Innovations in Brick Installation
Many people don’t consider using brick on their home improvement projects because they believe it can only be handled by a professional, but the rise of thin brick and new systems have made installation accessible to carpenters and handymen.
Lick ‘Em and Stick ‘Em
Historically the application of thin ceramic units has been accomplished like cultured (manufactured) stone, by attaching the units to lath covered with mortar, directly to concrete backer units (cbu), or directly to drywall on interior projects. While frowned upon by some manufacturers, using mastic mortar combined with units thinner than ½” in interior dry areas directly on drywall is typically safe and should normally include a sealer over the finished job. Jobs over a few square feet can get tricky as the units can slide and fall off prior to finally grouting.
Today there are several versions of systems that allow anyone to attach steel sheets to a substrate covered with a moisture barrier wrap. These steel sheets have tabs used to align and hold the brick units in place prior to grouting. No CBU or lath is required. Typically these sheets are attached via screws, the masonry units are then glued to the sheet and finally grouted for the finished look. Be sure to carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions as proper gluing is essential to performance.
New systems in Europe and the United States now offer solutions to some of the problems with glues and mastics by providing a convenient snap in system. The system consists of rails applied over any normal building surfaces along with a moisture barrier wrap. The brick units actually snap into the rail system and can be adjusted prior to final grouting. Just like the Tab cousin, no lath or mastic is required, nor any glue which makes this system suitable to all types of installers.
Regardless of the system, the most important part of the finishing process is grouting or “pointing” the joints between the brick units. A variety of jointing tools are available to provide “concave”, “raked”, “grapevine”, and a multitude of other finished looks to the joint. There are guns similar to caulking guns which can be filled with mortar making it easier to squeeze the mortar into the joints. The tried and true “Baker’s Bag” is also easy to use. Before attempting your finished master piece, make a small sample on a piece of plywood with your system and practice squeezing the mortar into place and allowing it to become firm prior to running your jointing tool (“striking”) along the joint. This is the most important part to making your job look like perfect, so take some time experimenting with your mix, the time you allow the mortar to temper, and striking before tackling your finished project.