A brick exterior for a home, chimney or wall can be beautiful but will require regular maintenance to keep it looking its best. Brick is renowned for its durability, and industry organization The Brick Industry stated brick has a 100-year life span. While it's true that brick can last for generations, that type of staying power is possible only with a bit of extra effort. Now that winter is finally fading, inspect your home's brickwork for any flaws and correct them before they become a more lasting issue. Here are tips on how best to maintain your home's brick elements:

Start with a visual inspection

A thorough visual inspection, like one administered during a home inspection, is the first step toward comprehensive brick maintenance. You will want to examine the brick surfaces around your home carefully and look for any gaps or other surface damage. Clearly, cracks in the bricks themselves are an issue, but they generally do not form unless the issue is severe. What you want to be most aware of is efflorescence. This is a white powder that forms on the surface of bricks. It can sometimes resemble whiskers. 

The efflorescent deposits are actually made of salt. They occur when salt dissolves into water that seeps into the bricks themselves. When this water eventually evaporates, the salt remains behind as a white dust. Efflorescence can ruin the appearance of a brick surface and indicates that the bricks are porous and allow some water to pass through. If bricks are holding water during a freeze, the water will expand inside the bricks, which can cause serious damage. If you see widespread efflorescence, contact a professional immediately.

Check the mortar

While you inspect the bricks, take time to check the mortar that sits between the individual bricks. This material is less durable than the bricks and more susceptible to the stresses imposed by the repeated freezes and thaws that take place throughout the year. Because mortar stabilizes the bricks in the wall, issues with this part of the surface can have major implications. It's possible for bricks to become unseated, which introduces the risk that they will fall out of place. Mortar can be repaired, but severe damage may require a bricklayer to replace an entire section of brick. Catch mortar issues early to keep the structure intact. 

Look for leaks

If your home has brick walls, the exterior brick surface is the most important place to inspect, but you also want to check for signs of a leak inside the house. Sometimes, hairline cracks in the bricks or mortar allow small amounts of water to enter a home's walls. Even a tiny bit of water can lead to mold and structural issues, so take note of any leak warning signs.

Get rid of plants

Many people enjoy the appearance of an ivy-covered brick wall, and climbing plants can safely integrate into your brick surfaces. If you see other plants growing out of the bricks or mortar, however, get them removed immediately. Climbing plants do not push roots into the brick surface, but many other types of plant will worm their way into every nook and cranny. Over time, these roots will expand and slowly pry the mortar apart from the surrounding bricks. 

This issue gets much worse if you leave it untreated because the holes created by plant roots offer a great entry point for water. Even a small amount of water inside a brick wall during a freeze will create lasting damage, so be proactive about pulling out plants.