Q: We’re doing a master-bedroom addition. To get the space for the bedroom, we need to remove a 30-foot brick wall. Is it feasible to save the brick? How labor intensive is removing the mortar (the house was built in 1953) to be able to reuse the brick? If you think it’s feasible to recycle the brick, could you weigh in on the best technique and tools? My teenage sons are eager to begin.
A: Be still our hearts. Did we hear right? Teenagers who want to work! And manual labor at that. Your boys are to be congratulated.
Kevin learned something of bricks from his father-in-law, Ed, who was a master brick mason and practiced his trade almost to the day he died. For Ed, a house wasn’t worth a plugged nickel unless it had some brick. For Ed, the more the better. “Brick is strong, brick is classy,” he’d say.
Ed insisted on putting his mark on Kevin’s Idaho home. To this day, the elliptical red brick front porch evokes memories of a master craftsman who truly enjoyed his work.
You bet it’s feasible to clean and reuse the bricks from your wall. From a “green” standpoint, it’s better to recycle them than to send them to the landfill. Used bricks are good for building all kinds of things — they make handsome walkways, patios and planter boxes. If you’re a little more ambitious, a brick barbecue or fire pit is not out of the question. Your only limit is your imagination.
Taking down the wall and cleaning the brick is labor intensive, but it requires only minimal skill and perseverance. Be careful not to break too many bricks when deconstructing the wall. Stack the bricks in a pile so they’re accessible during the cleaning process.
All you really need is a brick hammer and a 5-gallon bucket of water to clean the bricks. Brick hammers are available at home centers and hardware stores. They are about 8 inches long, with a 1-inch-square head and a slightly curved, tapered end.
Clean one brick at a time by chipping off the mortar with the tapered end of the hammer. If the mortar is stubborn, soak the bricks in water. Some bricks might need a couple of trips to the water bath to saturate and loosen the mortar enough to be removed.
For really stubborn ones, soaking in a solution of water and muriatic acid will loosen the mortar. Follow manufacturer’s instructions and wear rubber gloves and eye protection. These safety precautions are essential — muriatic acid is fairly strong and will burn your skin if you don’t wear protection.
To clean up any mortar residue on the brick, use the muriatic acid solution to soak the bricks. Then use a wire brush to clean them.
As to the time necessary to do the job, we’d estimate five to 10 minutes per brick. When you have the wall down and the bricks stacked, you’ll be able to estimate the time it will take. However long it is, we think it’s well worth the effort. The projects you can do with this free material will enhance the look and value of your home.
It’s really great your teenagers are eager to get at it. You might also think about having a brick-cleaning party: You provide the food and your sons and their buddies provide the work.