When it comes to cleaning every construction type has its own specific needs. Careful attention must be taken when dealing with porous stone. N.C.R. only uses the gentlest means of cleaning that is approved by The Association for Gravestone Studies.
When it comes to painting, there are different options available. With this being said, there are a few questions that should be considered. What is the substrate of the paint/ coating and what is expected from the finish? Back in the day, lime-wash was the material of choice. A hard, breathable and sometimes colorful finish is achieved from using lime-wash. However, the longevity of the finish is a downside. During the twentieth century, new more modern paints came onto the scene. Most of these paints were made with synthetic resins. Latex is an example of one. Unfortunately, these paints offered new problems that typically would not be discovered until damage occurred. The most significant problem is that these paints offered a non-permeable finish, the opposite of a traditional lime-wash.
In order to achieve a long lasting durable finish that is moisture permeable, N.C.R. uses a mineral based paint specifically formulated for historic masonry. Once applied, the tomb will have a breathable, highly durable and mildew resistant finish that provides a 20-30 year lifetime (depending on the environment the tomb is exposed to, this lifespan may be longer or shorter.)
For modern concrete and composite tombs, N.C.R. uses an industrial/ commercial coating. This masonry coating provides a new surface to cracked and fractured concrete. The finish has an average thickness of around 20 mils per coat and contains aggregates. These aggregates suspended in the coating provide a durable, hard-wearing, mildew resistant surface. The coating becomes permanently attached into the concrete/ cement once applied. In order for this to occur, the concrete substrate must be prepared specifically for this material. Year after year, this coating has continued to prove it can handle the climate in South Louisiana.
One of the most common problems facing many local tombs is the deterioration of the bricks and mortar used during original construction. The majority of older tombs were constructed from local brick. These bricks were made using the clay found near either the river or lake. The "red" river bricks are soft whereas the north shore "tan" bricks are harder. When local bricks were used they were covered with a stucco skin. Over time this skin would develop cracks and subsequently moisture would reach the bricks/ mortar and the structure would slowly deteriorate. In order to help protect the tomb, any cracks would be fixed and the surface would be painted with a breathable lime based "wash". Portland cement was not used until the turn of the century. Stucco was instead made in part with lime. Many tomb repairs during the second half of the twentieth century consisted of placing a skin coat of Portland Cement based stucco over the original lime-based material. This has presented problems over time, due to the modern cement having different qualities than the original materials. In order to help prevent the tomb from further decay, cracks and any areas of lost stucco need to be repaired as soon as possible. As well as any bricks and adjoining mortar that has deteriorated.
Another problem faced by many graves is when a headstone/ closure tablet falls from its position. This often results in the marble or granite cracking and separating into several pieces. It is usually then left lying on the ground or leaning against the tomb. These markers can and should be fixed.
By using an appropriate adhesive system, we can repair the item close to its original condition before the damage occurred. The adhesive used must be capable of adapting to the changes in climate. Natural swelling and shrinkage of the stone will depend on its thickness and placement. The adhesive is formulated for stone work and will allow for this. Furthermore, the correct system of repair/ reattachment is necessary in order to protect the item from further damage. Blind pinning with carbon fiber rods is the method N.C.R. uses. By placing rods of appropriate size and length into the headstone/ monument in addition to using an appropriate adhesive formulated for natural stone, the broken segments may be rejoined.
I have spent the last 9 years working with various adhesive systems. It is something that I take pride in, and I personally find it rewarding being able to place a once broken marker back onto a grave.
For those tombs constructed of concrete, we offer a repair service. Concrete tombs come in several types. The most often being “coping tombs” which are four sided graves with borders raised only a few feet above the ground. Earth is then filled inside followed by marble stones or concrete poured on top. Sometimes the concrete placed on top begins to crack. When this occurs, the tomb will begin to "wash out." As time passes the concrete loses the support of the soil beneath, until it eventually caves in. In order to prevent this, it is important to take a pro-active approach to cracks and fractures. With proper repair you can assure the grave will remain preserved.
The movement or shifting of above ground tombs is a common problem found within local cemeteries. The extent of a tombs movement depends on the soil and how much the ground settles over a period of time. Additionally, tombs that have been subject to vibrations, whether from construction or road traffic often develop problems. These factors can differ drastically within the same cemetery.
Occasionally in order to correct these issues the tomb may need to be carefully lifted or lowered. For this to be achieved, the grave must be structurally supported at all times. Once this is done the foundation of the tomb is shored and back-filled with a material meeting the requirements needed for that particular grave. There are instances where someone may be interred below another grave. If this is the case, the least intrusive methods of leveling should be considered. Nola Cemetery Renewal works in part with a knowledgeable structural designer to perform this work. N.C.R is experienced in the surveying and planning needed, as well as the actual lifting and leveling of the grave or tomb.
Historic tombs built of marble and granite were initially constructed with a lime-based grout or thin mortar between the slabs/ blocks that formed the structure. Over time this grout would crack and in some cases, fall out. Maintenance to these historic tombs often resulted in the use of materials that would have been common when the tomb was being serviced.
Older tombs that originally had grouted joints, should in most cases, be repaired with a similar material. The benefit of a lime-based grout/ mortar is that the joint allows for vapor transmission. Over time this helps prevent moisture from getting trapped inside the structure.
The overwhelming majority of modern tombs (1940's-Present) are constructed from granite or formed and sometimes precast concrete. These tombs are built off-site and are delivered to the cemetery in pieces. Since the late sixties, artificial stone tombs have been popular in most area cemeteries. These tombs are constructed of several "panels" and have a rendering of quartz or in some cases pebbles for the exterior surface.
In addition to modern tombs, mausoleums built since the late 1930's have utilized the same construction techniques. Older mausoleums often contained marble facades that were anchored around the individual vaults.
No different than historic marble and granite tombs these structures have joints that were set in a bedding material. The only change is that caulking/ sealant was and is still used on newer tombs. Unlike grout, caulking is originally inserted into joints as a flexible filler. Many different caulks have been used since the late 1940's. Latex, acrylic, asbestos, lead, silicone, polysulfide, polyurethane and now hybrid sealants may be found throughout cemeteries. The older the tomb then the more likely the caulk is in need of replacement. Tombs constructed in the late 1960's-70's are all in need of re-caulking. The sealant used during that time has now hardened and turned brittle. Caulking formulations have changed over time and as a result, we now have sealants that will remain permanently flexible.
Before new-caulk can be inserted into a joint it is critical that the faces of the seam are properly cleaned. In some cases the removal of the old caulking is the most problematic. Sealant that has cracked is usually found only attached to one side of the joint. This material must be cut away and any remaining caulk must be scraped from the surface.
The best way to determine if your families tomb is in need of servicing, is to inspect the seams for missing or deteriorated caulking. The biggest indicator that the structure needs to be re-caulked, is if water is found seeping out joints or from under the closure tablet. If this is the case, algae will begin to grow in these areas and will make it easily detectable.
Tomb - Headstone Cleaning
When it comes to cleaning a tomb or headstone every construction type has its own specific needs. Careful attention must be taken when dealing with natural stone. NOLA Cemetery Renewal uses the gentlest means of cleaning that is approved by The Association for Gravestone Studies.
Although marble and granite are both natural stone, their characteristics are quite different. Marble should never be pressure washed as this could and will leave irreversible damage. Due to its porous nature it will appear weathered faster than granite. Air pollutants and environmental conditions play a large role in how stone obtains organic material on its surface. Unlike marble, granite may be pressure washed if done so correctly. Bleach and most household chemicals should never be used on natural stone, or any monument other than those constructed from concrete. Bleach has been identified to cause marble to sugar and granulate over a period of time.
NOLA Cemetery Renewal uses biological cleaning solutions formulated for natural stone. Unlike harsh chemicals these solutions are close to being ph-neutral and offer a safe means to restoring you loved ones monument.
Marble/ Granite Tomb Repair
For over a century and a half, local tombs have been built in part or entirely with marble. Imported Italian marble in addition to domestic creole marble can be seen in almost every cemetery within New Orleans. Some historic tombs were built using marble slabs/ blocks or instead constructed of brick and mortar that was sheathed with stone panels. Early sarcophagus style tombs are a great example of this. Marble due to its softness made it an excellent choice for sculpting and ornamentation work. Furthermore, the majority of tombs in our historic cemeteries have closure tablets made from relatively thin marble slabs.
Although many marble closure tablets are no longer legible and deterioration can be seen on many older marble tombs, marble has proven to be able to survive in or climate, for some time. With that being said, incorrect cleaning procedures and harsh environmental conditions can drastically affect this soft and porous stone. Because it is easily worked with, marble may be repaired when broken or otherwise damaged. Specific stone sealant and adhesive systems allow for the reconstruction of marble structures. Additionally, historic lime based materials also have there place in the preservation of marble tombs.
Granite could be found in New Orleans cemeteries since at least the early 1850's. Compared to today when most tombs are built from granite, few tombs at the time were entirely constructed from this stone. Similar to older stone tombs, granite slabs or blocks form the roof, walls and sometimes foundation of the structure. Although heavier and less porous, granite is not immune from damage. Foundation settling and chemical cleaning quite often impact granite tombs. Fortunately, like marble, reconstruction/ repair is made possible with the appropriate materials.
NOLA Cemetery Renewal offers free condition surveys and damage/ repair assessments. In the event that a structure is critically damaged or impending destruction, a qualified structural designer will inspect the monument and an analysis report may be made.
Whether a tomb is fully salvageable or not, a 3D model will be created in addition to CAD drawings. Sections of a monument that may need replacing (for example stone moldings or ornamental details) can be documented through the use of photogrammetry.
Some tombs that saw previous failures may be rebuilt with proper structural support without the need of modifying the aesthetics of the monument. Our structural designer has over 40 years’ experience in the industrial and commercial industry and can provide the necessary expertise required to see any tomb repair / re-construction project through.
Custom Concrete Castings
Throughout all New Orleans cemeteries you will find stone crosses, vases, urns and statuary. Whether it is in a Catholic, private or municipal cemetery, crosses may be found on top of the majority of tombs in our area. Over the past two centuries many crosses have become victim to theft, vandalism and even our weather. Hurricane's that have plagued the gulf have left many items added to tombs broken or severely damaged. In most cases, crosses, urns and statuary are left in pieces only to vanish over time.
Historically, marble would have been the material that these items were crafted from. Many funerary pieces were added to the top of tombs, either on the front roof structure or the parapet. Crosses for example were usually sculpted from a single block of marble. A copper or bronze pin would have usually been inserted into the bottom of the piece once it was crafted. This pin was then inserted into a hole in the roof or parapet, in order to anchor the item. Most pins were no greater than 1/4" in width and commonly sheared off when exposed to stress (high winds, impact damage, someones weight.)
Once these items fell from where they stood, they often fractured into several pieces. If found and collected, these pieces can be reassembled and the item repaired. However, this usually does not occur. New marble sculpting's are high in cost and an exact replacement is typically extremely difficult to obtain especially for older hand carved pieces.
NOLA Cemetery Renewal offers concrete castings that can replace stone items that have been lost. Although concrete castings are not 100% authentic to the original item, they are a fraction of the price of marble or granite. Custom molds can be made to accommodate the item you would like (cross, urn, vase etc.) In addition to this, inscriptions (names, dates) may be added.
Photo Scan Models
On historic tombs that require a detailed condition assessment we can use the latest technology in photogrammetric scanning. With this process a three dimensional model of the tomb may be developed. By collecting hundreds of digital photos and in some cases with the use of a drone, a tomb or monument can be thoroughly documented. This process is especially important for historically significant and fine detailed structures.
The creation of a 3D model enables us to carefully measure existing features of a monument so that they can be repaired or recreated to exacting standards. When restoration is complete another scan can be created to document the repairs and the new current state of the structure.
For tombs and monuments photorealistic renderings can be a helpful tool during the process of a restoration or renovation. Computer generated renderings can display what repairs could be made or any proposed alterations to the structures current state. For non-historical tomb renovations, this process gives tomb owners the ability to pick and choose options based on the renderings they are shown.
Custom Urn Vaults
Custom reinforced concrete urn vaults
Our urn vaults are designed and constructed off site. Once built they may be seamlessly integrated onto an existing coping. The success of incorporating a vault where it is not obstructive and is formed to the specific structure is paramount. In doing so the urn vaults will blend in with the original construction instead of appearing as an afterthought. Depending on the space available each vault may contain multiple urns.
Each vault is custom built using reinforced crack resistant cement (option of marble or granite sides over the exterior of each vault is available) Once delivered to the plot the vaults are drilled and permanently anchored onto the existing structure. Marble or granite tablet/ doors are installed over the vault openings allowing for inscriptions to be engraved. Additionally each set of vaults come with matching locks and keys which secure the stone tablet in place.