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  • What is "dry-laid" stone or pavers?
    Dry-laid stone is a method of construction where individual stones are laid on a bed of sand and gravel, and the design is held together by tightly compacted sand. You can also create a fun look on a less-traveled patio by using chunkier gravel or planting hardy ground covers between the stones instead of sand. The biggest benefit to dry-laid stone is flexibility, and the ability to correct mistakes and gradual shifts and imperfections in time. It’s also slightly less expensive than the other, more permanent option. But with that flexibility comes a cost, more potential for movement, impermanence, higher maintenance (typically you will want to power wash and re-fill the joints with fresh sand every 3 to 5 years), weeds growing through the joints, and a higher risk of the pavers coming loose as the joining sand washes away. The typical life of a dry-laid patio is 10 to 15 years.
  • What is "Wet-Laid" Stone?
    Wet-laid stone is the direct opposite of dry-laid stone: The stones are laid on a concrete slab or other mortared surface, then mortared together for a permanent finish. This means that wet-laid stone’s most obvious benefit is just that: its permanence. Especially in high-traffic or vehicular traffic areas, a finished wet-laid stone patio won’t cave under the pressure and will last for many years. It’s also lower maintenance. A correctly built wet-laid patio will last 50+ years with the joints only needing to be re-pointed once or twice during its life. A potential drawback is its cost. Because concrete is involved, the project automatically becomes more expensive (though you may save on maintenance what you’ll spend on construction…so weigh your options!).
  • What is Natural Stone?
    Natural stone is quarried, meaning it is dug out of the earth where it formed naturally over millions of years. From there, the stone is cut into blocks or tiles to use in outdoor projects. There’s nothing that looks as beautiful as natural stone because the rich color and idiosyncratic textures simply cannot be imitated: Natural stone guarantees a one-of-a-kind landscaping project because no two stones are exactly alike (though you can select for relative uniformity of color and texture). Natural stone can withstand snow, rain, and ice because it would be subject to these extremes under normal circumstances anyway. Natural stone is more expensive than man-made options, due to the expense of quarrying and cutting the stone as well as the greater degree of difficulty in installing blocks with natural variations in shape and size. Natural stone is also a versatile option, as it can be used in both wet-laid and dry-laid applications for patios. A wet-laid patio has a poured concrete base with natural stone applied over the top. Concrete joints between the natural stone tiles keep out weeds and provide a smooth, finished look. A dry-laid patio is constructed by placing natural stone blocks or tiles tightly together over a bed of sand or crushed stone. Joints are typically filled with sand to lock pieces in place.
  • What are Pavers?
    Pavers are dyed, concrete paving stones cast in forms to a pattern of uniform sizes. Because they are manufactured instead of quarried, there is greater uniformity of size, texture, and color. Pavers also tend to be less expensive than quarried stone, though prices vary based on the style. Pavers are typically used in dry-laid patios. While they can be convincing imitations of natural stone, their uniformity may look unnatural in large expanses. Since pavers are dyed concrete they do wear, chip, and fade, like a typical concrete walk.
  • Mortar and Longevity – Will Our Buildings Stand the Test of Time? (Courtesy of Lancaster Lime Works)
    Did you ever look closely at the exterior of a masonry building and see hairline cracks running up the wall? Or perhaps the mortar joints have lots of cracks running across them, so that the mortar looks like it could fall out in places? Your next thought might be, "What’s going on here? Doesn't brick and stone masonry last forever?” What about the castles in Scotland and the palaces in Prussia that are thousands of years old? Many masons are beginning to ask these questions. For us, our livelihood depends on the answers. It is not a good feeling to see cracked mortar joints in work completed only 5 years ago. Could the mortar that our masons use be flawed? Fortunately, materials scientists of today have been asking these same questions. After studying those castles in Scotland and masonry buildings all over the pre-modern world, the answers are becoming clear. Turns out the mortar we use today is not at all historic. Time has tested it, and it is failing. At this point, some mortar history might be helpful. For at least 6,000 years, man had been using (roughly) the same process to make mortar. Burn high-calcium limestone or shells by layering wood and lime stones inside a really fat chimney (kiln), and then light it on fire. The resulting burnt stones are then crushed into powder and mixed with sand and water to make lime mortar. When mixed with water the burnt lime reacts with the water. This causes it to get sticky and slowly harden, lasting for centuries between the stones of a wall. The lime hardens through a chemical reaction in which it is actually turning back into stone! Natural lime is very different from modern hydrated (mason’s) lime, which cannot be used as the binder (hardener) in mortar because it will never get hard. Portland cement uses lime as an additive to make it a bit more workable. Now let’s move to the modern history of mortar. In the late 1800's, various inventors began experimenting with new processes and materials for making cement. One man came up with a product called Portland cement. Named because of its similar color to the limestone that had been quarried on the British Isle of Portland for centuries. By 1878, the British government had issued a standard for Portland cement. By 1907, production began in the United States. Today's uses are the main binder in mortar, concrete and stucco. Portland cement has proven its superiority to natural lime in many departments. In the speed-of-getting-hard department: Portland's the champ. In the waterproof department: no contest. Portland wins. In the hardness department: Portland wins again. Game over? Not yet. According to research, using Portland cement may be a strategic error if longevity is the goal. Yes, Portland cement seals out water and natural lime allows a little water to move through it. The problem is that most masonry units (like brick, stone, and block) absorb small amounts of moisture from the air and rain. Natural lime mortar acts like a wick to get that water back out -- FAST! Portland cement, on the other hand, doesn’t allow the water to pass, thereby trapping it in the wall. Trapped moisture causes rapid deterioration of the joints, and breaks off the faces of the bricks or stones. Therefore, repointing with Portland cement is not the best option for buildings that were originally built with natural lime mortar. Another downside to Portland cement is a seemingly positive quality. It is harder than lime mortar. However, this hardness also makes it more brittle and harder than many kinds of brick and stone. Any movement in the building is going to make Portland cement crack, and can break softer brick and stone. The more flexible lime mortar moves with the building without cracking or adding stress to the masonry units. It gets even better for lime mortar. At the microscopic level, Portland cement contains salts that actually degrade the mortar. This occurs from the inside out so that it starts to decompose as soon as it gets hard. In contrast, natural lime mortar has small amounts of free lime -- lime that never reacted with the water in the beginning, after it was burned. This free lime actually dissolves in the water that is escaping out of the wall. This process fills any cracks that may have formed. The experts call it "autogenous healing." Like a lobster growing back its claw, I guess. Many restoration mortar recipes call for 8 parts of sand, two parts hydrated lime and one part Portland. Yet even this diluted mixture is neither soft enough nor breathable enough, and reeks havoc on older structures. It’s not surprising that the historic restoration movement is slowly switching from Portland mortars to lime mortars. No wonder they used it for 6,000 years! The bad news is that natural lime putty for mortar is still difficult to find in this country and it's difficult to find a mason with lime mortar experience. So the next time you want your chimney re-pointed or a historic stone or brick building restored, find a historic restoration contractor who knows about natural lime mortars. As a restoration masonry contractor, the choice is clear to me. What's the point of building new or restoring the old if our work is not going to stand the test of time?
  • Why are beautiful stone farmhouses and other historic stone buildings covered with stucco?
    Traditionally the only exposed stone is one with a gauged mortar joint. “Free stonework” are irregular pieces of stone shaped to fit with large, squared corner stones with alternating lengths used as borders. Ashlar work is varying sizes of cut blocks of stone that are laid in uniform coursing. You will sometimes see semi-coursed stonework on the front of a building and haphazard stone joinery on the sides and the back of the building. If the stone was shaped with tools used by masons it most likely was meant to be seen. You will often see remnants of the original external plaster or whitewash in the pours of the stone of the building which has already had the stucco removed to tip you off that the building was originally covered or coated and not exposed. Fieldstones are stones picked up off the field when settling a property and preparing the ground for farming. They are laid up in “rubble work.” Some masons pronounce it “roobil” work. I think they are just repeating the accent of the old-timers. Rubble is junk. Fieldstone is just junk stone It is not dressed up in any way. But the question remains, “Why did they cover the stone with exterior plaster?” Well, when you don’t gauge the joints and keep them tight the surface exposure to the elements is increased and accelerated the erosion of the pointing mortar. This may quickly deteriorate the bedding mortar and the integrity of the wall. It will at least aid in the transmission of water into the building. So, the same soft, punky mortar that was used for bedding was also used for exterior plaster, (stucco), and finished off with a shelter coat of whitewash. Whitewash is pure calcium carbonate lime and water. It was used as a waterproofer and protecting coat for both beauty and function. Whitewash could be thought of as a coating like an eggshell. It is soft, breathable and will protect the otherwise frail stucco render. Today the appearance of rubblework exposed is thought of as a thing of beauty. Historically fine stonework was squared and formal with straight, true and gauged joinery as the sign of high-end work. Really, it still is throughout the world, but “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” If historic stone buildings where not plastered, (receiving an external stucco render), but instead received the inverted “v” joint to deflect the downward and angled drive of the rain, they usually were whitewashed right over top of the stone and joint in rubble work. When you don’t see the whitewash over the stone anymore it is because the acidity of a constant rainwater bath has loosened it and it has come off and was not renewed. More often than not it remains under the porch of houses and forebay areas of barns where it has been protected. Look closely in the pours of the stonework on the sides of the building and under the eaves or behind pent roof to see if remnants of the stucco or whitewash have remained. Another tell-tale sign that the building was originally stuccoed over the stone is that the widow trim remains proud to the stonework. If the trim comes out past the stonework at a thickness of 1-1’1/2″ past the stone, then that is indicative that the stone was covered with stucco to meet the outer edge of the wood trim. The only insulation gained by exterior plaster is that of slowing a driving wind. Overall masonry is a poor insulator. 1940 and newer stucco may have had perlite incorporated into the mix to add an insulation element. To correctly restore something would mean to put it back to its original design. For correct architectural restoration of a stucco over stone building means that the plaster should remain and be finished as it was originally. However, many people with unsound exterior plaster, which has lost its bond to the substrate or has cracks throughout it or has paint that is flaking, consider the removal of the offending stucco and coatings without replacing it but rather exposing, cleaning and repointing the stone. It is an option that will help mitigate the water infiltration problem. It is an option for overcoming the eyesore of flaking paint. It even increases the value of the building in many cases more than what the cost was to expose and repoint the stone. But my advise is to “just say no” when you have a formal exterior such as a building with a mansard roof. An exposed stone building which has been repointed and does not have the stucco or whitewash renewed should be reserved for a simple country farmhouse, outbuilding, or barn in my opinion. It may effect the value of the property in a negative way by removing historic details. A local historic appropriateness review board may not allow these modifications and a historical society may frown upon changing the unique and appropriate details originally found at the historic structure.
  • Who will work at my home?
    The only people who will work at your home are Brandywine Designs employees and select sub-contractors. Our team members have construction and horticultural backgrounds, and we will all be familiar with your needs.
  • Are you insured and licensed?
    We have all the necessary licenses for our area, and we carry insurance for all of our projects. Some larger construction projects require permits, special licenses, and certifications. We have the experience and the knowledge for those cases. HIC Registration Number: PA159865
  • What areas do you service?
    We provide masonry, landscaping, and landscape designer services to all of Chester, Montgomery, Delaware, Philadelphia, Bucks, and Berks Counties in Pennsylvania. We also service Northern Delaware, Northern Maryland, and New Jersey. Examples of towns serviced: Collegeville, Villanova, West Chester, Downingtown, Chester Springs, Chadds Ford, King of Prussia, Wayne, Radnor, Upper Merion, Lower Merion, Berwyn, Malvern, Paoli, Wynnwood, Ardmore, Phoenixville, Unionville, Coatesville, Wilmington, and many more!
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