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Home Maintenance

Refreshing brick facades inside and outside

There are lots of reasons to get excited about brick facades, whether they’re on the interior or exterior of your home. Weather resistant, fire retardant and durable, most insurance companies offer discounts to brick home owners.

But your brick may need a little TLC for a variety of reasons: age, improper mortaring, or no longer in sync with your home’s design or decor if you have an addition or a new garage door. Here are a few suggestions that will help you decide how you can go about refreshing brick faces inside and outside.

Painted brick house ideas – exterior

Not all bricks and bricklayers are created equal. Depending on your home’s age, their natural color may not be particularly pleasing to you or even work well with the rest of your home’s exterior. If your house includes more than one building material (siding, stucco or wood for some areas, brick for others), there may be a lot going on in terms of both color and texture.

Painting exterior brick poses some additional challenges besides the equipment needed to reach the roof. It’s probably best to outsource this work to an expert, who can make any necessary repairs to your bricks and mortar before you begin.

While bricks can easily last 100 years or more, the mortar that holds them together rarely does. Loose or crumbling mortar can be fixed by repointing, digging out the mortar and replacing it with either more mortar or lime-based putty. It’s a time consuming, messy chore, but it’s essential to ensure water doesn’t get in or threaten the house’s structural integrity. If your brick home is historic, color matching the existing mortar may be an issue. Hiring a mason means you may also be able to find an exact match for crumbling or wind-damaged brick from salvage yards. Another good reason to hire an expert for this part of your exterior reno: mortar can only “set” when it’s between 40 and 90°F. Doing it yourself may cause more problems than it solves.

If you’ve decided to paint your brick exterior, make sure you don’t live in a high moisture area. Bricks are naturally porous and absorb ground moisture that can’t escape when painted over. If that’s your situation, consider whitewashing the bricks instead. By diluting latex paint with 50 percent water you’ll avoid trapping moisture that can’t escape.

There are also new brick staining products available that can deal with their unevenly porous nature. Silicate mineral stains bond with brick and penetrate their pores while still letting the brick breathe.

Painting alternatives: Stucco and the German smear

While it may be even more work than painting your home, if you really hate the bricks you’ve inherited, you can stucco over them. Before you consider this alternative, though, test the area to see how porous your bricks are. Spray the wall with water. If it’s quickly absorbed, the stucco should bond easily with the brick. If it doesn’t, or if your bricks have already been painted, wash the surface with soap and water and test again. If that doesn’t work, you’ll need to apply a specially designed bonding agent to ensure the stucco will stick.

In terms of both color and texture, stucco is available in a wide variety of colors that are mixed into the finish coat. You can also dramatically change the texture of a stucco exterior by choosing a finish coat that incorporates rocks, pebbles, or glass chips.

The German smear is another alternative to painting exterior brick. By applying wet mortar unevenly to brickwork, you’ll instantly give your home a centuries-old (although faux) exterior. It mimics the look of stone and creates a rough, rustic texture. The best news about the German smear is that it’s inexpensive and doesn’t take a lot of skill. While traditional northern German cottages treated this way were red brick with white mortar, experiment with different mortar colors to find the one that will work best with your shade of brick.

Interior brickwork

You can use all the same techniques on interior brickwork with a lot fewer mortar and water absorption issues than exterior brick. While some homes have gorgeous exposed brick walls, for the most part, interior brickwork is confined to areas around the fireplace. Depending on whether your fireplace is functional or not, you may want to paint it white if you want it to pop and match your room’s trim. If you don’t want to feature a non-functional brick fireplace though, consider painting it the same color as your walls to make it recede. If your fireplace has already been painted and you want to show it off, think about touching it up with the same color but reframe it with a new mantel in a different color and a more modern design.