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Prolonging Brick and Concrete Life  June 24, 2007

It's hard to imagine that anything as small as a drop of water could wreck havoc on something as solid as a brick, a piece of stone or a slab of concrete. But constant exposure to water, and especially to winter's freeze and thaw cycles, can damage or destroy masonry surfaces in a surprisingly short amount of time.

The answer is to seal the masonry's porous surfaces against the intrusion of water. There are a number of sealers that are formulated specifically for this purpose, and they are easy to apply without special equipment.

Selecting the Right Sealer

Once you start shopping for a sealer, you'll probably be surprised to find how many there are. While many have similar properties and are simply different brand names from different manufacturers, there are also several products with specific formulations for specific applications.

For most masonry surfaces - brick, stone or ceramic tile - a masonry sealer is the proper choice. Depending on the type of masonry sealer, some will also work to seal concrete slabs. Masonry sealers will penetrate into the pores in the surface of the masonry and seal them against moisture. The sealer also helps to protect against buildups of dirt, oil, grease and markings from automobile tires. Masonry sealers are not intended for use on asphalt, glazed ceramic tile or on wooden surfaces.

For a tough finish on concrete, you'll want to use a specific concrete sealer. Not intended for brick, block, stone and other masonry, concrete waterproofing sealers penetrate deep into the surface of the concrete - up to one inch of penetration on previously unsealed concrete - and forms a very tough barrier against moisture.

There are also sealers that are formulated for specific applications. If you have a concrete slab that is subject to a lot of grease and oil on a regular basis, selecting a sealer that is specifically made for that type of use will greatly simplify your cleaning. There are also sealers formulated for underwater concrete and masonry, such as ponds and pools, for sanitary surfaces, and other applications.

Sealers also come in different surface "sheens," depending on the look you want. While all of them are clear, some types dry to a completely flat sheen and leave the surface looking unsealed. Other types dry to a glossy "wet" look, and the depth of the gloss increases with each application. There are also semi-gloss sheens that are in between flat and glossy. The choice of how glossy you want the finished surface is typically one of personal preference - however, with some types of sealers the glossier the product is the more abrasion resistant properties it has.

Application

In general, the surface to be sealed has to be clean and dry. This may involve pressure washing with soap and water or with a degreasing chemical, or simply sweeping it off with a broom. If you clean the surface with water, or if it rains between the time you clean it and the time you are ready to apply the sealer, remember that the surface must be absolutely dry before you start putting on the sealer - sealing over a wet slab is the most common reason for failure of the sealer.

If efflorescence is visible - a chalky white coating on the masonry or concrete that occurs as salts leach out of the cement during drying - that needs to be removed as well. You can clean efflorescence with a diluted mixture of muriatic acid, but most sealers require that the acid then be neutralized - a 50/50 mixture of water and ammonia is a common neutralizer.

Test the sheen of the sealer on an inconspicuous spot prior to doing your entire surface. Allow it to dry completely, and check that the sheen is to your liking and that sealer appears to adhere and dry well.

The sealer can usually be applied using a brush, roller or spray. Pump-up garden sprayers work well for some types of sealers, as do some types of paint sprayers. Some sealers are formulated for a single-coat application, and others require a buildup of multiple coats.

Sealers are available at some home centers and hardware stores, but your best bet for expert advice and a wide selection of products is to check with a store that specializes in masonry products. Each product will have specific uses, application methods, weather and temperature application restrictions, and safety precautions, so be sure you carefully read and follow ALL of the manufacturer's specific recommendations.

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