Rules for rebuilding stone wall boundaries

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Rules for rebuilding stone wall boundaries
To repair a dry-stacked stone wall, you typically have to take the whole wall down. (Paul Taylor/Lifesize/Getty Images)

If you have an old, dry or mortared stone wall boundary on your property, you can rebuild it and make it look as good as new. Stone walls, when built properly and maintained, can last for hundreds of years. Although most people think of a mortared stone wall as being stronger, in some cases, especially when water drainage is required, a dry-stacked stone wall may actually last longer.

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Find the property line

Before you touch your wall to begin removing it, find your property line. If the wall is already outside your "real" property line, you're not technically allowed to tear it down or rebuild it, since it's not on your property. Property line information and diagrams are typically kept in plat books at the Public Works Department or the County Recorder's Office. You can view them to see where your property line is. If you cannot determine your property line from the book, you may be able to dig to find the land markers, but this can become a long and tedious process and is not usually recommended. Instead, if a property line is truly in question, you'll need to hire a land surveyor to mark the official property lines again.

Check the code

In many cities, towns and states, building codes require a homeowner to follow certain rules before adding an element to the property. Many places require a permit to build or registration of a new structure with a city office. In some areas, it is also illegal to tear down an old stone wall without proper authorisation. Many states in the New England area require homeowners to obtain approval from the town or state before tearing down an old stone wall, since many old stone walls in the area are considered historic landmarks. It is often considered an illegal act if you do not obtain prior approval if such approval is required.

Clean it

Before you begin rebuilding your stone wall, clean off the old wall. Remove any plants or other objects that may obstruct the wall-removal process. Use a hose and a scrub brush or a pressure washer, depending on what kind of shape your wall is in, to get rid of any dirt and grime or other elements stuck to the sides of the wall.

Assess the damage

Once you've finished assessing the damage, you can remove the old wall. If your wall is mortared, you can typically remove only the damaged section by cutting out the area with a mortar saw or scrapping the mortar away. Although this may seem possible with a dry-stacked stone wall, dry-stacked stone walls usually need to be completely torn down and rebuilt. Because dry-stacked stone walls work much like a puzzle, removing just a few pieces can cause the entire wall to collapse or become unstable.

Remove old wall

Once you've finished assessing the damage, you can remove the old wall. If your wall is mortared, you can typically remove only the damaged section by cutting out the area with a mortar saw or scrapping the mortar away. Although this may seem possible with a dry-stacked stone wall, dry-stacked stone walls usually need to be completely torn down and rebuilt. Because dry-stacked stone walls work much like a puzzle, removing just a few pieces can cause the entire wall to collapse or become unstable.

Rebuild

If you're rebuilding the entire wall from the ground up, lay a header of sand and aggregate under your wall to level it off and help stabilise the structure. Rebuild the wall. Stack a single row of stones the length of the entire wall. Then stagger or fit the next row of stones against the first. For a mortared wall, shape and match the stones ahead of time to look like the other stones in the wall. Then, shift them into place and mortar around them.

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