Revealing the Pros and Cons of Exposed Brick and How to Take Care of It

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By Kate Reggev / Published by Dwell
For centuries, bricks have been the literal and figurative building blocks of communities across the globe.

The first fired bricks appeared sometime around 5,000 B.C., and they've remained one of the longest-lasting, strongest, and most aesthetically-pleasing materials around.

And since the development of brick, it's been covered with marble or other stone, layered with plaster and lath, coated with whitewash, and most recently in interior renovations of existing buildings, revealed and left exposed. 

Revealing the Pros and Cons of Exposed Brick and How to Take Care of It - Photo 1 of 9 - Brick—both fired and earth-baked versions—developed thousands of years ago across the globe.

Brick—both fired and earth-baked versions—developed thousands of years ago across the globe.

Exposed brick brings a sense of warmth, character, and texture to a space. It also speaks to the history of a building, of the hand that carefully laid down each brick, and of a craft that's quickly becoming less and less common.

Revealing the Pros and Cons of Exposed Brick and How to Take Care of It - Photo 2 of 9 - Painted brick provides a textured backdrop for artwork, while still revealing historic features, like a brick fireplace.

Painted brick provides a textured backdrop for artwork, while still revealing historic features, like a brick fireplace.

At the same time, however, renovation experts often bemoan the removal of old plaster to expose brick, citing the myriad of moisture and deterioration issues that can arise—and they're not wrong. 

Revealing the Pros and Cons of Exposed Brick and How to Take Care of It - Photo 3 of 9 - Exposed brick adds a feeling of gravitas and history to a space.

Exposed brick adds a feeling of gravitas and history to a space.

Most existing brick buildings, unless they were constructed for manufacturing or other industrial uses, would have covered their brick surfaces with plaster and lath to create a smooth, seamless wall. In fact, these interior wythes, or layers, of brick were usually not of high enough quality to produce a presentable, dry, and solid finish.

Revealing the Pros and Cons of Exposed Brick and How to Take Care of It - Photo 4 of 9 - If you feel like the bricks inside your apartment don't look as nice as the ones on the outside of your building, you're probably right. Interior wythes of brick were typically of a lower quality than exterior face brick.

If you feel like the bricks inside your apartment don't look as nice as the ones on the outside of your building, you're probably right. Interior wythes of brick were typically of a lower quality than exterior face brick.

So, how do you appease both the renovation expert and your heart's desire for the warmth and character of exposed brick? A few simple, but necessary steps should be taken.

Revealing the Pros and Cons of Exposed Brick and How to Take Care of It - Photo 5 of 9 -  Fun fact: the interior layer of brick was often where masons-in-training learned their craft.

 Fun fact: the interior layer of brick was often where masons-in-training learned their craft.

1. Remember that brick is porous, and therefore susceptible to temperature and moisture fluctuations. 

As a result of these variations, brick (and the mortar in-between bricks), can become brittle or begin to crumble, so you'll want to stick to mild water and soap solutions if you're doing any cleaning. Avoid cleansers that contain anything acidic, and only use a power washer if you're confident you won't lose half your wall! Using a stiff, bristled brush on your wall isn't a bad idea either.

Revealing the Pros and Cons of Exposed Brick and How to Take Care of It - Photo 6 of 9 - An original brick wall in a former industrial space in Brooklyn is whitewashed for a sense of softness.

An original brick wall in a former industrial space in Brooklyn is whitewashed for a sense of softness.

2. Brick's moisture-absorbing qualities also mean that you'll want to find a way to keep the moisture on the outside rather than the inside of your home. 

The best way to do this is to apply a sealant or penetrant to the interior face of the brick, making sure it gets absorbed into the mortar as well as the face of the bricks. Most sealants come in either a matte or glossy finish, so you can choose the final appearance you're looking for.

Revealing the Pros and Cons of Exposed Brick and How to Take Care of It - Photo 7 of 9 - Original masonry walls were constructed with several vertical layers—or wythes—of brick. The interior wythe was usually of a lower quality brick and craftsmanship.

Original masonry walls were constructed with several vertical layers—or wythes—of brick. The interior wythe was usually of a lower quality brick and craftsmanship.

3. Finally, if you want the texture of an exposed brick wall, but the brightness and freshness of a white wall (or really any other color), painting brick is always an option. 

Of course, as we now know, brick is porous, so after cleaning the brick, you'll want to start with a generous layer of primer that should be applied with a thick roller. Add a few coats of acrylic-based paint, and you'll find yourself with a solid, moisture-protected, charming exposed brick wall.

Revealing the Pros and Cons of Exposed Brick and How to Take Care of It - Photo 8 of 9 - Whitewashing or painting brick can act as a sealant against potential moisture infiltration.

Whitewashing or painting brick can act as a sealant against potential moisture infiltration.

If we missed any necessary tips to know when working with exposed brick, let us know in the comments!

Revealing the Pros and Cons of Exposed Brick and How to Take Care of It - Photo 9 of 9 - Even when painted with an even coat of white paint, the texture of an exposed brick wall still comes through.

Even when painted with an even coat of white paint, the texture of an exposed brick wall still comes through.

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