The definitive Brooklyn Dream: historic neighborhoods, friendly stoops, and multi-cultural communities, all backdropped by a patchwork of siennas, russets, and auburn homes. Brownstone has a rich history as a building material and has become an icon of New York City housing. As a non-renewable resource, it’s contemporaneous presence is either replicated or a historic remnant.
Brooklyn Brownstone was quarried from New Jersey & Connecticut as early as the 1600’s and continued into the 1940’s, when it was less favorable and the quarry was halted by a flood. At its height in 19th century Brooklyn, it was shipped via barges into the developing city, reaching a New York that was still run on carriages and lit by oil. Brownstone is a soft sandstone; easy to carve, pink when it is quarried, and fades to a chocolate brown due to it’s iron-rich makeup. Known today by homeowners and contractors for being quite crumbly, it’s initial use was controversial in the 17th century construction world, but nevertheless widespread.
From “Building Materials of Pennsylvania Volume 1”
In the mid-1990’s, small quarries started mining Portland, Connecticut stone again, but the last of these quarries closed in 2012. There are many stores of brownstone available for repairs and renovation, however, and since most brownstones are actually brick houses with stone facades, large amounts of the stone are not required for repairs. In fact, most facades have now been replaced with brown cement-based masonry, making maintenance and repair a straightforward, though labor-intensive, process of recoating a cement under-layer with a softer masonry mixture.
Renovation is easy – chisel away existing, crumbling brownstone to “sound stone”, apply a cement scratch coat, once cement is fully cured, test colors, apply final coat consisting of cement, type S lime, sand, crushed stone, and dry pigments. The best brownstone patching contains actual crushed stone, usually from the area being repaired, from which it gains more stable color and remains stronger over time. Finishing involves dry toweling with a wooden float, damp sponge for stippling & acid etching with diluted hydrofluoric acid.
Brownstones located in historic districts may need a permit and will need to file with the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. These are common applications, and with the provision of documentation of existing damage, can be approved on a staff level (as well as repairs to standstone and limestone in the same way – with a cementitious mortar mix).
Looking to start a repair project? Get in touch with us today.