All About Concrete Blocks
One of our favorite children’s stories is The Three Little Pigs. In fact, we credit, to some degree, our early interest in construction to this book. After all, the story is about three pigs that delve into construction as owner-builders. And like most construction projects, they had their share of headaches. Enter the Big Bad Wolf – he tries to destroy each of their homes with expectations of a delectable ham dinner.
Sadly, he was successful in demolishing the first two homes constructed of straw and wood respectively. However, when it came to the third little pig, the wolf was foiled because his home was built of bricks. Huff and puff all he might, he couldn’t blow down the house built of bricks. Bricks saved the third little pig in more than one way.
Bricks were also used to build the chimney for the fireplace. It was down this chimney that the Big Bad Wolf ventured to seize the last little pig. However, as the story goes, the smart little pig put a big pot under the chimney and splash, that was the end of the Big Bad Wolf.
We have yet to see a wolf attempt to blow a house down, but we have been witness to many natural acts such as tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes. Unfortunately, even the most well constructed, structurally sound building often cannot withstand the force of Mother Nature. Though, homes located in areas prone to hurricanes and tornadoes have a better chance of survival if they are constructed of reinforced masonry as opposed to more traditional forms of residential construction such as wood framing.
As with a wood framed home, a home built of masonry block can be finished on the exterior with brick, siding and stucco – or simply painted. However, in most cases, the interior of the masonry must have wood furring to create space for plumbing, electrical, and insulation. The most common finish for the side of masonry construction is wallboard anchor to wood furring.
Although well suited for appearance, brick and block are used primary where structural integrity is a concern.
Another form of brick is the concrete block or Concrete Masonry Unit (CMU). Concrete block is really a generic term for block constructed of various materials including cement, shale, clay, cinder or pumice.
Traditionally, construction using CMU has been limited to commercial or metal buildings or for the construction of foundation walls. However, more and more the CMU can be found in the construction of homes. And although they can be left raw on the exterior and finished with a coat of paint, most people opt to apply a finish with greater curb appeal such as stucco, siding or stone veneer.
Concrete blocks have come a long way since the days of the homely ‘vanilla’ model. Today, concrete masonry units are available in a wide selection of colors, sizes, textures, configurations and weights to accommodate design, detailing and construction. Textures may be smooth, ground, split, ribbed, fluted or scored for maximum appearance value. Chances are you’ve seen one or more of these styles used to create interesting designs within sound walls located along freeways and interstates.
The unit cost for Block construction is substantially less than that of brick. This is primarily because blocks are bigger, go up faster and have fewer mortar joints. Plan to spend in the neighborhood of $8.00 to $10.00 per square foot installed. Bear in mind that if you plan to finish the CMU with stucco or stone veneer, you’ll need to consider these costs when budgeting.
Keeping your masonry clean will help it to retain its natural beauty and improve its lasting quality. Period cleaning with a solution consisting of one cup of vinegar in a quart of water applied with a wire brush will remove mineral salt buildup and other unsightly stains.
More stubborn stains can be removed using a 10% solution of muriatic acid (one part acid into nine parts water). Be sure to add the acid to the water and have protective clothing, safety goggles and plenty of ventilation to avoid injury. Using a wire brush in combination with the acid will hasten the cleaning process. More than one application may be needed to achieve the desired result.
There are commercial masonry cleaning products that can be found in most home centers or hardware stores. You may want to consider one of these if you find that our solutions don’t do the trick.
If you want to keep your masonry looking good, prevent staining and have it last longer – apply a sealer. Masonry sealers are clear when dry and prevent debris and other destructive agents for entering the pores of the material. Most masonry sealers are composed of one of two resins: acrylic and silicone. The acrylic sealer is less expensive, is more apt to sit on the surface of the material and has a shorter life.
We prefer a silicone sealer due to its high level of penetration and lasting quality. All things considered, it is the most cost-effective choice. You’ll make a bigger initial investment in the cost of the sealer, but you won’t need to apply it nearly as often as its acrylic counterpart.
There is another advantage to a sealer if you live in an area of the country that is subject to lots of rain, snow or extremely cold temperatures. A penetrating sealer will prevent water from wicking into the masonry and mortar, which can lead to leaks and hasten their demise.
The chain of events is easy to understand. Unsealed or poorly sealed masonry and mortar will readily absorb water. In cold areas this water will freeze and thaw causing the masonry and mortar or grout to chip and crack. Chimneys and especially susceptible to freeze/thaw damage. Check with a reputable chimney sweep for sealer recommendations.
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