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Dr Bill’s Big Fix Blog

The first frost

The nights are drawing in and it’s distinctly chilly first thing in the morning.  It won’t be too long before outdoor DIY is definitely not to be contemplated, so now is the time to sort out all those little ‘tidying up’ jobs that need to be done before winter really sets in.

A quick tour around the house and garden is a good way to identify what is required. Check that the Damp Proof Course (DPC) is not bridged by soil or piles of sand or leaves leaning up against the wall, as this can increase the risk of damp penetrating into the house.

Check gutters and down-pipes for leakage, as water leaking onto brickwork walls for prolonged periods of time can cause leaching of soluble salts from the bricks and mortar and white staining. In extreme circumstances the bricks may become saturated with water which can freeze in the winter and ‘blow’ the face off the brick. Prevention is always better than cure, fixing the odd leak in a pipe is much simpler (and less costly) than repairing whole areas of brickwork.

Look out for any areas of brickwork pointing that are missing or are loose and crumbly. These should be repaired by raking out the joint and re-pointing with a suitable mortar. A general purpose (designation iii) mortar is normally suitable for most houses and pre-mixed, bagged products are readily available.

A mortar containing hydrated lime as well as cement and is more cohesive and flexible, and can accommodate slight movements in the brickwork. If you are batching the mortar on site from separate constituent materials, don’t make it too strong, 1 part cement to 5-6 parts sand is ample.

For older properties, with soft bricks or stonework, a lime and sand mortar (hydraulic lime not hydrated lime, this time) is much more appropriate than a cement-based mortar.

Pointing between patio slabs should also be checked and repaired where necessary, once again pre-mixed bagged mortar is suitable. Just remember that in cold weather, cement and mortar set and harden more slowly and will require protection for the first day or so after placing. As a rule of thumb, if the outdoor temperature is less than 3oC and falling it is best not to try making mortar.

A few simple checks and repairs made before the onset of winter will prevent the acceleration of deterioration in the cold weather and will avoid the need for more extensive repairs in the spring

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