By: Stacey Freed
The best paint for brick? No paint at all (in most cases). Here’s why.
Brick, brick, brick. All the homes in your neighborhood are brick. You’re itching to paint over that red-orange-brown color palette so your home’s personality can shine through.
Although painting brick is doable — and sometimes even necessary (more on that later) — it’s not an easy DIY paint project, and it can be a huge risk to your biggest financial asset.
In other words: Tread carefully, homeowner. Although painted brick might be aesthetically pleasing today, it could be a big, fat regret in just a few years.
Here are five reasons you shouldn’t paint brick (plus a few exceptions when it’s OK):
#1 You'll Probably Destroy the Brick:
Brick “breathes.” Unless it can’t. Trapped moisture is the main issue in the relationship between brick and paint. “Once you put a membrane [like paint] over the brick, it can no longer breathe,” says Mike Palmer, a masonry contractor and president of the upstate New York chapter of Mason Contractors Association of America.
Brick is the ultimate “coat” for your home, protecting it from all the elements while letting it breathe, too. Much like your beloved four-legged family member, your home’s “brick coat” adjusts as needed to protect your home from rain, sleet, snow, heat, etc. (but without all the shedding, ha!).
Putting paint on it is like encasing it in plastic. It’ll breathe no more.
#2 It Can Cause Serious Structural Damage:
If you paint the exterior brick and there’s moisture trapped in it, “once you go through a freeze-and-thaw cycle, [the brick can] degrade as moisture freezes inside it,” Palmer says.
When exterior brick erodes — and if the mortar between the brick erodes — your home’s structural integrity is at risk.
#3 It Can Look Really Bad, Really Fast:
As the bricks begin to degrade, the paint starts to peel and flake away — making your house look neglected and nasty. That’s bad news. Really bad news. That means the damage mentioned above is well under way — and it’s showing up on your home’s face.
#4 You Might Be Destroying a Bit of History:
How old is your home’s brick? If your brick is considered historic, painting it could be considered a sin against history.
If you have an older home with decorative features, such as dog-toothing, you might have brick that should be preserved in its natural state.
“Old brick was handmade in a kiln, and some … has a harder surface. It weathers better, and was used on the face of buildings because it’s more impervious,” says architect Ashley Wilson with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Since today’s bricks are machine-made, these handmade varieties are worth preserving. Paint will only destroy their historic value, and if done incorrectly could result in structural damage to your home.
#5 You Can't Easily Go Back to Unpainted:
The time and money it takes (plus the risk to the brick’s integrity) to remove existing paint makes it a very challenging task. Power-washing or sandblasting can damage the brick, so it all has to be painstakingly stripped away using chemicals.
Technically, this is a chore you could do yourself, but do you really want to get to know every square inch of your entirehouse’s exterior? Even if it’s a little one?
As comedian Steven Wright used to joke, “It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it.”
4 Exceptions That Make It OK to Paint Brick:
#1 If It’s Already Been Painted
Most painted brick needs regular repainting, and compared to removing the old paint, it’s typically the lesser evil. Just be sure to use the right paint.
The right paint to use for exterior brick: Use a mineral-based paint or a silicate paint that’s designed to be breathable, and is recommended for brick, such as the brand KEIM.
Should you DIY it?The long and short of it is this: There is so much critical, tedious prep work required, like cleaning and repairing damage, you’re better off having it done by a professional. According to Homewyse, the average cost for a professional to paint your brick home is $1.70 to $3.27 per square foot. That adds up fast.
#2 If the Brick is Severely Damaged
Let’s say you’ve got an older home and the “the grout between the brick is old, and may have turned to sand,” says Chris Landis, partner/owner of Landis Architects/Builders, who sits on the board of Washington, D.C.’s, Historic Preservation Review Board. Painting could be the solution.
Sure, you could have the brick repointed (replacing/adding new mortar), but that can be costly — as much as $25 a square foot — depending on where you live and the degree of damage. (Cha-ching!)
If you try fixing it yourself, “You’ll likely get cement all over the brick, which is really messy. The best thing to do in that case is to actually paint it,” Landis says. Dried cement all over your brick isn’t a good look.
#3 If the Brick Was Meant to Be Painted
There’s a slim chance your home might have an old type of brick that actually needs to be painted to protect it. A few rules of thumb to help determine if that’s the case with your home’s brick:
It was built before 1870.
The brick was handmade, not machine-made.
It has traces of paint that looks faded or whitewashed.
The home lacks ornamental brick decoration.
The paint, however, for these bricks isn’t your typical latex paint. The paint must be all-natural, such as milk paint or lime-based whitewash. Modern paints will only damage the brick, potentially causing structural damage.
Because these bricks are more delicate, homes using them are less likely to have ornate brick architectural features such as dog-toothing. If you see features like those, then you have the more durable handmade bricks, which should never be painted.
#4 If the Brick is Inside
Indoor brick isn’t subject to harsh outdoor elements. If you were to paint your fireplace surround, for example, Palmer says you won’t have the issues of moisture and humidity. So have fun with it!