Keep your Natural Stone looking like new: The Dos and Don’ts of Cleaning Natural Stone

When it comes to home or commercial improvements, natural stone is a great investment! You can use natural stone for a variety of indoor and outdoor applications. With simple care and maintenance, your natural stone can last for a very long time.

Before you get ready to clean natural stone, it’s important to know its composition. There are two categories it can fall into; siliceous stone or calcareous stone.

  • Siliceous Stone is primarily composed of silica, another name for quartz. It’s very durable, easy to clean, and acid resistant. The most common types of siliceous stones are used for kitchen applications. Well-known types of siliceous stone include granite, slate, quartzite, soapstone, and sandstone.
  • Calcareous Stone in comparison, is very sensitive to acid. This stone is composed of calcium carbonate and should be cleaned with different cleaning products than siliceous stone. Common types of calcareous stone include limestone, travertine, onyx, serpentine, and various marbles. This type of stone is commonly used for tiles and floors.

The beauty of using natural stone is that it never goes out of style. Follow our complete list of dos and don’ts to preserve the timeless look of your natural stone!


DO use the right cleaning products: Many people are not aware of the chemicals contained in most household cleaning products. Popular cleaning solutions like blue Windex contain ammonia. These types of acidic solutions can lift the protective sealant of your granite leaving it exposed and vulnerable to stains. Before cleaning, check with your natural stone installer or local natural stone expert to ensure you’re using the right product for the job.

DO use coasters for drinks: Just like cleaning products, citric or alcoholic beverages can damage your stone.

Do use cutting boards: While granite surfaces are hard and resistant, you will want to avoid cutting citrus fruits such as lemons or even tomatoes. Their acidic content can damage the sealant on your natural stone, and you can also damage your knives.

DO dust your natural stone surfaces regularly: Dust accumulates on every surface, and natural stone is not the exception. To guarantee your natural stone always looks its best, make dusting part of your weekly cleaning tasks.

DO clean up spills as soon as they happen: While the sealants are there to help protect the stone from getting stained, they will not be able to protect the surface if a corrosive substance is left for a long period of time.

DO use soft brush bristles, cloths or sponges to clean your stone: To avoid damaging your surface or the sealant, it is also very important to use soft products that won’t scratch the surface. Cleaning natural stone should be easy, so you probably won’t need to use strong actions or coarse cleaning utensils.


DON’T use alkaline cleaning agents: This type of cleaning agent contains bleach and ammonia. These products are frequently used for cleaning windows, mirrors, and other kitchen surfaces.

DON’T use vinegar or general-purpose cleaners: Many people use vinegar as part of DIY cleaning solutions. In the case of natural stone, vinegar and other general- purpose cleaners can be just as harmful as bleach or ammonia.

DON’T put hot elements on top of natural stone: While most natural stones such as granite are not damaged by heat, the sealants might weaken if they are exposed to hot elements for an extended period.

Don’t place beauty chemicals on top of your natural stone: Products such as nail polish remover, perfumes, or even hair-dyeing products can damage your surface.

Don’t assume your natural stone is sealed: While it is very likely that brand new natural stone is sealed, it’s always important to check when you purchase. Natural stone that is a few years old, might need to be resealed. 

Making sure you follow these steps can significantly help you improve the lifetime beauty and value of your natural stone. We always recommend you share this checklist of important maintenance tips with the people who will be utilizing and cleaning the areas where there is natural stone.

Sealants can help protect your natural stone, however, since this is a naturally occurring product, each block or slab used in construction is different. Once the slabs are cut, they can have a different composition and present different characteristics. The Natural Stone Institute of America recognizes sealants provide great benefits for natural stones, but they also warn some sealants have been known to react poorly to different cleaning products.

If you need assistance with a natural stone project in the Pittsburgh area, make sure you contact the experts at Cirigliano Natural Stone & Masonry.

Specializing in extensive masonry repair and rejuvenation, Cirigliano Masonry serves home and business owners throughout the Pittsburgh area. From design to build, as well as complete restoration options, rely on us for Stone Masonrypointing and repair. We also offer general masonrystone repair, and more.  

A Guide to Finding the Right Outdoor Brick Fireplace

Outdoor brick fireplaces allow you to take advantage of your outside areas all year round. A fireplace in your backyard will invite you and your family to spend more time in the outdoors. They can transform patios into warm and cozy entertainment areas for the fall and winter months, and they can also become the perfect focal point for a summer hangout spot for your friends and family.

Adding a brick fireplace to your outdoor patio will help broaden your living area and increase the value of your home. The fireplace should match the existing landscape as it will be a focal point where all other outdoor furniture pieces are centered.

Brick fireplaces can range from elegant to simple styles; the aesthetics will depend on your own taste and budget. If you’ve already decided to add an outdoor fireplace there are a lot of factors you should consider. Use this guide to understand all the available options and narrow down which brick fireplace is right for you.

What you need to know about Outdoor Brick Fireplaces

  1. The fuel type for your outdoor fireplace.

There are different types of fuel you can use for your outdoor brick fireplace. Depending on which type you chose, this will give you more freedom when you determine the location. These are the options you can choose from:

  • Wood Burning Fireplace: Traditional fireplaces are wood burning. These allow you flexibility when it comes to choosing their location in your patio since they are freestanding structures. For this type of fireplace, you will need a smoke chamber leading to a chimney with a spark arrester.
  • Gas Burning Fireplace: You will need to have your contractor find a gas line you can tie to the fireplace. This will limit the locations you might choose. Dealing with a gas line may increase the overall cost of your project. These do not require a chimney and only need a small vent or pipe.
  • Propane Burning Fireplace: Just like the wood burning fireplace, a propane fireplace can be located anywhere in your backyard. Similar to your barbeque grill, all you will need is a propane tank.


  1. Choosing the right location for your outdoor fireplace.

You’ve probably already given some thought to the location of your new outdoor fireplace. However, there are certain elements you should always keep in mind before committing to a specific location.

  • Safety: It is crucial to keep safety in mind. Make sure the area will be clear of fire hazards such as hanging branches, bushes, dry grass, decks, wires or nearby buildings. You should also plan ahead and verify you have a nearby waterspout or a fire extinguisher.
  • Smoke: Pay attention to the prevailing wind direction to make sure this will not become an issue for you or your neighbors when you use the fireplace.
  • Size: While the size may vary depending on the style you chose, it is important to have additional room around the fireplace to accommodate seating and other outdoor furniture.
  • Accessibility: Making sure the fireplace is easily accessible is important, since this will likely become a gathering place. The traffic areas should be clear of obstacles for both comfort and safety. This will also help determine how often this place will be used.


  1. The structure of an outdoor brick fireplace.

Thee are three main components that make up the structure of all outdoor brick fireplaces.

  • The Base: The base should be a solid and reinforced concrete slab. This will be built according to the type of soil, the extreme temperature conditions, the dimensions, and the weight of the fireplace.
  • The Firebox: The firebox will be determined by the type of fuel you will use. The fireplace could burn wood, gas, or propane. Each type of fuel will have different requirement. The firebox will be the part of the fireplace that contains the fire itself. For safety, every firebox should be lined with brick.
  • The Chimney or Vent: This part of the structure will also depend on the type of fuel used. Wood burning fireplaces need chimneys for the smoke and ashes produced. Gas or propane fireplaces only need exhaust vents.


  1. The design of an outdoor fireplace.

There are a lot of designs available to chose from. Choosing the size and design of the brick fireplace will be determined the size of your patio, the frequency of use, the heating aspect, and your entertainment needs. If you are not sure where to start, look at your own home and its architectural style. This will help inspire your decision.

These are some of the most popular outdoor fireplace styles available.

  • Traditional Fireplace: This style of fireplace is typically made of brick. The firebox is usually arched, and they also feature a rectangular oversized mantel. This style goes well with colonial, craftsman, and ranch architecture.
  • Southwest Fireplace: This type of fireplace uses stucco on the exterior wall. This allows it to get painted generally in earth tones or get decorated with ceramic tiles. Their appearance can include a stair-step structure or a rounded “kiva” style structure.
  • Modern Fireplace: These outdoor fireplaces use a geometric, clean line design with sharp angles. They can be built with industrial materials.
  • Mediterranean Fireplace: These fireplaces are simple structures similar to southwest style fireplaces. The differentiating factor is the exterior decoration with colorful tiles or rustic stone elements.


  1. The bricks used in the fireplace.

The bricks used for building outdoor fireplaces are fire-resistant; they also give your outdoor fireplace a timeless character. Brick is made of clay which is naturally found in almost every state. They come in a variety of colors and textures you can chose from. The biggest benefits of using bricks is the variety of patterns you can create with them, the durability, and weather resistant properties.


  1. The regulations to build an outdoor brick fireplace:

The regulations to build your outdoor fireplace may vary depending where you live. You can usually find out what these are by asking your local fire department. Since the fireplace will be close to your home you will want to make sure it doesn’t become a fire hazard. Once you’ve figured out the location, and the height of your fireplace, check the local ordinances to find out what special permits are required before you begin the construction.

Brick fireplaces are great ways to improve your outdoor areas. They will give your home a very inviting look and they can be a very valuable addition to any yard. Cirigliano Natural Stone & Masonry located in in Pittsburg can help you install the perfect fireplace for your home.  If you have any question about outdoor brick fireplaces or you need a quote, contact us.

Specializing in extensive masonry repair and rejuvenation, Cirigliano Masonry serves home and business owners throughout the Pittsburgh area. From design to build, as well as complete restoration options, rely on us for Stone Masonrypointing and repair. We also offer general masonrystone repair, and more.  

What Is Confined Masonry?

confined masonryFor instance, during one Chilean earthquake, only 16% of confined masonry houses partially collapsed, as opposed to the 57% of unreinforced brick masonry buildings. So, the following is not an exaggeration: confined masonry has the power to save lives.

Confined masonry

Fundamentally, masonry construction has remained the same for thousands of years. But historical events (and, in this case, natural disasters) have changed the course of the craft before. One of those documented game-changers was the Messina earthquake in 1908.

The Messina earthquake struck southern Italy with a magnitude of 7.1. The strength of the impact was enough to level every URM (unreinforced masonry) building across Messina and Reggio Calabria, and claim almost 200,000 lives. Basically, it called for some serious rethinking on the part of masons.

And rethink and reconsider they did. Out of that global brainstorming session came the concept of confined masonry.

What’s the big deal about this type of masonry anyway?

Before confined masonry, there were only two options for erecting low to medium-rise buildings: unreinforced brick, or a non-ductile reinforced concrete frame. Both performed abysmally in seismically active zones, in which collapse was almost an inevitability.

Confined masonry also required a reinforced concrete frame, but because of the robust construction associated with this construction type, seismic resistance became attainable.

For instance, during one Chilean earthquake, only 16% of confined masonry houses partially collapsed, as opposed to the 57% of unreinforced brick masonry buildings. So, the following is not an exaggeration: confined masonry has the power to save lives.

How is confined masonry constructed?

With a regular, infilled RC (reinforced concrete) frame, a worker pours concrete first and then lays the brick walls afterward. With confined masonry, engineers simply reverse this process. Masons erect the brick first, and then fill the supports with concrete.

The result of this method? The brick walls behave the same as concrete under lateral seismic loads, as opposed to the infill panels in a standard RC frame, which turn into compressive diagonal struts. To put this in laymen’s terms: forces work together, rather than against each other.

What are the chief benefits of confined masonry construction?

The concrete frame in confined masonry consists of two types of confining members. Vertical members are called tie-columns and are much smaller than in a typical RC frame. Horizontal members are called tie-beams. Though neither are columns or beams in the strictest sense, the name seems to have stuck due to their placement.

Here are a few advantages to this construction style:

  1. Reduces the brittleness of masonry walls under earthquake loads and thus improving seismic performance
  2. Elevates the in-plane and out-of-plane stability of thin structural walls
  3. Enhances the straight, ductility, and energy dissipation capacity of the entire structure

Why don’t more buildings use this method of construction?

Nowadays, brick-and-mortar masonry is less common. In fact, most modern buildings that feature brick are supported via timber and concrete and are structurally independent. Brick and natural stone is applied as a veneer, and so, earthquakes are less of a problem to begin with.

Even so, confined masonry is popular in South and Central America, Asia, and Eastern Europe. Well, if you want to see this style of masonry in action, it’s likely only an airplane flight away!

Specializing in extensive masonry repair and rejuvenation, Cirigliano Masonry serves home and business owners throughout the Pittsburgh area. From design to build, as well as complete restoration options, rely on us for Stone Masonrypointing and repair. We also offer general masonrystone repair, and more.  

What Efflorescence Is and What You Should Do About It

Brick efflorescence - Cirigliano Masonry

Efflorescence – a pretty word for a not-so-pretty problem. As someone invested in masonry, perhaps you’re not so keen on etymology; but here, the word’s origin actually signifies something.

The term comes from the Latin efflorescere, meaning to blossom outward. While efflorescence has little to do with flowers, the white deposits that are commonly associated with this chemical process similarly seem to spring up out of nowhere. And like unruly, front lawn grass after a bout of rain, their growth is difficult to curtail.

So, what is happening to your brick masonry exactly? Read on find out what efflorescence is, and what steps you can take to prevent it.

If you’re not familiar with masonry, efflorescence can be hard to identify.

Walking out in front of your office building, you notice a white, powdery substance lined haphazardly upon the surface of the brick wall. You think that maybe some hooligan took talcum powder or chalk and defaced the façade of your structure. So, you wash it off with a hose and stay extra vigilant the next day.

Except nobody shows up. In fact, the only thing that makes a second appearance is the fine, powdery substance.

You say to yourself: There’s no way the construction of the building is causing this! After all, the brick was only laid a year ago.

But that’s where you are mistaken. Efflorescence tends to occur about a month after the building is constructed, and in the worst-case scenario, can reveal itself up to a year later. It’s not a result of natural aging, but of compromised craftsmanship and specific building materials.

Efflorescence is a symptom of a larger problem.

So, this doesn’t occur without the following three conditions being met:

  1. Water-soluble salts must be present somewhere in the wall. Remember, this applies to every constituent part of the wall, not just the bricks themselves. Portland cement is often a key contributor to efflorescence in mortar and grout due to the presence of calcium hydroxide, according to the PCA.
  2. Moisture is key. Water allows salt to be rendered into a soluble solution, which can then act as a transporter for calcium sulfate.
  3. There must a path for these salt-based solutions to reach the surface. Porous bricks can absorb and wick water, allowing moisture to pass through via capillary action.

How do I prevent it?

Essentially, efflorescence happens because of excess moisture. Since the use of Portland cement and lime mortar is so pervasive throughout the industry (and the benefits of using it outweigh the potential downsides), avoiding the first condition is nigh impossible.

The third condition can be combated with waterproof sealants and smoother brick materials. Standard-weight CMU is less porous than lightweight CMU, regular CMU is less porous than split-face, etc. But overall, brick is a naturally porous material. You can only do so much in a climate where precipitation is common.

The most effective preventive measures related to the construction process. Compacted mortar work, as well as accouterments – overhanging eaves, copings, and flashings – will prevent water penetration and keep efflorescing salts from dissolving.

It’s a little late for prevention. What can I do moving forward?

If left unchecked, efflorescence can diminish the structural integrity of a wall. You’ll want to wash the brick using a chemical cleaning agent specifically designed for removing alkali sulfates. One such cleaner is called muriatic acid. Sandblasting is also effective but tends to damage the surface of the building material.

After cleaning the surface with acid and letting the brick dry, the wall must be sealed.

Specializing in extensive masonry repair and rejuvenation, Cirigliano Masonry serves home and business owners throughout the Pittsburgh area. From design to build, as well as complete restoration options, rely on us for Stone Masonrypointing and repair. We also offer general masonrystone repair, and more.  

What Are the Different Types of Natural Stone Masonry?

So, you’ve decided to add natural stone to your home.

Maybe you and your spouse have chosen fieldstone or granite, agreed on the exact location of your structure, and picked out complementary furnishings. But why do you find yourself getting different mockups from individual contractors and companies?

The problem is that stone masonry is a broad term. As a textbook definition, it only refers to stone units bonded together with mortar. This meaning doesn’t cover methodology, an aspect which can radically alter the appearance of a natural stone structure or façade.

Don’t worry! You won’t need years of expertise to understand the various construction styles (besides, we’ve got you covered in that department). Let’s go over the different kinds of stone masonry, so you can attain your ideal home environment.

There are two primary types of stone masonry. And many, many subtypes.

As with most subjects, a hierarchy of organization exists in stone masonry. Most of the industry’s work can generally be classified into the two following categories:

  1. Rubble Masonry – As you might’ve inferred from the title, rubble masonry uses undressed or rudimentarily dressed stones that resemble building rubble. This style was one of the earliest forms of stone masonry, and can be seen in both ancient structures and modern, rustic homes.
      • Due to the variability of natural stone’s shape, wide joints are often used to compensate for a lack of uniformity. While not necessarily as structurally sound as other forms of masonry, rubble masonry provides eye-catching texture and pastoral charm.

    Alair Minar Structure

  2. Ashlar Masonry – A more expensive form of natural stone masonry, this type requires finely dressed stones that are level with each other and mostly homogenous. These stones are then laid in cement or lime mortar, in the style of a traditional brick structure.
    • The refined shape permits thinner joints, which are subsequently applied with a uniform thickness.Ashlar masonry is more common in towering monuments, architectural buildings, arched bridges, and more. Finely dressed stones usually have right-angled edges running parallel to each other.Ashlar Wall

What are the main subtypes of rubble masonry?

  1. Random Rubble Masonry – So, this kind of rubble masonry is not random per se. In fact, stones have to be chosen with meticulous precision in order to fit together properly. The reason? They’re completely undressed (“raw” from the ground), or knocked into rough shape with a hammer. Though raw materials are cheaper as a result, the process requires more time to ensure pressure is distributed over the maximum amount of lateral area, while avoiding long vertical joints.
  2. Square Rubble Masonry – Square rubble masonry still has that rough-hewn look which all rubble masonry shares, but the face stones are squared (approximately) via hammer or chisel dressing. They can be coursed – a term referring to lining up the horizontal joints evenly throughout a structure – or uncoursed.
    • Coursed square rubble masonry is more common than uncoursed, often employed in the construction of public building, hospitals, school, markets and government institutions.
  3. Polygonal Rubble Masonry – Do you enjoy variety and complexity? Polygonal rubble masonry might be a good fit for your home or business. In this subtype, stones are hammer dressed into an irregular, multi-faceted shape with straight sides.
    • This style is most commonly associated a number of Central and South American ancient civilizations, such as the Incans and Mayans. It’s regarded as a strong, resilient building method, since it contains trace elements of the arch –  a shape known for its tensile strength.
  1. Dry Rubble Masonry – Essentially, this is random rubble masonry without mortar. It requires a sizable amount of expertise with little reward, since dry rubble walls are prone to falling over. We don’t recommend building a dry masonry structure over six meters.

What are the main subtypes of ashlar masonry?

  1. Rough Tooled Ashlar Masonry – In rough tooled ashlar masonry, the bed and sides are chisel-dressed, so as to be smooth and even. Then the face is made rough with various tools. The result is a visually-striking, coarse surface with the strength and uniformity of a brick structure or wall.
  2. Rock-faced Ashlar Masonry – Also known as quarry-faced ashlar masonry, this method is similar to rough tooling, except a chiseled strip (around 25mm wide) spans the perimeter of every stone. The rest of the face is left as it was found at the quarry.
  1. Chamfered Ashlar Masonry – Chamfering the edges of stone adds a degree of dimensionality to stone. The perimeter of the exposed face is chamfered at an angle of 45 degrees to a depth of 25mm. 
  2. Fine Tooled Ashlar Masonry – One of the more cost-prohibitive options, fine ashlar masonry necessitates each stone be cut into a uniform size and shape, mirroring a rectangular prism. This allows perfect horizontal and vertical joints with adjacent stones.
    • While it’s easily one of the most beautiful types of ashlar masonry, the style has fallen out of favor, due to its relative expense and the prevalence of artificial stone.

Specializing in extensive masonry repair and rejuvenation, Cirigliano Masonry serves home and business owners throughout the Pittsburgh area. From design to build, as well as complete restoration options, rely on us for Stone Masonrypointing and repair. We also offer general masonrystone repair, and more.  

The History of Masonry: A Brief Overview

A domed structure against a blue sky.

Masonry has been around since the early days of human civilization, making it one of the oldest skilled trades.

On the surface, that may seem like incredible job security. But before you go off to reconsider your profession of choice, think about how an artistic craft like masonry continues to find relevance in a world full of smartphones and 3D printers.

Have you come up with a guess? Well, if you chose constant reinvention, you’re in the right ballpark. As Steve Jobs once said: “If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will.” While the unpleasant imagery is a little hard to swallow, what he said is essentially applicable: masonry has lasted 6,000 years because the definition of masonry changed dramatically with each forward leap. And masons were not afraid to outdo each other every step of the way.

So, let’s go over some of those monumental steps in the history of masonry. Obviously, it’s difficult to encompass six millennia in a single blog, but we’ll settle for slightly less.

At first there was…mud. And rocks. Lots of rocks.

Art and mechanical science are often imitations of nature, and masonry was no exception. Early man observed natural caves and, realizing how rare they were, sought to emulate their impervious shelter. Thus, the earliest attempts at masonry were born.

Some of the earliest attempts by these fledgling masons have been found in Aran Islands, Ireland. They were circular stone huts, partially buried, that lacked the mortar and brick we associate with masonry construction today.

Later on, people across various geographic regions began to form bricks from pieces of caked mud. These were often sun-dried, meaning they took a long time to produce, and lacked the structural integrity of natural stone. Wet mud was utilized as a mortar to form watertight seals.

Giza Pyramids.

Then the Egyptians came around.

The Great Pyramids. The Sphinx. These amazing structures are still standing today, due to the elaborate stone craft of the ancient Egyptians. But all was not as picture perfect as most people believe: the ancient workers used a weak mortar of pure lime and sand (prone to crumbling), built their structures on weak foundations, and struggled to transport the massive blocks of limestone, sandstone, and granite.

Yet, their contributions and fine craftsmanship helped masonry become a palpable force to be reckoned with. Despite the shortcomings of their construction style, the sheer weight of the natural stone they used kept their structures upright – even as civilizations fell apart.

Roman arch.

In time, the Romans invented concrete.

We know what you might be thinking: “Who cares?” Well, concrete provided great freedom in shaping bricks and, in turn, structures.

Stone lacked a thing called tensile strength. This meant that the stone would break under its own weight when supported by piers and walls (which explains why people would, instead, lay natural stone on top of each other).

Concrete did not have this problem, and as a result, the Romans were able to build huge arched bridges and aqueducts in vast numbers.


The Middle Ages were far from middle-of-the-road.

Religion was the predominant motivator for masonic construction across the European and Islamic world. As such, builders aspired to the heavens with pointed vaults, flying buttresses, and soaring spires.

By this time, most masons had solved the problem of tensile strength by using compression. Cathedrals, mosques, and fortresses were erected in stone, eschewing the famous concrete arches of Romanesque architecture for Gothic stylings.

Michigan Central Station.

The Industrial Revolution revolutionized brick masonry.

With the advent of mechanical engineering and industrial machinery, brick and stone materials could now be transported at a rapid rate. But masonry had fallen out of fashion in the decades prior, and whole cities (such as Chicago) were assembled from wood. This later proved disastrous for them.

The invention of Portland Cement (a mixture of limestone and shale) in 1824 helped revitalize masonry construction. The new formula allowed concrete to dry in wet conditions and overcome chemical attack.

In the 1920s, the cavity wall, a dual wall of brick or concrete separated by a hollow space in the middle, saw widespread use. This pioneering technique allowed water to drain through weep holes, preventing dry rot and premature weathering.

Modern masonry preserves tradition.

Nowadays, the art of masonry is alive and well. While masonic structures have largely been supplanted for high-rise buildings of concrete, wood, and steel, many homeowners still find value in stone and brick laying.

We don’t blame them! Masonic structures continue to be preserved and cherished by community members and cultural organizations alike.

Specializing in extensive masonry repair and rejuvenation, Cirigliano Masonry serves home and business owners throughout the Pittsburgh area. From design to build, as well as complete restoration options, rely on us for brick masonrypointing and repair. We also offer general masonry, stone repair, and more.

Designing with Masonry

Whether you’ve made the decision to add a natural stone veneer to a preexisting structure, or you’re looking to build something from the ground up, masonry can give your home a classic appearance. But masonry isn’t always clear-cut – brick-and-mortar constructed from concrete or clay can evoke everything from the architectural wonder of the Colosseum, to the dour plainness of a New York City tenement building. Suffice it to say that design is just as important as the material used.

Cottage made of stone. Photo by David Castor

Make masonry an integral part of your property’s design.

Whether you’ve made the decision to add a natural stone veneer to a preexisting structure, or you’re looking to build something from the ground up, masonry can give your home a classic appearance. But masonry isn’t always clear-cut – brick-and-mortar constructed from concrete or clay can evoke everything from the architectural wonder of the Colosseum, to the dour plainness of a New York City tenement building. Suffice it to say that design is just as important as the material used.

So, how can you take advantage of the low-maintenance, fire-resistant properties of masonry while enhancing the look of your home? Read on to discover what you need to consider before throwing your hat into the ring.

I love the look of masonry…but I already have a stick-frame house.

Not a problem! Adding natural or artificial stone to your home’s exterior is a great way to raise property value while accentuating your favorite aspects of a home’s design. You’ll also get the added benefit of durability in the face of oscillation (a force that appears during an earthquake or extreme winds), which is the “Achilles heel” of masonry architecture.

Brick or stone veneers can be applied to concrete blocks, poured concrete, and other unsealed, preinstalled masonry. If you have a wood surface, you’ll need to nail double D paper to the wood to create a vapor barrier. After preparing the wall, mortar can be applied. Even if you’re an avid DIY-er, we recommend having professionals (like Cirigliano Natural Stone & Masonry) perform the installation, since masonry is more of an art than an exact science.

A few great places to apply veneers are:

  • Columns
  • Pillars
  • Front driveways
  • Below and around window panes
  • First-floor siding

How else can I incorporate masonry design into my home?

  1. Try stone walls instead of white picket fences.

 Building with natural stone means that no two stones are alike. So, if you want to break out of the cookie-cutter format of tract housing, start with a visually complex façade in the front of your home.

Natural stone walls are where rustic elegance meets modern chic. Couple them with a fountain or garden, and you’ll be stunning your neighbors in no time.

  1. Why not add a stone or brick walkway to match those walls?

Wood walkways look great and all, but with the amount of maintenance you’d go through to keep that finish and sealer intact in rain, sleet, and snow, you might as well outfit your front porch in stone. Masonry is known for standing up to inclement weather (think about how many ancient structures are still standing today), and isn’t subject to cracking like a standard, poured-concrete pathway.

First impressions count, and if there’s even the faintest possibility that you may sell your home or property one day, a stone walkway is an attention grabber. You may not judge a book by its cover, so to speak; but you can bet potential homebuyers will write-off purchasing a property just by its curbside appeal.

  1. Chimneys and fireplaces look better with mortar.

You may already have this checked off on your itinerary; for a large percentage of homes built in the latter half of the twentieth century, this is the only part of the house that features brick or stone constituents. Yet, many contemporary homes are eschewing tradition in favor of mantels and cladding of solid marble, wood, and artificial stone.

Whatever material your fireplace has currently, upgrading the buildout will give your living or dining room a little bit of that pastoral élan which older cottages have. It’s also an excellent way to accentuate the colors of your mantel and hearth.

  1. Patios and masonry go together like peas in a pod.

Entertaining guests? Or maybe you just want to spend a relaxing time outdoors with the whole family? Paver stones, made of a cement-based aggregate, can add a European sophistication to an afternoon barbeque. They’re easy to clean with a hose and make a natural gathering place for adults when children play on the grass of your backyard.

Specializing in extensive masonry repair and rejuvenation, Cirigliano Masonry serves home and business owners throughout the Pittsburgh area. From design to build, as well as complete restoration options, rely on us for brick masonrypointing and repair. We also offer general masonry, stone repair, and more.  

What is Masonry Restoration?

Learn about the value behind masonry restorative services.

It’s no secret that masonry has existed for close to 6,000 years. And while the process has become more uniform and less common, for many, the aesthetic of layered brick or stone has no equal.

Buildings constructed with brick and mortar serve as historical artifacts and markers of the past, reminding passing pedestrians and frequenters of these older buildings of America’s rich cultural history. But despite the durability of masonry construction, these structures can eventually look a little worse for wear, especially after a hundred years (or more) of constant use.

Masonry restoration is the art of bringing a masonry structure back to its original form or improving upon the original construction. A variety of different methods can be utilized to reinvigorate an older property, and they’re often used in tandem to produce a desirable appearance.

Do I Really Need to Restore the Masonry of My Building?

If your commercial or residential property is maintained well, and occasionally repointed (a fancy way of referring to the process of repairing joints with mortar or cement), then you’ll likely never need to restore your masonry.

However, many antiquated structures without reinforcing material, such as rebar or concrete, may require retrofitting – even if they appear structurally sound from the exterior. These masonry buildings are called Unreinforced Masonry Buildings, or UMBs, and they run the risk of toppling over in areas where earthquakes occur frequently.

Think you’re in the clear because you only have a brick or stone veneer on the outside of you building? Think again. Mortar may need to be repaired between bricks or units, since veneers are more prone to water damage and leaking.

The Most Common Types of Restoration Practices:

  1. Tuckpointing Can Leave a Façade with the Look of Perfection.

Tuckpointing is the act of using two contrasting colors of mortar in the joints of brickwork, one color matching the brick itself to give the appearance that fine joints have been made. Often the old mortar is routed or ground out, and replaced.

The definition of this method is often conflated with repointing (to fill in or repair joints on brickwork that are damaged, cracked or crumbled in older masonry), but make no mistake – tuckpointing is largely completed for visual symmetry. The two often go hand-in-hand during restoration however, which may explain the confusion.

Brick Wall

  1. Repointing Is the Meat-and-Potatoes of Any Restoration.

The process of repointing starts with a mechanical angle grinder, which is used to removed damaged mortar between horizontal joints. Any remainders can be scraped out with several different devices. Then they are filled in with new mortar which matches the pre-existing mortar’s type.

Maintaining functioning mortar joints in a masonry building is crucial to avoiding structural collapse under stress. But the most common reason for repointing is to prevent water penetration through de-bonded, cracked, or deteriorated mortar joints.

A brick wall will last around 100 years without needing repairs, but the mortar joints will likely hold their own for only twenty to thirty years. If they’re crumbling, cracked, or leaking, it’s probably time to get some repointing done.

Scaffolding and Brick Facade

  1. Brick Replacement Keeps Structures Sound.

This might not be an easy choice for building owners who are purists and wish to preserve a certain look or material. After all, newer brick has more compressive strength and is less permeable to moisture. Salvaged and historical bricks are available; however, they are seldom recommended because of their unknown durability.

But the proprietors of structures with eroded or damaged brick may not have an alternative. The integrity of a wall depends upon collective strength of each brick, after all.

Brick pathway with replaced bricks

  1. High-Pressure Chemical Cleaning Will Give an Old Structure that New-Building Sparkle.

Chemical cleaning employs acid-based cleaning compounds to break carbon buildup, stains, and pollutants from the surface of brick, granite, or stone masonry. Cost-effective and non-invasive, this is often a go-to for those looking to improve the aesthetics of their building on a budget.

With that said, there are a few cons to this approach. With such powerful chemicals, windows and stained glass are at risk for degradation. High-PSI pressure washing can be quite hard on finely carved stone, column fluting, and other minute details. We recommend only going this route once in a blue moon and ensuring that an effective sealant is applied afterwards.

Roof being power washed.

  1. Lintel Repair is More than Meets the Eye.

First, we’ll start by explaining what a lintel is, since it’s not an element of masonry that is typically exposed. Lintels are steel sections that are fastened above the windows and doors of a masonry structure, which act a shelf for the brick or stone above.

A few tell-tale signs that you may have lintel damage are: cracking around window panes, dropping or displacement around window arches, or bowing brickwork above doors and frames.

In older buildings, lintels were constructed of wood and tone, which made them susceptible to dry rot, fungus, and swelling. Nowadays, lintels primarily consist of steel, which are still subject to corrosion, but feature greatly improved longevity.

Ancient lintel made of stone.

Specializing in extensive masonry repair and rejuvenation, Cirigliano Masonry serves home and business owners throughout the Pittsburgh area. From design to build, as well as complete restoration options, rely on us for brick masonrypointing and repair. We also offer general masonry, stone repair, and more.  

Masonry Structures in the U.S.A.

A closer look at some significant stone structures … and the most mysterious!

Like countless other people throughout the world, early Americans recognized the value of building in stone. It was a natural choice for not only its beauty, strength and durability, but also its widespread availability as a building material.

From the historic to the strange, here are some examples of interesting masonry structures in America.

  • Pueblo communities in the southwest: The dwellings of the ancestral Puebloans rank among America’s oldest stone structures. Some of these masonry buildings were freestanding while others were constructed directly into cliffs. These adobe houses made extensive use of rock rubble and dry-stone walls as masonry materials. Many are still standing, and that’s a testament to the amazing durability of stone masonry in the construction of buildings.


Pueblo Buildings in Taos, New Mexico


  • Fieldstone structures in the northeast: In the Revolutionary Period (1775-1825) and well before it, farmers in New England came across large quantities of fieldstone when clearing their land. A plentiful resource, fieldstone soon was used to build chimneys, retaining walls and bridges, among other masonry structures.


Fieldstone Shed


  • First masonry home in New England: It wasn’t long before the practical settlers in the northeast began building larger structures of masonry. Constructed in 1639, the Henry Whitfield House in Guilford, Connecticut is the oldest stone house in New England. Featuring thick stone walls, this example of an early masonry building also served the community as a fort.


Henry Whitfield House


  • The oldest masonry fort in the continental U.S.: Construction of the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida began in 1672. It was largely completed by 1695. Possession of the fort has changed many times, with all of the transitions peaceful! These included four different governments of Spain. Ownership also extended to Great Britain, the Confederate States of America and the U.S. — which currently maintains the old masonry-built fort through the National Park Service.


Castillo de San Marcos


  • The tallest freestanding masonry structure in the world: Completed in 1884 — 101 years after Congress authorized it — the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. is an obelisk (i.e. pillar) that stands 555 feet high. Built of marble, this masonry monument is topped with solid aluminum — a rare building material at the time of its construction.


Washington Monument


  • An iconic, world-famous bridge: Linking Brooklyn and Manhattan, New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, is considered one the most complicated engineering feats in modern history. Built of limestone and granite, construction began in 1869. When the masonry structure opened 14 years later in 1883, it was the world’s largest suspension bridge … and an immediate sensation. More than 150,000 people crossed the bridge on its opening day alone!


Brooklyn Bridge


  • America’s own Stonehenge: England isn’t the only location for mysterious masonry structures. Mystery Hill is a 30-acre site of stone walls, standing stones and underground chambers in North Salem, New Hampshire. This Stonehenge-like masonry complex dates back 4,000 years. Like its stone-built counterpart in England, the monoliths are astronomically aligned. This very early example of masonry construction in America can still serve as an accurate yearly calendar!

 America's Stonehenge


Specializing in exterior natural stone additions and repairs, Cirigliano Masonry serves home and business owners throughout the Pittsburgh area. From design to build and extending to your full satisfaction, rely on us for brick masonry, pointing and repair as well as indoor and outdoor fireplaces, stone masonry, stone wall repairs and more.  

What is Masonry?

Anyone who is interested in constructing a beautiful, durable and low-maintenance home or other building should consider masonry. The term may be familiar. But what, exactly, is masonry?brick masonry

Masonry is defined as the building of structures from individual units. These units are often laid and bound together by mortar. Common materials of masonry construction include adobe, brick, cast stone, concrete block and glass block. Other masonry materials are natural stone such as granite, marble, limestone and travertine.

What determines a high-quality masonry job? Your choice in materials, to be sure. Natural stone is thought to be more attractive than brick or concrete block. Workmanship, as practiced by the mason or bricklayer, is important. Also, the pattern in which the units are assembled will affect beauty and durability.

Here are some fast facts on masonry:

  • Brick and concrete block are the most common types of masonry. They can be weight-bearing and used to hold up a roof, for example. Or, they can be a decorative veneer.
  • Masonry veneer walls are usually built from clay-based bricks. These are often installed on one or both sides of structural walls which, in turn, are made from wood or concrete blocks. In this context the bricks enhance the look of a building, and not it structural integrity.
  • Structural or weight-bearing walls are usually built from blocks of cinder concrete (i.e., cinder blocks) or ordinary concrete (i.e., concrete blocks). These masonry walls are often faced with veneered brick masonry or stucco. For factories, garages and other buildings where appearance isn’t important, block walls stand alone and are only painted.
  • Masonry walls will not burn. The use of materials such as blocks, bricks and stones can protect a building from fire.
  • Masonry surfaces are extremely hard. They resist projectiles such as debris picked up from hurricanes or tornadoes.
  • Masonry materials are heavy. Most brick, block or stone walls must be built on a strong foundation like reinforced concrete to avoid settling and cracking.

The Art of Masonry

brick masonry fireplaceA mason or bricklayer can bring artistry to any project. One with a practiced eye, for example, can put together walls, fireplaces and other structures of uncommon beauty by fitting pieces together purposefully. Different stones can be used with great effect. Bricks can be laid in any number of pleasing patterns. Then, too, arches and other structural shapes can be readily crafted with masonry.

Masonry: Another Definition

Masonry or Freemasonry is one of the world’s oldest and largest secular fraternal organizations. Its members are concerned with moral and spiritual values. While its origins have been lost to time, some believe the organization arose from the guilds of stonemasons who constructed the cathedrals and castles and of the Middle Ages.

Specializing in exterior natural stone additions and repairs, Cirigliano Masonry serves home and business owners throughout the Pittsburgh area. From design to build and extending to your full satisfaction, rely on us for brick masonry, pointing and repair as well as indoor and outdoor fireplaces, stone masonry, stone wall repairs and more.