On the 3rd DIY of Christmas I did for my true love to see, patching the hole in the side of our house.

This large and unsightly hole has been in the side of our house for more than a year and a half, since July 2014 to be exact. It's the remnant of the removal of our house's old main waste stack, which was abandoned many years ago and was left sitting on the side of our house. After the cast iron stack cracked during the Virginia earthquake, it was time for it to come out.

Though I had long debated how to remove it myself, Wendy really didn't like the idea of me hanging off of the roof while trying to wield large sections of cast iron pipe. So instead we hired a plumber with a few guys to take it out. After the vertical length of cast iron stack was removed from the house and the tee was broken as close to the wall as the plumber could get it, he said "I can't get the rest of this out, you're going to need to hire a mason."

My thought at the time was something along the lines of "Hey, you did the hard part so that's no problem. I can probably do this myself...I'll take care of it in the next few days."

Fast forward 16 months and this roughly 6" in diameter hole of ugly broken cast iron has been taunting Wendy and me every time we glance up at the side of our house when leaving for a walk or for work.

However, correcting this eyesore has been causing me some serious heartburn for some time. I didn't know how I'd cut the old pipe away and remove the remainder of the hub, what I'd find as I cut it away, or if it would be within my skills to actually patch it up. But I'd psyched myself out of the project for long enough, the 12 DIYs of Christmas gave me the excuse I needed to take the bull by the horns and make this correction.

After setting up the ladder I started by chiseling out some of the mortar around the hub to reveal how far into the house it reached.

As you can see, the innards of a hundred year old cast iron waste stack is not a pretty portrait. Oh my what this thing has probably seen.

The remainder of the tee only went a few inches into the brick where it connected with the next short length of pipe. Once I could see the rim of the hub I knew I'd need to break it away...but how? Well, the answer was a simple pain in the ass. I needed to force it to break.

Cast iron is a fragile and brittle metal. It will bend just a little bit before it fractures from stress, but you really need a point of weakness to start from. To accomplish this I used my hammer drill to drill out a partial small hole in the side of the hub, then I started beating on the hole with the brick hammer. After about five or six hard strikes, the hub cracked ever so slightly right in the middle of the drilled hole.

The crack was just enough for me to open it further with the hammer and chisels a little more. This allowed me to deform the hub and put enough force on it to crack a major section away.

Let me tell you something about this project, getting to this point was no easy task. It was a major victory simply to remove a portion of the hub, but I was nowhere near done. I just kept working at this stubborn hub with the hammer and chisels, trying to get it to move just enough to break it apart piece by piece.

As I was able to break away pieces of the hub I also removed the lead that had been placed in the hub connection, a typical component in making up these waste connections back when plumbing was put into our house. I set all of these pieces aside so that we can take care of them in the right way.

After smashing the crap out of this hub, sweating, swearing, and pleading with it to just break and be done, I was finally able to get the last piece free and remove this antique eyesore. 

Though this was a major victory, and I had finally removed the cast iron hub from the wall, it ultimately looked much worse before it got any better. (This is the story of my life in DIY.)

The hole was much larger than it was previously, and more importantly, it had to be fixed right away. There would be no leaving a giant hole like this in the side of our house for many more months. Luckily the weather has been absolutely perfect for a little outdoor masonry work, so I jumped to it.

I have an old pile of bricks that came with our house when we bought it, and I've used them on almost every masonry project I've worked on. I measured out the sizes of bricks I'd need in the wall and marked where I'd need to cut them. Then, using my hammer and brick chisels I broke each brick in the size and shape I'd need for the hole. When I needed an odd cut, I drilled the outline to give a fracture line for the break to follow.

This results in a cut that's not 100% perfect, but gives me what I was looking for. Had I needed a perfect cut I probably would have used my wet saw. But this was going to the back of the patch, so I only needed enough brick removed to make it work.

Once the bricks were all cut and ready to go, I mixed up a good batch of lime based mortar. This is the mortar you need to use with historic masonry applications since traditional cement based mortar is too hard for old bricks and can cause them significant damage.

Now that I've worked a fair amount with this mortar patching the hole was very straight forward. It's a process of throwing down a bunch of blobs of mortar about the consistency of crunchy peanut butter...

...Then placing the bricks to make the peanut butter mortar squeeze out and fill the whole void and using the pointing trowels to clean up the joint.

I ended up using one horizontal brick followed by two end bricks above so I wouldn't need to take out any additional bricks in the process. I also went ahead and repointed a few areas around the patch where I noticed some mortar issues.

The end result is not an absolutely perfect patch, but it's one that will disappear after we let the mortar fully cure and paint it the color of the house. I'll come back through with a wire brush later today to remove any residue from the brick's face and the patch will be complete. 

It's a HUGE relief to finally have this project done. I did notice that there's a little more repointing to do by the 2nd floor window, and the corner needs paint where the stack blocked the painter's access in the past, but the fact that there isn't a giant hole in the side of the house is one of the most comforting feelings.

So where are we in our 12 DIYs?

On the 3rd DIY of Christmas I did for my true love to see, patching the hole in the side of our house.

...A fresh coat of paint on our no longer oozing chimney... 

...And a chiming clock next to our Christmas tree.

Stay tuned to see what's next on our list for the 12 DIYs of Christmas! Think I'll be able to knock out all 12? I'm not so sure.

Comments 9


Emily R
12/15/2015 at 2:08 PM

I love doing things like this. A few years ago I took off Columbus day and did all the tiny projects around the house that had really started to add up. It was such a weight off my shoulders to have them all done!


I keep walking by the projects I've done and breathing a sigh of relief since they're done. It feels so nice.

Franki Parde
12/15/2015 at 2:21 PM

How is it that "projects begat projects..." The eternal conundrum!! Nice job!! franki


So very true!

12/15/2015 at 3:36 PM

That patch is lookin' good. Hope you can paint it before real winter sets in. And what do you think the brick arch between the two lower windows once was?


I think that arch was where an old window was bricked over, and if you look above the window in the photo to the right of the arch, you can see that it was also a patch. I think someone removed the arches when they replaced the original windows and made the window much smaller. We hope to eventually open that window back up.

12/16/2015 at 11:21 AM

The patch job looks good! Hope you can paint before the colder weather sets in. Hmm, another project to re-open a bricked window, looking forward to reading about it!

Holly Laffoon
5/19/2016 at 10:03 PM
Reading about your projects is always so interesting!
Jean-Christian Pitre
5/19/2016 at 10:03 PM
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