QSome of the mortar is crumbling between the bricks of our 40-year-old house. Is repairing the mortar something a homeowner can do? Could I repaint the exterior of the house instead of repairing the mortar? -- J. Hodges
ARepairing or "repointing" the mortar joints in a brick house can be a do-it-yourself job, but if the damage is extensive it is best to hire an experienced contractor. I would not paint the bricks under any circumstances. Bricks are a premium siding, and paint will probably reduce the house's value and make repairs more difficult.
If only a few joints are involved and you can reach them safely, here is how to proceed:
You will need a narrow pointing trowel (about 3/8-inch wide) and a larger, flat brick trowel, as well as dry mortar mix, sold in bags at most home centers. Wear goggles and gloves when working.
Use a narrow cold chisel and hammer to clean out deteriorated joints to a depth of at least 3/4 inch (a contractor would probably use a grinder to clean the joints). Use an old paintbrush to clean out small particles and dirt.
When all the joints are clean, mix some mortar with water (follow directions on the bag), and scoop a small quantity onto the back of the brick trowel. Hold the mortar-loaded brick trowel under horizontal joints and use the pointing trowel to push small quantities of mortar into the joints. Pack the joints thoroughly and smooth with the pointing trowel to duplicate the appearance of surrounding joints. Vertical joints are more difficult to repair, but the technique is the same. Immediately wipe off any spilled mortar from bricks with a wet rag.
One problem with do-it-yourself repointing is that the color is not likely to match the existing mortar. Some masonry-supply dealers sell pigments that can tint mortar, but if appearance is very important, it is best to hire a contractor.
I'd like to have the wiring in my older house inspected for possible problems, but I worry that an electrician might find things wrong just to get work. Is there any way to get an impartial inspection? -- R. O'Donnell
If you fear that an inspection by an electrician might not be impartial, be clear you want only an assessment. Before you undertake major repairs, you should get at least three cost estimates. Other safeguards: Check references, and make sure the contractor carries liability and workers' compensation insurance.
Another option is to have a home inspector make the inspection. Home inspectors are listed under Home Inspection Services in the phone book. These inspectors normally make a report on problems but leave the repair work to others.
I have hardwood floors that were partially covered by rugs. The floor area that was exposed is noticeably darker than the areas that were covered. How can I get the entire floor to match so I can use rugs of different sizes? -- Lois
Dirt and exposure to light have darkened the exposed areas, so there probably isn't any practical way to get an even tone without refinishing the floors. Using a good wood-floor cleaner might brighten the dark areas a little. If the wood is in good condition, light sanding should remove the old finish so the wood can be stained to an even color.
Questions and comments should be sent to Gene Austin, 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions cannot be answered personally.