For literally centuries, natural, exposed interior brick has added charm to homes and businesses around the world. Because brick is made from soil-based clay, it has a natural patina and texture that is warm, comforting and impossible to replicate. However, long-term exposure to unattended water leaks can make a brick wall or fireplace appear damaged – whether it is or not.
In such a case, some consideration must be given to making cosmetic changes to the natural brick color. This might even entail using the last resort for serious brick aficionados - changing the color of the brick! The subject of painting brick is so fraught with interior design controversy that the venerable New York Times felt a responsibility to weigh in on the topic.
According to noted interior design writer, Michelle Higgins, "The kind of brick that came with my house in upstate New York was more akin to what you might see in a 1980s pizza chain than the coveted exposed brick found in so many prewar buildings in the city. Years of unattended leaks had left water stains across the top half of my brick fireplace, and below the mantel, it was a garish fire-engine red. So, when it was time to repaint the living room, I decided to give the fireplace a makeover, too."
To paint or not to paint? That is the question.
Carefully Consider the Options
Interior designers and the craftspeople they employ have discovered several other options besides painting water-stained brick. They should be considered before getting out the rollers and drop cloth. As Don Wood of Acme Brick in Alabama notes, “Climate is a very important consideration when considering painting brick. In the Southeast, we have lots of rain and this translates to high humidity, year-round. Any paint should have a ‘Severe Weather’ (SW) rating.”
If painting is the only option, it is important to remember that the type of paint for interior and exterior walls is different. This makes consulting with a paint expert extremely important.
Brush and Varnish It
Wood suggested a simple solution that requires some "elbow grease."
"I have seen many water-stained brick walls brought back to life and color vibrancy by using a wire brush to clean off the dirt, dust and superficial stains," he said. "However, this technique is not for wimps. It is serious work! Using a product such as PROSOCO’s Sure Klean 600 or another appropriate product from PROSOCO to clean the surface will also yield good results. After the surface of the brick is thoroughly scraped, two or three coats of matte varnish should be applied. High gloss varnish should never be used in this process because a shiny surface is visually incongruent with the rough texture of brick."
Sometimes it is necessary to take a lesson from the classics of literature on home repair. Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer made a tidy profit by convincing other kids to take a turn at whitewashing his fence. While this "pitch" will likely not work with today's children, this process can work on those stained interior brick walls.
Emily Harris, who is a decorative artist in Cummings, Georgia, was quoted in the NYT article as using a light mortar wash and a variety of brushes, trowels and putty knives to "transform unbecoming brick walls and fireplaces into something more weathered, textured and aesthetically pleasing."
Camouflage It with Artwork
Never underestimate the power of oversized artwork to cover imperfections! The natural color and random texture of brick makes an excellent background for all types of visual artwork – from black and white photographs to oil-on-canvas paintings. When they are placed strategically, the brick can become a "gallery" wall.
One designer suggested a novel way to display artwork over a brick wall. By installing custom iron rods and hanging the artwork from these rods, the art can be moved and switched out from time to time.
If All Else Fails...Paint It!
"For dyed-in-the-clay brick lovers, painting is absolutely the final option," said Wood. "And as with anything, there is a right way and a wrong way to do this. It is very important to hire, or at the very least consult with, a painting professional."
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5 Tips to Successfully Paint Brick
Rick Watson, the director of product development at Sherwin-Williams, was featured in a recent article from realtor.com. He offered some professional tips on painting outdoor brick. Since there are different products for indoor painting, Acme Brick suggests checking with PROSOCO for a complete range of masonry cleaners and protective treatments.
Tip #1 Not All Brick Should be Painted
Watson recommends against painting new, porous brick. Instead, he advises homeowners to wait for at least a year to pass after construction so that the brick can weather. He adds that "this will also allow for leaching, a process in which alkali (mortar) and efflorescence (the white powder you sometimes spot on brick) have time to leach out of the brick before painting."
He also noted that while the outside of a fireplace can be painted, it is typically not recommended that the brick inside a masonry fireplace is painted, "as there is no guarantee the finish will withstand contact with open flames from a fire."
Tip #2 Old Paint Should Be Removed
The painting experts featured in this article strongly suggest that if there is any old paint on the brick, it should be removed as a first step. Plus, if there is any masonry damage, it should be "repointed" - removed and replaced with new mortar. This will also help to improve the water-tightness of the wall.
Tip #3 Clean the Surface
According to these professionals, the next step in the process is to use a vacuum or a damp cloth to remove any dirt, cobwebs, mildew and efflorescence. Next, use cleanser, water and a stiff brush to scrub the brick.
If working with a large area, such as the exterior of a house, it is recommended to use a pressure washer to clean away all the dirt and debris. Wait at least 24 hours for the brick to completely dry before moving to the next steps.
Tip #4 Apply Masonry Sealer and Primer
Brick and cement are porous and absorb water. Therefore, before painting, a layer or two of masonry sealer should be applied. A roller can be used for this task, and it will typically take from four to 12 hours for the surface to dry.
"Once the sealer is dry," Watson notes, "Use a masonry primer to cover the entire area, readying the surface for the coat of paint. It may take more than just one coat to truly cover the brick."
Tip #5 Use the Correct Paint
As these experts note, it is very important to use masonry paint for outdoor brick projects. "It's designed to provide extra protection from cracking, peeling, and blistering. It is also mildew resistant, providing a coating to prevent mold and surface stains."
Finally, the denouement of this artistic endeavor involves the actual painting. "Using a thick-nap roller, apply masonry paint to the surface of your brick. Missed spots and areas around doors and windows can be filled in with your angled brush. You may need several coats for complete coverage."
Keeping It Natural and Beautiful
These tips can help homeowners spruce up superficial stains on brick walls. However, whenever possible, keeping the original appearance of nature’s luxurious patina found in brick is always preferable.
Are you thinking of building a new home? Consider the advantages of brick construction with your architect or builder, and contact us for more information on Acme Brick.