Small Project Practitioners

Topic: Painting Brick 

1.  Painting Brick

Posted 05-13-2013 10:04
This message has been cross posted to the following Discussion Forums: Small Project Practitioners and Custom Residential Architects Network .
Greetings all,

Does anyone working in a cold climate have details and/or a spec for a new brick building wall with a painted finish? The Brick Institute says don't do it. Masons say the paint won't stay on. I am designing a new house in a historic neighborhood in Portland, Maine. There are several painted brick houses around (one owner stripped the paint from their rowhouse and the historic board made them re-paint) so it's an appropriate response. We love the idea of a nice clean white-painted brick wall. The material speaks to the neighborhood and will help the modern elements fit.

But - I don't want to be dumb.

Opinions pro and con welcome. Thank you!

Carol De Tine AIA
Carriage House Studio Architects, LLC
Portland ME

2.  RE:Painting Brick

Posted 05-14-2013 17:37

Your client will forever curse you or thank you depending on which way you go.  I have a client that I designed a beautiful building with integrally colored split faced block.  He chose to take the contractor's offer to save money using a variety of colored split faced remnant blocks and paint them.  Six years later and a $100,000 expense to repaint the building, he said I was right.  The building has been painted two more times since then.

Robert Collins AIA
VP Real Estate Services
Wise Way Foods
Merrillville IN

3.  RE:Painting Brick

Posted 05-14-2013 17:46
Try looking for a slurried brick. They have a painted/whitewashed look.

Rudolph Beuc AIA
R. Beuc Architects
Saint Louis MO

4.  RE:Painting Brick

Posted 05-14-2013 17:58
You don't want a painted finish - you want a breathable masonry coating. There are vapor permeable coatings out there that are opaque and suitable for cold climates. One option is BASF who makes a line called Thorocoat, a breathable acrylic coating, we have used on previous projects. Their website includes a sample specification as a starting point.  One of the major issues is quality control to make sure the proper film thickness is applied.

Alice Schuler AIA
Kuklinski+Rappe Architects
Chicago IL

5.  RE:Painting Brick

Posted 05-14-2013 18:16
Suggest you discuss this with a manufacturer's rep. from one of the major paint companies such as Benjamin Moore.

Robert Larsen AIA
Robert R. Larsen, A.I.A.
Denver CO

6.  RE:Painting Brick

Posted 05-14-2013 18:41

Nelson B. Nave AIA
Nelson Breech Nave, AIA Architect
Kalamazoo MI
Many times we have had warehouse type brick buildings that had their brick painted before...we stripped it or removed the loose paint, and painted the brick again.  We washed the wall with TSP and warm water and a natural bristle brush. Next, totally rinse the surface, and let it dry completely.  The brick should be dry by several hot sunny days.  Then, paint two good coats of Latex (which is breathable).  We used a color to look like brick from a distance.   It will come off eventually, but if you prep well it will stay many years.  The color will fade in the sun.

7.  RE:Painting Brick

Posted 05-14-2013 21:56
Painting brick will trap moisture in the material.  This is probably not as much of a problem for solid masonry walls as it is for cavity walls.  I see lots of older buildings with painted brick, but seldom for new.  Having the back side exposed in a cavity allows moisture to enter part of the brick.  There is always a moisture differential through the material.  When both faces are exposed to air, the absorption can moderate.  It affects expansion/contraction mostly: the painted side always lagging behind the unpainted.  Along with freezing-thaw cycling, there is greater stress on the membrane strength of the rainscreen that could produce cracking and mortar separation sooner.  If you have to paint, maybe use concrete brick or be very careful with paint selection.  I think there are some paints for concrete structures allowing moisture to move through the coating.  Can you get by with white brick?  You will save the owner a maintenance headache.  If you decide to paint, consider adequate time for mortar curing and adequately dry weather conditions.  Work with the brick and paint manufacturers to see what they recommend for the condition.

Roger Retzlaff AIA
Green Bay WI

8.  RE:Painting Brick

Posted 05-15-2013 22:40

Unfortunately the Brick Institute and masons are right.  Particularly as we seal things up and mechanically heat and air condition buildings, the vapor drive will push the paint off the brick and/or trap moisture in the face of the brick thereby destroying the surface quickly through freeze/thaw cycles.  Let it breath!

Christiaan Semmelink AIA
Christiaan Semmelink AIA LEED AP
Salem MA

9.  RE:Painting Brick

Posted 05-17-2013 07:58
Can you use white brick? Painting brick seems like it's asking for trouble since the brick face will no longer be able to dry from the exterior & moisture from the cavity will be trying to come out on that face.

Dennis McNeal AIA
Autodesk, Inc.
Manchester NH

10.  RE:Painting Brick

Posted 05-20-2013 17:43
Perhaps the manufactured "used brick" bricks, which have a coating fired onto them, could be used.  Talk to your local brickyards / brick manufacturers.  Over on this coast, such bricks are sold for residential use (for those who .... well, I won't question their aesthetic sensibilities on this forum) and come in a range of "used" colors.  You could probably get a run of all-white.  Not as shiny as a glazed unit, but similar durability.

Joel Niemi AIA
Snohomish WA


11.  RE:Painting Brick

Posted 05-20-2013 17:46

Try consulting the major paint manufacturers. They will all have a primer / paint combo spec for painting exterior masonry. I find Sherwin-Williams most helpful if you have a technical question, but the other major manufacturers  have good technical support as well. Also, you probably have a smaller regional manufacturer of commercial and technical coatings that has a tested system. The key to all of them will be a breathable primer and finish  that allows moisture to  pass through the paint coating from the masonry to the atmosphere, and proper substrate preparation and dryness.
J. Gary AIA
Brian Gary Architecture
Vashon WA

12.  RE:Painting Brick

Posted 05-17-2013 12:09
How about using a gray colored brick and a gray colored mortar to get that monolithic look without painting the brick?

Lynn Anderson AIA
Anderson Architecture, PLLC
Southern Pines NC

13.  RE:Painting Brick

Posted 05-20-2013 17:31
You should use a lime or silicate coating. Visit

Frank Riepe AIA
Building Arts
Sudbury MA