Repointing a Stone Wall with Lime Mortar

IMG_2953

Our wall is cleaned up and ready for pointing. The joins are quite worn away and this project is very overdue.

First and foremost, you can not use concrete / portland cement in any masonry work on a house built before 1850, and maybe even until 1900. It’s worth asking a local mason to see what sort of bricks you have in your home. If they are new bricks and fired to be very hard, cement with confidence. However, older bricks, usually those with inclusions like small stones, have been hand-fired and therefore should only be pointed with lime-based mortar.

IMG_2962

Here is a close-up of the original mortar from 1832. The sand is course and filled with small rocks and pieces of shell. It is very likely that the materials for this wall were obtained from the nearby Delaware river.

 

IMG_2961

This quartz is enormous! When you’re really up-close to your masonry, you discover all the character.

It has taken years to build up the courage to face our basement wall. Years of sweeping up dust and bits of stone as the wall sheds. Years of research on how to make quicklime into lime putty and what ratio of lime putty to mix with sand to form the appropriate mortar for a row house built in 1832. Meanwhile, steadily voicing concerns that we were one rock away from the house falling apart around us. Finally, my husband said, “Make a plan already!” and so I did. I’m currently in the middle of earning my Master’s in project management which means I can’t write as often as I’d like to. It also means that any project I undertake is a good time to practice the project management skills I’m learning. So last month, I spent an entire Sunday researching lime mortar, again, and writing out a plan which included a list of materials needed, a work breakdown structure, and a timeline with actual real dates on it.

Download our repointing project plan.

IMG_2957

Section off the area with plastic sheeting. Misting the wall as you clean away loose mortar also keeps dust to a minimum.

The most challenging aspect of the project was the mortar itself. Quicklime is very caustic and corrosive. Turning quicklime into lime putty is time consuming, messy work; not something you would want to do in your kitchen. I was overjoyed to discover Ecologic natural hydraulic lime from Limeworks. Ecologic mortar is the perfect choice for older buildings that need lime mortar but it has the ease of modern mortar because you just add water. We used a ratio of three pints of water to 12 pints of Ecologic to obtain the perfect consistency. After trying to use several things to stir the mortar, we discovered that using our hands worked best. Mix for a good five minutes and definitely double up on the gloves since the lime is very drying. Also, use a face mask because the dust is irritating. Once it’s mixed, you don’t need the mask but keep the gloves on throughout the project. Mixing the mortar is very therapeutic and like building a sandcastle at the beach and we made small batches as we worked across the wall.

We’re lucky to live nearby one of Limeworks retailers, Killian Hardware in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, Pa. Killian’s is a fantastic place that carries many products for the older home. It’s hard to estimate how much mortar you’ll need for a stone wall since it’s irregular but we used four and a half bags. Ecologic is around $26 per bag and each bag covered about four-square feet worth of pointing.

IMG_2955

Ecologic mortar from Limeworks. Years of research and all the while, this fantastic product was just waiting to be discovered.

Repointing is messy work and you’re going to want to make sure the area is sectioned off with plastic, along with the floor.

Before we got started with the mortar, we cleaned out as much old mortar and debris as we could. For an interior wall, about an inch depth is recommended. Our wall had been shedding for so long that we only had to suck the loose sand out with the shop vac and give the rocks a good scrubbing with a stiff-bristled broom-head. We had no idea but there are a few very large pieces of quartz in our wall; one the size of a cantaloupe!

In terms of pointing, we had purchased trowels but discovered that using our hands was really the best method. Again, it’s going to be rough on your hands, as the lime is very drying, but our fingers could get the mortar in the crevices most effectively. The trowels were a bit expensive and using our hands saved us $30. We also didn’t need the wood or dowels for the palettes either, knocking another $6 off, making the overall budget for the project less than $200. The best method for applying the mortar was to take small lumps and work it into the joints slowly, like creating pottery. There is something very zen about working with your hands and really considering the shapes of the rocks and how to work the mortar around them.

IMG_2965

Here is our wall about half-way through the project. The difference was really amazing! Notice; if we had partially repointed the wall, we would have had to color-match since the old mortar is almost pink in comparison.

Overall, it took the two of us about 10 hours to repoint a 10′ by 12′ wall, including a lunch break and the two hours I worked by myself while my husband went back to Killian’s to get more mortar because we needed five bags instead of the two we originally purchased. The next day we devoted to clean up and a light spray of the wall in the morning, followed by one more spray before bedtime. It’s important to note that you do want to use the mortar during the more humid times of the year, so spring and summer. Lime mortar needs to dry slowly. Our basement is usually about 70 percent humidity which is excellent for the wall. When cured, the mortar should last a nice long time and not damage the stones and bricks like portland cement.

A final note; Ecologic comes in several color options and there are kits to further customize the color. We used the DGM 50 color because we wanted a nice contrast with the rocks and were doing the entire wall. You can send a sample of your mortar to Limeworks and they will help create a mortar that matches the color if you need to repoint in sections.

IMG_2966

The finished wall and everything back to normal!

We didn’t realize before the project but the repointed wall, with the brighter mortar, is much more welcoming than it was before. In a basement dining room/kitchen it’s very important to keep things light and cheerful to avoid the feeling you’re in a dungeon. We can also expect fewer drafts and less dust.

It Can Be Yours! 130 Queen Street, Philadelphia, PA

The neighborhood of Queen Village in Philadelphia, PA, is fast becoming the most-desirable place to live in Philadelphia. Recently, Philadelphia Magazine praised the positive growth and development of the greater Center City area and for local residents, myself included, the neighborhood just gets better every year. Learn more about Queen Village.

Most residential properties in Queen Village are brick row houses from the 19th Century. 130 Queen Street is a very typical representation of this style and dates to the earlier part of the Century. Houses like 130 Queen were typically a single room in length, note the half roof, with one room per floor. It is likely that once the plumbing was added, an expansion was built to accommodate the interior bathrooms and kitchen. Although 130 Queen is a row house, it’s a corner property and has windows on three sides, which lets in lots of natural light.

Once inside, the renovated home retains several charming historic features. Each floor has a working fireplace with original hand-carved mantle and two of these have charming built-in cabinets.

On the stairs, overlooking the living room.

A closer look at the hand-carved mantle.

One of the charming built-ins along the fireplaces.

Through the living room is a first floor kitchen that has been tastefully updated in a style sensitive to the age of the house.  The placement of the appliances, all normal-sized, offers ample work space and, thanks to the high ceilings on the first floor, there is plenty of cabinet storage as well.

A well-designed kitchen, in which two people can work comfortably.

Beyond is a patio, realtor Carolyn Perlow at Space & Company describes as “private, with plenty of room for a barbecue, furniture, and a city garden – a lovely place to entertain or just sit and enjoy a cup of coffee.”

There is a bedroom and bathroom on each upper floor, with a few wonderful surprises. Both bathrooms feature marble tile but the second floor bathroom has French doors, opening to a Juliette balcony.

The second floor bedroom is a good size and can accommodate a twin bed without preventing the occupant from accessing the closet. It’s important to note that older homes were not designed to have closets and sometimes adding them in later creates some floor space challenges. So, it’s always nice to report a historic home that has the modern conveniences we’ve come to appreciate. Speaking of modern conveniences, back in the kitchen there is a dishwasher.

I imagine that originally, 130 Queen was a three-and-a-half story row home with a dormer. It will be a nice mystery for the new owner to solve because today the third floor bedroom ceiling extends to the roof. Overlooking the bedroom is a balcony, accessible via spiral staircase, that has French doors opening to the roof.

The master bedroom balcony and ceiling fan.

The ceiling fan, normally not possible in the short ceilings of historic homes, simply sends any hot air right out – fantastic – reducing the need for the central a/c to be running all the time! A roof deck is feasible and would be a nice addition.

A summary of the details includes:

  • 1,300+ square feet
  • Located within the Meredith School encatchment (locals know why this is awesome and this is a great house for a family of three, or cozy for four)
  • Close to snazzy South Street/Head House shopping and restaurants
  • Historic brick row house around 200 years old
  • Gas heat, water heater, and range
  • Lovely, new wood floors throughout that are a period appropriate width
  • Washer/dryer in the third floor bathroom
  • Wired for a security system

For more information, please contact Carolyn Perlow at Space & Company, 215.625.3650. I first met Carolyn, who provided background information and the photos for 130 Queen, at one of the Queen Village Annual Open House tours.

Christmas Holiday Row House Decoration

The Festive Row House – Holiday 2014 Edition

Decorating for the winter holidays seems to transcend all religions and cultures. Since the color of nature has pretty much abandoned the city at this point, it only seems fitting that the row houses take over, at least for a short while, before the gray of winter sets in. We absolutely love how some owners have decorated their row houses and storefronts for the holidays.

Christmas Holiday Row House Decoration

 

Here, the idea is to hang your wreaths by closing the window on a ribbon. Voila! No nails needed. Your row house will thank you.

Christmas Holiday Row House Decoration

A beautiful holiday storefront.Christmas Holiday Row House Decoration

When you have such lovely architecture, you don’t need to overdo the decor.
Christmas Holiday Row House Decoration

If you have a natural material on your row house, like this stained wood facade, using natural materials to decorate is very complementary.Christmas Holiday Row House Decoration

The six, or nine, or twelve pane windows make a lovely frame for your holiday art.Christmas Holiday Row House Decoration

This is very cute; a miniature Federal facade in a Federal row house window.A very happy holiday row house window!

Philadelphia row house during the holidays.

Hidden Row Homes – Bell’s Court, Society Hill, Philadelphia

It is not always easy to find out how old your row house is, especially if it was built before 1900, and even more so if it was a dwelling for the working-class. However, it helps to have someone put the date the row was built right on the side of the house.

These row houses in Bell's Court, Society Hill, were built in 1815.

I intended this to be an article about cute little row houses, situated in lovely gardens, in the middle of blocks, providing an urban oasis for those who don’t mind living with a little less space but I have discovered that the little homes of Bell’s Court tell a captivating story.

Alan Heavens, Inquirer Real Estate Writer, wrote about Bell’s Court last year (http://articles.philly.com/2013-07-29/business/40850220_1_bell-society-hill-trinities). Heavens writes that originally, the land the row homes sit on, was part of the garden of a very wealthy local Philadelphian named William Bingham, who, among other things, represented Pennsylvania as a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1786 to 1788. However, Bingham didn’t build the homes. That was wallpaper designer/manufacturer Thomas Hurley, who built not only the four present row homes but also an additional row of four row houses so that the two rows faced each other. Thanks to the little masonry note, we know the homes were completed in 1815.

Philly History is a wonderful archival website and I discovered the following photo that shows the remaining row in 1961. Surprisingly, there are cars parked in front and behind! You’ll see in photos below that it’s completely different today thanks to an urban revitilization of Society Hill, beginning in the 1960s, that saved many historic homes from demolision, including these, and restored the greenspaces.

Row houses in Bell's Court, Society Hill, Philadelphia, PA.

The row homes of Bell’s Court are indicative of the typical “Trinity” style houses that were built throughout Philadelphia during the population boom of the 19th Century. Many of this type of home were expanded in later renovations but, as indicated in the historic photo, it appears that the row was surrounded by streets. Therefore, with no room to expand, we are left with the original footprint and an intact glimpse into 19th Century working class domestic life. Inside, the homes feature two bedrooms, one bathroom, and likely have at least one working fireplace. Other distictions include the ever challenging, or intimidating, spiral “pie slice” stairs and classic Federal six-over-nine/eight-over-twelve windows. There is one room on each floor, with the kitchen located in the basement. Altogether, the homes are just slightly over 650 square feet, which is on the generous size for houses like these which range (originally) from 400 to 550 square feet. A unique feature is the loft over the top floor, seen in the historic photo above. Normally, you don’t get the extra space and it’s a nice feature on a very small house.

Today, Bell’s Court is assessable via pedestrial walk-way and the streets and cars have been replaced with a beautiful garden. It’s one of those charming secret rows that we absolutely love discovering in Philadelphia.

Row houses in Bell's Court, Society Hill, Philadelphia, PA.

Row houses in Bell's Court, Society Hill, Philadelphia, PA.

To read more about how the current residents live in their homes, see Heaven’s article – http://articles.philly.com/2013-07-29/business/40850220_1_bell-society-hill-trinities.

 

A Unique Tudor Revival Row House

I’ve lived in Philadelphia for over seven years, spending time literally running down each block in Center City, and I’m still discovering new row houses!

A unique tutor row house in Philadelphia.

This is a lovely Tutor Revival row house, which means it looks like something you’d find in a village in England somewhere. And, indeed, this rather unique example, does look like it’s wandered off of a Harry Potter movie set. I have no idea why there is a little brush sign hanging in front but it caught my eye and is just charming!

A unique tutor row house in Philadelphia.

The red windows are a very nice touch. Since the glass is leaded, it adds a bit of color. As you may notice, this house doesn’t match the others on the block and may have been added later. I’d suggest mid-19th Century for the row, which is classic Greek Revival, and this one a little later, maybe around the 1920s, when Tutor Revival was popular.

Coming around to the side, you can see this lovely extension with beautiful patina’ed copper paneling. Such a beautiful home! If only we always could get invited in.

A unique tutor row house in Philadelphia.

It’s in the Details (series)

At first glance, row houses may seem rather uniform. However, there are often small details that separate homes if you take a closer look. In an older row house neighborhood like Queen Village, Philadelphia, or the West Village, New York City, the homes are often quite a bit different than their adjacent neighbor.

These small elements of personality are some of the best things about row houses; the little signatures that owners put on their homes. Below is a collection of close-up photos of some of the nicer personal touches we’ve seen on row houses during our travels. As we discover more charming details, we’ll update the page.

Under the stucco might very well be a Greek Revival row house. What’s particularly interesting about this home, is that the white borders around the window are carried the full height of the home. The light teal door is just the right pop against an otherwise neutral palette. Altogether a very nice presentation for a row house. But, our favorite part is the iron bouquet of flowers just above the door; sophisticated, yet playful. Definitely in tune with the artistic nature of many local Philadelphia residents.

Stucco row house with iron bouquet.

Stucco row house with iron bouquet.

This charming row of tiles is from a Federal/Greek Revival brick row house, likely built in the mid-19th Century. In Philadelphia, this style of home is predominantly brick. The particular home features a multiple-step stoop and the first floor is a parlor floor that is a few feet above the sidewalk. It’s a very common row house aspect when your basement is actually functioning space, such as for a kitchen and dining room, to allow for the basement to have windows. The lower area on this facade has been covered in stucco and the upper area was left brick. They decided to do something a little creative in the joining area. The tiles go the full width of the house but, as you can see by the brick, they aren’t very large. Just a lovely little punctuation, a comma if you will, between the floors!

Row house details.

In Honor of the 2014 World Cup

Here is a lovely row house in the Rittenhouse Square section of Philadelphia that is showing a little German American pride. During World Cup season everyone is American something but we’re a little partial to Germany ourselves.

This is a Colonial revival featuring a gambrel roof and prominent lintels. The French doors are a very nice touch.

Row house in Philadelphia.