We asked the following experts for advice: Annie Elliott, owner of Annie Elliott Design in Washington, D.C.; Luke Olson, a senior associate with GTM Architects in Bethesda, Md.; and Lindsay Reishman, founding partner of Pareto and the Reishman Group. They replied by email, and their responses were edited.
How do you determine if it’s a good idea to paint the brick on your home’s exterior?
Elliott: Painting your brick home is entirely your decision. However, it’s pretty irreversible. Removing paint from wooden trim is a time-consuming task, but it’s possible. Once you paint brick, though, you’re stuck.
Olson: The first thing to keep in mind when considering painting your brick is that it is very likely a permanent change. Once it is painted, it will always be painted and there is no going back. You can try to remove it with chemicals, but you likely won’t be able to get it all off and you also risk damaging your brick.
The second is that painted brick does require more maintenance in that you will need to periodically scrape and repaint to keep it looking fresh, likely every three to five years. This also depends on the condition of your brick. Some older brick isn’t really meant to be painted. You also need to make sure you are using an exterior paint rated for use on masonry and that you paint it at the right time. It needs to be several days after the last rainstorm so the brick has some time to dry out completely and you don’t trap moisture in your brick, which will lead to peeling paint and has the potential for other more serious issues.
This is less of a concern if your house is constructed with brick veneer over wood frame with proper weep holes, waterproofing and an air gap between the brick and the wood wall to provide drainage for any moisture that makes its way into the walls. Older homes that are constructed with true masonry walls (multi-wythe brick, brick and block, etc.) don’t have this feature. These walls are designed to act as a moisture reservoir that allows the water to disperse over the entire surface area of the masonry wall and dry back out. While painting the brick will provide an effective water barrier to prevent any more water from getting in, any moisture that is left in the wall after painting or makes its way in at a later date is essentially trapped and will have nowhere to go but into the house.
A better option is to use a brick stain that provides a similar look but is still breathable to allow any moisture that makes its way into the wall to escape. Romabio is one company that offers this sort of stain. Another option would be a lime wash, also referred to as a whitewash, which provides a more rustic, old-world look. A third option we’ve seen a lot of interest in recently is a German schmear, which is a technique where you smear mortar mixed with cement over the brick to white it out. This can be done lightly to provide more of a whitewashed look or can be used in combination with a stained brick to provide a more consistent look similar to painted brick.
Is there a rule of thumb when to paint brick? Does it depend on the style of the home?
Elliott: There is no rule of thumb as to whether you “should” paint a brick exterior. I think that traditional colonial houses, especially if they’re historic, look amazing in natural brick. If you want your home to look fresh or playful — you should go for it. No pressure but remember that the personality of a homeowner really comes through with the choice of paint color; you can hide behind natural brick.
Do you need to paint the brick fireplace in the house, which matches the exterior, the same new color?
Olson: No, you don’t need to paint the interior and the exterior brick the same color. Like any other material, you treat the brick to provide a consistent look based on the surrounding context.
Typically, we look at painting the exterior brick when we are planning to add onto a house and want to provide a consistent look from the existing house to the addition, especially when the addition will utilize a different material like painted lap siding or when we can’t find an exact match to the existing brick, although we can often resolve this by staining the brick.
Does a painted brick exterior have better resale value?
Olson: The benefit of painting the brick is that you now have the ability to change the color palette of your house to match your design style. Before painting, I’d recommend looking in your neighborhood to see if there are other similar painted brick houses. If it is a pretty common feature, it likely won’t hurt your resale value. More important, you’ll be able to see how the painted brick holds up in your climate. You should also check with a mason to confirm your brick is in a suitable condition to paint and if you should repoint it beforehand. You want your brick to be in optimal shape beforehand, as any issues will only become harder to address after you paint.
Reishman: We often debate this same topic. Painting brick adds maintenance costs in the long term, so it is inefficient in that regard, and when there’s already a lot of diversity in look and color of home exteriors within a block, it’s less impactful. But when there’s a lot of red brick, paint can really help your house stand out and we have seen a positive impact when painting in those scenarios.
While the value may increase because of curb appeal, painting brick can cause issues. Paint can trap moisture and damage the brick in the long-term. It also can appear dirty and need to be power-washed, unlike unpainted brick. I often think it’s a good idea when prepping to sell, but not necessarily as a long-term investment.