Thursday, January 29, 2015

Total Masonry Maintenance (small business report)

Total Masonry Maintenance (of Eaton Rapids, 517-819-6813) is a business in the volatile construction industry.

James O'Conner started Total Masonry Maintenance in 2000 after working as a union bricklayer for many years.  The primary reason he went into business was to have more control over his life.  Unless a construction worker is willing to move around the country they are likely to find themselves without work for substantial parts of the year.

Mr O'Conner figured that he had the hustle to drum up enough business to keep himself busy and he could add workers during the busiest times.

There was much business in the 2000-to-2007 time frame and then residential construction fell off a cliff with the credit lockup and the start of the last recession.  That was a scary time.

The recession

His work in the 2008-2009 time frame came through contacts and referrals.  He freely credits God for that work because it came from places he was not looking.

A huge chunk of work came from building and refurbishing apartments. 

The typical path of a family losing their house had them living with other family for a few months but then moving into an apartment.  Furthermore, the stress of bankruptcy caused some marriages to fail.  In that case eviction from a home meant that two apartments were needed.

In many cases, the families moving into apartments had expectations of windows that were not drafty and stairs and walkways that were in pristine repair.  Lower rent apartments found they could compete for these tenants with these modest upgrades.

2010-to-the present

As the economy became slightly more normal, Total Masonry Maintenance was doing more and more restoration work.  Fortunately, Total Masonry Maintenance had an excellent reputation and work found him via word-of-mouth recommendations.

1880-to-1928 was the golden age of masonry buildings in the mid-West.  The original owners of these buildings were creating monuments that were intended to last centuries.
Not every building from this time period was a monument.  Replacing a crumbling rubble-and-mortar foundation with block.
All work gets the same attention to detail, whether it is a monument or a simple front walk.

Another category of work was updating houses that had been built between 1965-and-1985.  Much of this work involved fireplaces.

Yes, they sweep chimneys.
Updating a fireplace to more contemporary facing materials.

Fireplaces require maintenance on a periodic basis.  The chimneys need to be cleaned and inspected on a regular basis. The fires cause thermal cycling that can tear up the fire brick.  In the winter, warmer, humid air from the house interior will move up the chimney and the condensate will rust out the damper.  Unless the chimney has a cap or a flue damper, rain will fall down the chimney and also cause rust.

One of the cool things they can do is bevel or tip the chimney cap to bias waterflow.  They can also extend the form so the cap projects beyond the brickwork like the eve of a house.  Rain runoff will not run down the bricks and make watermarks or cause uneven weathering.
There are many styles of flue dampers available.  They keep out the rain, wildlife and stop drafts.

Total Masonry Maintenance (517-819-6813) can perform all of the fireplace maintenance.  They can install ash doors, flue dampers in addition to all of the masonry parts of the business.

They can do plain or they can do fancy.

Green construction

Bricks are recycled.

Total Masonry Maintenance built this stand-alone pedestrian warmer next to City Hall.  There is a natural gas burner inside the warmer.  The pedestrian warmer used bricks recycled from Eaton Rapids City pavement.

Metropolitan block was founded in 1902.  Their peak year of production was 1923 when they shipped 92 million pavers.  Pavers are exceptionally durable bricks.  They are very dense so they absorb almost no moisture.  They almost ring like metal when you bang two of them together.  Incidentally, a good mason can tell you much about your bricks after they handle them a bit.

There are some historic neighborhoods and business districts where it is imperative that every building be picture-book perfect.  Unfortunately, those buildings are just a likely to be damaged by snow plows, delivery trucks, falling trees and lightening as any other building.

This is concrete rather than a brick.  The left and top were exposed to the weather.  Leached area is grayer than right bottom portion.
The problem is that weathering changes more than the color of the brick.  It changes how the light penetrates the brick and reflects.  That means you cannot just match the color and have the repair look "right".

One way to solve this problem is to harvest some brick from a less visible area like the back of a garage or from where landscaping will hide newer brick.  Then to make the repair larger than the damaged area and mix the harvested brick in with the native brick.  It is a lot of labor but there are some circumstances where it is warranted.

So give James a call at 517-819-6813 if you have a masonry job you want quoted.  One of the beautiful things about smart phones is you can snap some pictures and send James a text.  Then he can tell you if he is interested in the work or he can recommend some reputable masons for your consideration.

Previous small business report
Next small business report


  1. That looks like some excellent work! Too bad I don't have a brick place OR live up there!

  2. That looks like some excellent work! Too bad I don't have a brick place OR live up there!

  3. This is a good common sense blog. I am very glad to read this.
    Herbal Incense

  4. Easily, the publish is really the greatest on this laudable topic. I concur with your conclusions and will thirstily look forward to your future updates. Saying thanks will not just be sufficient, for the fantastic lucidity in your writing. I will instantly grab your rss feed to stay privy of any updates. Solid work and much success in your business enterprise!
    Herbal Incense