Can Masonry Work Be Done In The Winter?

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The answer to this question is both yes and no. Confused? Here is some information to clarify what type of masonry projects can be handled during the cold winter months in Toronto.

One only has to look along the skyline of Toronto, to view all of the tower cranes involved with high rise condominium and office tower development. Residential construction continues to boom in the (905) areas, as demand for low rise housing continues to rise. Indeed, construction goes on year-round in the GTA despite colder winter conditions.

Masonry work such as concrete forming work, installation of block and brick, fireplace and chimney construction, are all services. Masons require to keep up with demand regardless of the fact that four months of the year; Mother Nature can dispatch bitter cold and precipitous weather.

In the context of residential housing maintenance; such jobs as rebuilding chimneys, and tuck-pointing deficient mortar joints on exterior walls and columns are historically left for the warmer months of the year. Most masons will agree that the best results are achieved in warmer weather conditions.

Mortar which has been mixed using anti-freeze (a trick for very cold days); can result in white marks bleeding down the brick when warmer temperatures present themselves. It is also suggested that it can serve to corrode the mortar mix, if too much is used. Ideally mortar should be mixed at temperatures above zero degrees farenheit; with no real consequence if the temperature fluctuates slightly below.

There are techniques such as mixing mortar in smaller batches in a warmer space (like a heated garage). The apprentices then can feed the masons usable batch quantities that will not be subject to freezing temperatures for long. The mason must also consider the results from the perspective of the curing of mortar or concrete.

To handle such concerns; enveloping the work area with heavy tarps, using construction heaters and     (carefully providing for ventilation in the process), allows jobs like pouring concrete garage floors ,and basic brick laying functions to keep moving.

The reality is that when temperatures plummet to a level which is highly uncomfortable to work in; it is foolish to attempt any form of masonry work. Indoor work such as building or remodelling masonry fireplaces can be done provided that there is a warm space to mix mortars and keep materials at an indoor temperature.

When one considers the subject of winter in relation to masonry work. It is prudent to inspect work which has either been completed in colder weather, and to look for damage which can result to existing masonry after the effects of a harsh winter.

Case in point is the fact that many people salt their driveways, and over time, brick work near grade or concrete foundations exposed, can experience corrosion over time. Glazing can weather on the surface of bricks leaving them porous and subject to further moisture infiltration. It is important to check grading near foundations so that winter melt off, does not find its way into cracks near the foundation.

In late winter/ early spring; as long as surfaces to be inspected are exposed, it is an ideal time for homeowners to request inspections and receive written estimates for remedial masonry work. Typically masons have their schedules filled up quickly in today’s construction climate (skilled masons are already in short supply –you may have heard).

This allows the home or building owner to decide, and book their work for the upcoming (and short), warm seasons ahead.

Masonry items that should be inspected include:

  • Brick or stone support columns (such as porch locations)
  • Brick or stone chimneys
  • Brick walls (which may require tuck-pointing work to fix shaled or porous bricks, and void mortar joints)
  • Foundation water-proofing (inspect for cracks between foundations and walkways or driveways)
  • Pouring garage floors (correcting cracks or heaving old floors)
  • Foundation leaks resulting in water ingress to basements ( may require new weeper tile and below grade foundation repairs
  • Heaved concrete or stone walkways (sinking, chips or damage)
  • Concrete sills beneath windows
  • Steps (concrete or stone- sinking, erosion, remodelling)
  • Structural cracks in exterior masonry walls (cracks which look like a stair pattern- often signalling a structural issue)
  • Decorative Masonry- items such as planters, walkways, pizza ovens, outdoor fireplaces, outdoor kitchens etc.)

Other types of masonry work that can be undertaken in winter months can include completing brick or block in-fills in walls or door openings to accommodate the installation of retro-fitted windows, doors and patio sliders. This work usually requires installation of metal lintels or metal beams which are placed above windows and doors to support the weight of upper building structure. The mason completes such work by supporting the beams on adjacent supporting masonry wall structure; and then making good the rough openings with block and or brick.

The advantage again being that a heated space may be available to mix mortar. Such work is often required by the DIY customer tackling their own minor renovations, or the professional renovation contractor completing such work.

Historically, masons viewed the winter months as a time to take a break, work on training apprentices, or teaching their craft in accredited facilities. The demand today however, has resulted in a tremendous shortage of skilled masons in the greater Toronto area, and Canada as a whole.

To learn more about masonry services, or how to become a skilled mason’s apprentice, visit: www.avenueroadmasonry.com