Concrete and Masonry
Concrete and Masonry for the Homeowner
While it might not be the oldest profession, it’s pretty close: concrete and masonry.
The Romans used concrete as we know it and it led to an empire that still has buildings and aqueducts standing all over Europe and Africa. Throughout the world, buildings are made from brick and concrete block. These buildings and homes are among the most durable structures in the world.
Nearly every home in the world is touched by the art of masonry. In most cases, the house’s foundation is made from concrete. Often, the walls are partially or entirely made from brick or concrete block.
Here is a homeowner’s guide to concrete work and masonry for the home.
Concrete, Cement, and Masonry: Understanding the Differences
While most people use these words interchangeably, they are actually different. Here are some definitions that can help to make it easier to understand.
- Concrete – Concrete is an aggregate of cement, crushed rock, and sand. Most buildings are made with concrete, since it is strong and versatile.
- Cement – Cement is specifically a binding material made from lime or calcium silicate. It is made in hydraulic and non-hydraulic version. Hydraulic will set in wet conditions, even underwater, whereas the non-hydraulic will not.
- Masonry – This is the art and science of building structures out of individual units, like bricks and blocks. This is different from concrete work, which involves pouring concrete into forms to create the buildings.
One of the most beautiful forms of concrete is stucco. Here is a great article on putting stucco siding on your home.
Different Types of Masonry
Masons, the artisans that work with concrete, cement, and stones, use all of these ingredients to create everything from walkways to the Sistine Chapel. Here are some of the different types of masonry that exist.
- Brick – Made from clay and other ingredients, bricks are among the oldest building materials. The bricks are then glued together with mortar. The resulting building is incredibly strong and durable. Often, the brick erodes before the mortar does.
- Block – Concrete is pre-cast into blocks. These blocks are then mortared together to create building that are often commercial. Block walls can be covered with siding and sheetrock to hide the less-than-attractive block.
- Stone – From river rock to cut stones, stone walls are among the oldest forms of masonry. Using the rocks found nearby, masons built walls and homes out of the rock. Today, that stone is either imported or manufactured to give it a rustic appearance.
- Marble – Using high gloss stones, like marble and granite, a building has a regal and powerful appearance. Often, these stones are a veneer over concrete block, but there are many cases where walls have been built out of solid marble.
These are only a few of the types of masonry that one can look at for building or renovating the home.
Concrete, along with steel and often working together, is the foundation of our modern society. Trucks mixing tons of concrete, deliver their flowing, wet stone mixture to be poured into nearly any shape. From the straight sides of a skyscraper to the giant ‘sails’ of the Sydney Opera House, concrete has allowed humans to soar to new heights and create astounding wonders.
Whether you’re building an architectural icon or simply making a pathway, the basic concept is the same: liquid concrete is poured into a mold, usually made from wood, and left to dry and harden. Often, this process is done offsite, creating concrete slabs that are then put together on site.
Concrete can be found everywhere in our world. The Chunnel under the English Channel and the Lincoln Tunnel in New York City keep millions of tons of water off of commuters with concrete. Roadways and bridges are all constructed from the material. Nearly every modern basement and foundation is made from it.
It is liquid rock that resists erosion and breaking. It provides protection from the elements and from vermin. Mixed in different formulas, it can even keep you safe from earthquakes and tornadoes.
Considerations for Hiring a Mason or Concrete Contractor
Masons and concrete contractors, like all other contractors, need to be licensed. It’s important that they are also very experienced. Here are some of the things that you need to look for and ask for when hiring someone to do this work:
- Look for a specialist – For a simple walkway that won’t kill someone if it fails, a general contractor might be fine. For walls, foundations, and retaining walls, you want someone who is experienced and trained. The wrong mixture or the wrong thickness and you can have a catastrophic accident.
- Ask for a license – Every contractor must be licensed by the state or province. Ask them for a copy of their license or at least their license number. You should then contact the appropriate authority and confirm that the license is current and in good standing.
- Ask for insurance – The contractor must have liability insurance. If they don’t complete a job or do more harm than good, you need to have recourse to get things fixed. Ask for their insurance information and contact their insurance provider to confirm that the policy is in effect and paid up.
- Workers’ compensation insurance – If they will have someone working with them on the site, they need to have workers’ compensation insurance. If their employee is injured and they don’t have this insurance, you can be held liable. You can lose your home and more to someone who was hurt on the job.
- Online and personal recommendations – Look for online reviews and ask for references. Again, for a garden path, it might not matter. If they are going to rebuild a wall of your home, you want to make sure that they have a good reputation.
Concrete and Masonry to Increase the Value of Your Home
Concrete and masonry can add immense value to your home. There are many different things that you can do to add these elements into your existing home or include them in a new home.
- Stucco siding – Made of concrete and often a coloring agent, stucco is a very durable and fire-retardant form of siding. When applied correctly, it can last for over 50 years. It involves applying a wire frame to the house, usually chicken wire or something similar. The concrete is then mixed to specific consistency. It can be applied so that it’s flat or has texture. When the stucco itself is colored, there is never a need to repaint it.
- Brick fireplace – Nothing is more comforting on a cold night than a brick fireplace. A mason can install a real brick fireplace into most homes that have a chimney. This can be a fireplace that burns natural gas or wood. Either way, the soothing light and warmth can turn a living room into a space that everyone loves to be in.
- Outdoor kitchen – One of the more recent trends is to install an outdoor kitchen. With a stove, an oven and a permanent grill, these kitchens have everything you need to make the outdoors a culinary wonder. A mason can build these kitchens out of bricks, blocks or stone. The overall idea is create a space that is fun and functional.
- Basement or foundation – In an existing home, this can sometimes be the basis of major concerns. A mason can come in and fix foundation problems without having to tear down the house. At its most extreme, they will lift the house and pour a new foundation underneath. Often, only one section of the foundation needs to be replaced. This can be done easily by a master mason.
- The weather wall – Most areas of the country have one direction that much of their weather comes from. Having a mason build a brick or block wall in that direction can save energy and reduce the need for siding that can’t handle the beating of intense weather.
- Outbuildings – Garages, sheds, and other outbuildings might seem like a wasteful place for masonry work, but their smaller size can make these buildings susceptible to weather. By building them to be tougher, they will last longer. In tornado prone areas, they can even be built to withstand the extreme winds of a twister. A shed can become an important shelter in a storm.
Masonry and concrete are part of modern life and make our world possible. By making wise choices and finding the right contractor, you can use these materials and building techniques to improve and enhance your home in ways that will last for generations.