probably cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
Now we have had experience with concrete and mortar on a Habitat for Humanity house build. They trusted us, people whose lives revolved far from hardhats, to pour a foundation and mortar the cinder block “legs” that will hold a house above ground in New Orleans. To my mind, that seems like a Very Important Part of a house, not to be trusted to the unskilled. But they had faith, and there we were doing that job.
With those 3 days of experience in mind, I queried why we could not do the job ourselves on our own home. Now it is one thing to pick out a paint color, paint the walls, then decide that the color you picked looks like baby poo, and back you go to the paint store. It is quite another to embark on a project that may not work, and, if it didn’t, would necessitate calling on professionals to not only solve the problem, but to possibly undo any further damage we may have caused trying to do it ourselves.
We channeled the trust and faith that Habitat had in us, and decided to go for it.
I don’t have a happy ending yet. This is a project still in process. We had beautiful weather last week, and made good progress. Roland ground out the old mortar between the bricks, and I repointed those joints with the new. Repointing is the correct term brick people use, which comes from using a pointed trowel to mush the mortar in the newly created channels. I, however, found that pointed trowel too difficult to use, and made up my own method with a combination of a small 2-inch wide trowel, one that is about ¼-inch wide, and fingers. If you have done this job before, please don’t cringe. It seems to be working for me.
One thing, however, I found out the hard way–mortar can burn your skin. There is a warning on the bag that I read a couple of hours too late. At first, I thought that using my fingers over the rough textured mortar had merely caused abrasions. I painfully discovered that under the abrasions were hole-like burns in my fingertips. Now I wear the nitrile gloves that are recommended. Nitrile gloves are non-latex, available in disposable form, and impervious to chemicals. I wear a double layer.
After we finish sealing up the cracks, we will apply brick sealant, and do something, yet to be determined, to fix the underneath side of the porch. In the picture, you can see that you must go up a flight of stairs to reach the porch and front door so there is an underneath ceiling through the archway.
Trust and faith, and maybe a pinch of naiveté. I believe this will work. When I feel like throwing in the trowel, I remind myself how much money will be saved, and how satisfying it will be to say that we fixed it ourselves. That’s really the bottom line, isn’t it? To be able to complete a job that you are not trained for and have success brings great personal satisfaction.