Choosing Between Lime Mortar and Cement Mortar

Choosing the right type of mortar is crucial. Mortar plays a significant role in ensuring the structural integrity, durability and aesthetic appeal of a building. Two common types of mortar used extensively in construction are lime mortar and cement mortar.

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the characteristics, benefits and applications of lime mortar and cement mortar, helping you make informed decisions for your construction projects.

Choosing Between Lime Mortar and Cement Mortar image

Lime Mortar

Definition and Composition

Lime mortar is a traditional building material that has been used for centuries. It is made by mixing lime, water and aggregate (usually sand) in varying proportions. Lime, derived from limestone, is the primary binding agent in this mortar. The aggregate provides strength and stability.

Types of Lime Mortar

  • Fat Lime Mortar: Contains a high percentage of lime and is used for historic restoration projects.
  • Hydraulic Lime Mortar: Contains a small amount of impurities and has the ability to set in the presence of moisture.
  • Composite Lime Mortar: A blend of lime, hydraulic lime and cement, offering improved strength and durability.

Benefits of Lime Mortar

  • Flexibility and Breathability: Lime mortar has a unique ability to expand and contract, making it suitable for older or historic buildings that experience movement. It also allows moisture to evaporate, preventing issues like trapped moisture and efflorescence.
  • Self-Healing Properties: Over time, lime mortar can repair itself by filling small cracks and gaps, contributing to the longevity of the structure.
  • Aesthetics: Lime mortar provides a natural, soft appearance, enhancing the visual appeal of historical or traditional buildings.
  • Environmental Sustainability: Lime mortar is an eco-friendly option, as lime production has a lower carbon footprint compared to cement production.

Applications of Lime Mortar

  • Restoration and Conservation: Lime mortar is ideal for repairing or repointing historic masonry structures, ensuring compatibility with the original construction materials.
  • Natural Building: Lime mortar is often used in natural building techniques, such as straw bale construction or cob construction.
  • Sustainable Construction: Lime mortar can be employed in eco-friendly construction projects due to its low embodied energy and compatibility with natural and recycled materials.

Cement Mortar

Definition and Composition

Cement mortar is a modern building material widely used in contemporary construction practices. It consists of cement, water and sand, with cement being the primary binding agent. The sand acts as the aggregate, providing strength and stability to the mortar mix.

Types of Cement Mortar

  • Ordinary Portland Cement (OPC) Mortar: The most commonly used type of cement mortar, made from ordinary¬†Portland cement¬†and sand.
  • Blended Cement Mortar: Combines Portland cement with other materials such as fly ash or slag, enhancing the strength and durability of the mortar.
  • Polymer-Modified Cement Mortar: Contains polymers, which improve adhesion, flexibility and water resistance.

Benefits of Cement Mortar

  • High Strength and Durability: Cement mortar provides excellent compressive strength and is suitable for load-bearing structures and heavy construction.
  • Quick Setting and Curing: Cement mortar typically sets and hardens faster than lime mortar, allowing for quicker construction progress.
  • Versatility: Cement mortar can be used in a wide range of applications, including brickwork, blockwork and concrete structures.
  • Water Resistance: With proper curing and admixtures, cement mortar can provide good resistance against water penetration.

Applications of Cement Mortar

  • General Construction: Cement mortar is commonly used for bricklaying, plastering and rendering in modern buildings.
  • Reinforced Concrete: Cement mortar is used in the construction of reinforced concrete structures, providing a strong bond between the reinforcement and the concrete.
  • Flooring: Cement mortar serves as a base for laying tiles or other flooring materials.

Choosing the Right Mortar

Factors to Consider

  • Building Type and Age: Lime mortar is often the preferred choice for historic or traditional structures, while cement mortar is suitable for modern constructions.
  • Environmental Conditions: Consider the climate, exposure to moisture and thermal movements of the building.
  • Structural Requirements: Assess the load-bearing capacity, the type of masonry units and the expected stresses on the structure.
  • Aesthetics: Determine the desired visual appearance and texture of the mortar joints.

Compatibility and Testing

To ensure the compatibility of mortar with the existing or proposed construction materials, conducting mortar analysis and testing is crucial. Consult with experts or undertake laboratory tests to assess the performance of the mortar under specific conditions.


In summary, both lime mortar and cement mortar have their distinct advantages and applications in construction. Lime mortar offers flexibility, breathability and compatibility with historic structures, while cement mortar provides high strength, durability and versatility. Understanding the characteristics and requirements of your construction project will help you make an informed choice between lime mortar and cement mortar, ultimately ensuring a successful and long-lasting building.

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