How to Refresh the Look of Your Brick

Amber Randhawa Homeowner and Homebuyer Tips

Photo Credit: Shaylyn @shaylyn

Bricks have been used to build homes for centuries, and they remain a favorite construction material, valued for their classic look and ability to withstand the test of time. Brick is also excellent at withstanding both the high temperatures and humidity that characterize summers in Atlanta. However, just because a material is strong and long-lasting, doesn’t mean it will always look its best after years of weather and age. If your home is one or more sides brick, the appearance of your bricks will eventually begin to fade and need to be updated. Luckily you have several options available to you when it is time to update and brighten the look of your brick.

One of the most popular trends in exterior home renovation recently has been the move to repaint brick to be all white. This is a great way to bring the farmhouse look to the outside of your home, and it looks good with most architecture styles and in most neighborhoods. But don’t assume that is the only change you can make to update the look of your brick. Read on for several more ideas and options.


Stain

If the only issue you have with your bricks is that the color has faded, you may want to consider staining them to liven up their look. Brick staining has become a popular choice because it requires less upkeep than painting. To achieve this look, a stain is applied to the bricks’ surface, which is absorbed due to the somewhat porous surface of the bricks. This alters the bricks’ color like a dye. Many people love this look because with staining, the color actually combines with the brick, allowing the material to retain its natural variations in shade and tone. Unlike with brick painting, you will not be left with one flat color, but rather you will have small color differentiations with some bricks lighter while others are darker. With staining the change is permanent, but looks more natural than paint and does not require upkeep.

Paint

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Painting brick has become incredibly popular these days, especially painting any darker color of brick a bright white shade. Because bricks often have a heavy and dark appearance, painting them white can give your home an instant, uplifting makeover. If you are looking to make a drastic change to the appearance of your home, painting the bricks white may be the perfect choice for you.

White brick isn’t for everyone though, so it is important to remember that there are so many other choices out there you could consider if you are considering painting your home. Bricks can really be painted any color, but there are a few things to consider before making a decision. It is important to consider your environment and the architecture of the houses in your neighborhood, along with the surrounding landscape.

Painting does require regular maintenance though, which is why some experts do not recommend it for all homeowners with brick exteriors. If you prefer a maintenance free solution to your aging brick, painting might not be a good fit for you. After paint is applied to the brick’s surface, you may see bubbling and chipping happen over time. Also it is important to keep in mind that unlike the look you achieve with stain, paint turns the brick into a flat uniform color.


Whitewash

Whitewashing your brick delivers a similar look to that of white paint, but it is much easier if you are considering tackling the project yourself. With whitewash, a watered down version of paint is applied to the brick and then quickly rinsed away. This creates a vintage, rustic look that is perfect for houses that are more of a farmhouse style that seems to be so popular lately. Unlike paint, whitewashing leaves the brick with a somewhat less than flat finish which allows much of the brick texture to come through. Whitewashing allows for much more versatility, since you can do it as heavy or as light as you like. The process is easy to do yourself and is an economical upgrade, which is also part of its appeal.

Limewash

Limewashing is similar to whitewashing, but as you may have already guessed, lime is used instead of paint. Crushed limestone is burned and mixed with water to create a lime putty. The putty is spread across the brick surface, but penetrates into the brick before being rinsed away. Limewashing has several advantages, such as repelling mildew, which is important in our hot and humid climate. It is also eco-friendly, using no paint or harsh artificial chemicals to achieve the desired effect. Subtle variations in the color of the brick are preserved rather than painted over, which many people prefer.

German Smear

A German Smear (sometimes spelled “Schmear”) is not a type of cream cheese for your bagel, but rather it is a special technique used for freshening up the look of dated brick. The process itself is similar to whitewashing, but requires a great deal of skill, making it better suited for experts rather than those looking for a DIY option. The German Smear involves using wet mortar which is applied over the bricks, with some of it then scraped off. The result achieved has a a charming old-world feel, and rather than a uniform color, it allows the natural brick variations to shine through. Since it must ordinarily be completed by a professional, this method is more expensive than other options, but it is permanent and doesn’t require ongoing maintenance. Permanent is a key word here – because you are using mortar rather than paint, it is not easy to refinish should you change your mind later.

Perhaps Cleaning is All You Need

Photo Credit: Hayden Mills @haydmills

Old bricks tend to change color over time, often growing darker as they are covered in decades of dirt and grime. What many people don’t realize is that a good cleaning can completely transform the look of old bricks. Because they are naturally porous, things like dirt and soot can easily get trapped on them, but can almost just as easily be rinsed away. Experts recommend that homeowners give their bricks a thorough cleaning before making permanent decisions about refinishing their bricks. Pressure washing is the ideal method, because the high pressure of the water can remove not only dirt and grime, but also algae, mold and more. Many people find that once their bricks are sparkling clean, they no longer feel as compelled to paint them or otherwise alter their appearance.


Pay Attention to the Grout

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You may think it is the bricks on your home that are faded, dull and dirty, but take a closer look. Often the grout between the bricks is the actual culprit, and improving the look of the grout can change the appearance of the brick as well. Painting the grout between your bricks a darker or lighter color will alter the viewer’s perception of the brick. This is a delicate task and can be time consuming, but it is also something many people are able to do themselves, especially if they own a ranch rather than a multi-story home.


Repair Before you Refinish

Nothing you do to transform the color of your bricks will be as impressive if you do not address broken bricks first. For minor repairs, you can try to take care of matters yourself by using concrete caulking to fill in the chips and cracks. Be sure to clean the bricks thoroughly first – after a good power washing more cracks will be evident, and you want to tackle as many of the broken spots at once as possible. Even if filling in these small chips and cracks doesn’t completely overhaul your home’s look, it may be enough to delay the need to refinish the brick for a few years.

Distract with Other Upgrades

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So you have cleaned and repaired your bricks and found that they look much better, but you’d still like a different appearance for your house. Rather than changing the brick color, something that can be both expensive, labor intensive, and permanent, consider how changing other aspects of your home’s exterior could achieve the same result. The easiest way to do this is by painting your front door. Select a new color that is eye-catching, while not differing from the overall style and color palette of your home. Yellow and red are both great front door options, but the key is to choose a color that contrasts with your brick color so that it becomes the focal point of your home’s exterior. Don’t neglect your shutters as well. Paint them to match your door or in a complementary shade to draw additional attention away from faded brick.

Similarly, adding or refreshing the shrubs and greenery that line the front of your house can also alter your home’s appearance enough so that refinishing your brick may not be necessary. Azaleas and hydrangeas are both low maintenance and provide a bright pop of color that is also long lasting. Small ornamental trees can also be planted close to the house to draw the eyes away from the brick alone.