Expert design advice, information, and tips all about house painting, written by a professional painter and decorator.
A Guide to Painting a Brick House
Sometimes people are inclined to paint a house exterior to cover the bare brick siding. This is usually because it has become weathered or stained over time, and the expense of a brick restoration is out of the question. Painting brick is not usually advisable because this substrate is very porous and absorbent of moisture, making painting difficult. If you are set on it, there are some important things to consider.
Firstly, understand that painting brick is not reversible. You can repaint it to change the color, but you will never be able to return to the former exposed look. You should always consider if an improved appearance can be achieved instead by cleaning or power-washing, or even a sandblasting.
Some Toronto painting companies are capable of such work, and likewise, it should be offered in other cities. Moreover, you might be surprised at how the pricing compares to the alternate option of exterior painting. Some people's main concern is that there is old paint splatter on their brick house and think hiring painters to cover it up is the only solution.
If you go ahead with painting, you need to determine if your brick has a sealer on it. Some sealers are almost invisible to the eye and can be tested by spraying water on them. If water beads on the surface, then you have a sealer present. If this is the case, or you find that your brick is totally raw, surface preparation must be done to achieve a sound and clean surface.
Cleaning or power-washing is essential to remove dirt and grime, as well as removing any loose mortar and debris that may have collected in the joints or near soffits, etc. It is absolutely essential to allow unsealed brick to dry afterward for 3–4 days minimum. This allows the brick to dry out, as it can hold moisture for quite a while.
If there is any loose dust or masonry, it should be scraped with wire brushes, as you don't want any loose material getting between the paint and the substrate. Large gaps in the joints should be re-pointed or filled properly because deep holes will not get painted properly and allow moisture to penetrate the wall, leading to problems later on.
Do It Right Now for Fewer Headaches Later
If your brick was sealed, you have to consider whether it is paintable directly or needs an additional primer. You can try an adhesion test, which means painting some of the finish paint on, allowing it to cure for a few hours, and trying to rub it off. If it cannot be removed with your fingernail, then you will be fine, and you just need a high-quality vinyl-based paint.
For unsealed surfaces, you should use a masonry primer. You will find that a primer will reduce the amount of paint needed since it seals and prevents unnecessary absorption. More importantly, the primer allows for great adhesion to the brick, which can be an issue over time.
Its also very important to make sure all areas are sealed well with primer and paint because if water can get behind the paint and into the brick, such as through cracks, the moisture can cause peeling and delamination of the paint. The best deterrent to this is a high-quality masonry primer because it is designed to fight the natural chemistry of masonry products when exposed to moisture, such as the phenomenon of efflorescence.
My Toronto painting company has recently consulted a customer regarding such a problem with brick, where paint simply peeled off without effort. The area in question was located near the ground, where moisture was plentiful. The fact is that even if you follow all needed steps to painting brick, an underlying moisture problem can cause premature failure. Paint can only do so much, but preparing and priming properly are your best tools for a long-lasting paint job.
The Essential Prep Checklist
Making your brick wall look as good as possible before painting guarantees a great paint job and will allow it to last. Don't forget these essential steps:
- Repoint the brick where mortar has fallen out, worn away, or is just too deep. This can be labor intensive depending on the age and condition of a brick wall, but well worth it.
- Fill any holes from old house fixtures where bolts and screws were attached. Use the same mortar as for pointing.
- Clean mildew and dry thoroughly before painting. This is usually an issue near the ground or at areas where rain runoff accumulates.
- If your brick is fairly porous, make sure to apply a good amount of primer, two coats if necessary, so that you build up the coating, and this will provide a smoother finish.
Finally, you want to pick a finish paint that will look great while protecting your house. A premium latex exterior paint in a flat finish is great looking, or upgrade to an eggshell or satin for a little extra shine and durability.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Avery on March 13, 2019:
We had the exterior brick of our house painted 9 months ago. Now that it has been through a winter season and getting into spring with lots of rain the pint is literally peeling off in huge chunks. Our painter used primer and good quality paint. From what I’m reading in your article I do believe this is a moisture issue in the house. How would one go about resolving that? And once that is figured out how do you address the areas of the home that need repainting? Thanks in advance for any suggestions about this matter.
Catherine Leonard@me.com on September 22, 2018:
Do you have any experience with liming brick? I am considering this option as a more long-lasting solution.
Tamra McGee on February 20, 2016:
I want to paint the exterior of my home; I do not like the color of the brick. I am afraid it will need repainting within five years. I guess I need to talk to someone who has painted their home before I take on just a dutiful task. For now, when it warms up, I will get it sandblasted.
Randall Cornell on July 31, 2015:
If you're repointing or repainting ridge tiles, then it's normally worth taking the old ones off and cleaning all the old mortar off using either a brush mortar chisel depending on how stiff the old mortar is. Thanks for the brick repainting idea!