Mortar Matters

Posted on 15 Aug 2018

It wasn’t that long ago when home owners had the choice of just one brick and one mortar colour: a red brick with natural mortar. While that combination is undoubtedly a classic, fast forward to today and the colour, texture, laying and jointing options for bricks and mortar are almost endless. But as the saying goes - with great power (or in this case, choice) comes great responsibility. Mortar is easily one of the most underestimated design considerations when building or renovating your home.

Let’s start with the look.

For starters, you may be surprised to learn that the mortar you choose has a vital visual impact on the way your bricks end up looking. In fact, using a cream mortar with a traditional red brick and then comparing the same brick with a red mortar can make the brick itself look totally different.

As an example - using today’s more modern brick colours - consider a black brick with dark mortar and then imagine the same brick with white mortar and you’ll get a sense of where all this is going. In real terms, the mortar used in your standard face brick wall accounts for about 20% of the visual area, which is not insignificant by any standards. It’s also important to remember that the more visual and vibrant the brick, the more important it is to get the mortar right.

Let’s talk briefly about colour options.

Basic mortar colours have a fairly standard range:

  • Natural or grey– once the most commonly used
  • White or off-white – tends to highlight the true colour of the brick
  • Cream or buff– can tone in with lighter bricks. Most used in WA

Then there’s specially tinted mortars to match the brick colour. This reduces the contrast between brick colour and mortar to achieve a monochromatic, subtly textured look.

Of course, mortar colours can be specially tinted to almost any shade, but care needs to be taken to avoid unintended disasters. Always talk with your builder or architect to get the very best advice and guidance.

The joint – more than just holding the bricks together.

Together with the ingredients, the mortar joint is the working part of the wall. It will affect the performance of the structure as well as the look.   

Mortar is usually made on site from a mix of cement, lime, sand and water, as well as a colour additive when required. The proportions of the mix can vary dependant on factors such as brick type, location and local conditions.  In essence, mortar is the glue that holds the bricks together.

When you are in the midst of the building process, it is helpful to have an understanding of the most appropriate mortar joint for the architectural style and location of your home. The most important functional properties of mortar are its consistency, its durability and its ability to bond with the brick, all of which can be influenced by various factors. And mortar joint names such as flush, raked and rolled may go some way to explain their look, but the job of the mortar joint goes far beyond the aesthetics – and this is where you need speak with your builder or architect.

Rolled joints are the most commonly known and used in Western Australia. Other alternatives include Flushed, Ironed or at times, Raked joints. Raked joints have a deep groove in the mortar, while Flush joints, on the other hand, create a flatter look and will lighten the overall colour of the wall by minimising shadow.

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