Q. Kids drove by and destroyed my mailbox with a bat. I always have liked the appearance of a lighted brick mailbox. What are some of the design basics to build a strong brick mailbox?
A. Your problem is not uncommon. Driving through nice neighborhoods, you often see a mailbox that has been smashed the night before. Building a decorative brick surround for your mailbox certainly will solve the problem. If kids attempt to hit it with a bat while driving by, they will be in for quite a jarring experience.
Adding a small light to your mailbox to accent the street address is a great convenience and not difficult to do. The lighted numbers will come in handy for the pizza delivery person or the life squad if you ever have to call 911. Install a switch for it, instead of just an electric eye, so you can turn it off when you go to bed. That will save electricity.
The first step is to remove your old mailbox. Its post may be set in concrete below the ground. If so, don't just saw off the post. You must dig out the concrete and remove it. Your new brick mailbox will be heavy and will need a strong footer base of its own. Check your local codes for the proper design of the footer.
You will have to run an electric wire to the mailbox to light it. There is special electrical cable designed for use outdoors and underground. If you are running the wire from an existing outdoor light nearby, consider running it through conduit, and always follow local electrical codes. Another easy-to-install option is a solar-powered light, which requires no wiring.
The basic design of a brick mailbox uses a concrete block core with a decorative brick veneer. Leave an opening in the side facing the street large enough to slip in a standard mailbox. If you are very handy with tools, you can install a door over the opening and not use a standard mailbox.
The next step is to install the electric wiring in the ground. Leave plenty of extra length at the mailbox to run through it. You can cut off any excess later. When the project is done, switch off the electric power at the circuit breaker box, and attach the wire to the house power source.
Dig the hole for the footer, and fill it with concrete. Make sure the top is level. Most codes require the footer to be at least 8 inches thick; the frost line will determine its depth. Once the footer is set, mark the locations of standard concrete blocks on it. Run the wire through them. Use pre-mixed mortar and lay the first course of blocks on the footer.
Place the bricks and mortar around the first course of blocks. Insert metal ties between the courses of concrete blocks. These will tie the outer brick veneer to the concrete blocks.
When you get near the height you want, make the final top course with bricks only. Install several bricks without mortar so you can pull them out later. Slip the mailbox into this opening.
Tools and materials required: wheelbarrow, shovel, measuring tape, level, bricks, concrete blocks, concrete, pre-mixed mortar mix, electrical wiring, plastic mailbox.