Think Twice Before Painting Historic Bricks (or Don’t Do it At All)

Painted and unpainted bricks on King Street. Photo courtesy Leah Bancheri.

By Leah Bancheri, ABC

Alexandria, VA – Have you noticed the latest trend in the suburbs? Drive around and you’ll see houses with freshly painted bright white brick facades. While it may seem like a harmless upgrade, there’s a catch—this trend may cause serious problems for your home over time.

Bricks are trusty building blocks made of clay and sand. They are typically held together with lime mortar. Thanks to their natural materiality, bricks are porous and need to breathe. Not only does this make them great insulators and fire retardants, but they are also practically maintenance free.

At first glance, painting a brick wall might seem like an easy way to spruce things up without much hassle. But it’s the complete opposite. When you paint over bricks, especially historic ones, you prevent them from expanding and contracting properly. This traps moisture, the ultimate enemy of historic structures. Painting bricks suffocates them, leading to degradation over time. Cracks and crumbles start showing up, letting water seep into your home. And once this process starts, removing the paint and restoring bricks to their original condition becomes impossible.

But there’s a smarter way! Instead of painting, consider a professional brick stain. These stains get absorbed into the porous brick, making them stronger. The best part? Stains won’t peel and need little to no upkeep. But be careful, don’t use a stain on bricks that have already been sealed, painted, or damaged.

Keep in mind that a Certificate of Appropriateness is required for painting previously unpainted masonry for all homes located within the historic districts. All repointing or repair must also be reviewed and approved by staff.

So, if you’re eyeing that paintbrush for your historic house, think twice—the damage is no small matter. Choosing the right path now will save you future headaches and keep your home looking great for years to come!

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