I hired a contractor to perform repointing on my old house and opted to pay them by the hour. I chose this company is because they know how to make the proper softer mortar for antique Chicago bricks.

Over the course of the 3-day job (to do about ~75' long x ~2' high worth of ground-level mortar), the workers had been standing around for about 1/3 of the time at $95/hr x 2, including when they returned to do the cleaning.

When I spoke with the manager, he told me that this is normal, that they have to wait for mortar and cleaning solutions to be ready.

Can anyone corroborate or contradict what amount of downtime is reasonable?

  • Why the close vote? Quoting directly from the "contractors" tag: "For questions relating to the subject of general contractors for home construction, including soliciting or making bids, working with or under a general contractor, handling payment, and warranty considerations." – glenviewjeff May 9 '17 at 15:19
  • It's a legal or contractual question, really. In essence you're asking whether they violated your contract. If you didn't have a guaranteed maximum cost or other estimation basis, you're probably out of luck. – isherwood May 9 '17 at 16:28
  • Not at all a legal question, I'm not asking about my rights but about the process of reporting; if there really is a lot of dead time waiting for materials like mortar and cleaning solutions to be cured, ready, etc. I8 – glenviewjeff May 9 '17 at 16:31
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    That, of course, depends wholly on the efficiency of a crew. A crew I managed would be set up to be more efficient, as it probably would if you managed it. There's nothing in the process that requires standing around, if that's really the question. – isherwood May 9 '17 at 16:33
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    Yes that's exactly the question. You don't have to wait for mortar to be ready to use after mixing? What about for it to dry? Do cleaning solutions require special prep before use that requires waiting? – glenviewjeff May 9 '17 at 16:35

After mortar is mixed it has to 'slake' in the bucket. Slake time is generally 5 to 10 minutes. If you had more than one person working I don't see why they all would be standing around - it only takes one guy to mix the mortar and the rest of the crew can be prepping the wall (removing old mortar, cleaning out the debris from the joints, and wetting the joints so the new mortar doesn't dry too fast) while one is mixing the mortar.

Once the mortar is applied, you'd clean up as much of the mortar that accidentally was spread onto the brick's surface as you could using a damp sponge. You would also shape the joints. The mortar needs to set a bit before you start on this step. One, so it can hold a shape, and two because sponging the mortar before it sets a bit can pull mortar out of the joint. Setting up a little takes time but you can use that time to start prepping the next section of wall.

After cleaning there will still be a haze around the joints. This can be cleaned up, but the mortar needs to set for a bit, otherwise over-spray from the cleaners can make it crumbly. But I wouldn't expect people to sit around waiting for mortar to dry - I'd expect them to tuck point the wall and then return the next day or after a couple of days on another job to clean up any haze around the joints. I wouldn't expect much downtime here either, as I'd work my way down the wall, and by the time I finished the place I started should be softened up enough where I could scrub off the haze.

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