|Construction - General Contractor Information|
This topic has been coming up a lot lately in the Landmarks office and at our monthly meetings. So much so that it deserves to be addressed on a more public level in our newsletter. Painting unpainted brick is both unnecessary and detrimental to the architectural integrity of historic buildings. (There are a few exceptions when it is justified and they are noted below.) Given this, both Landmarks Commissioners and Staff frequently find themselves asking people, "Why paint your brick?!"
- ~ In Historic Conservation Districts (Central Gardens, Evergreen, Lea's Woods and Rozelle-Annesdale) this is not a type of work that requires review and approval by Landmarks but we strongly recommend against it and urge property owners to reconsider it if they contact us.
- ~ In Historic Preservation Districts (Annes dale Park, Annesdale-Snowden, Cotton Row, Gayoso-Peabody, Glenview, Maxwelton, South Main and Victorian Village), the painting of unpainted masonry is a type of work that does require review and approval by Landmarks.
Painting unpainted masonry (except in certain unusual situations) is not recommended for historic properties. Brick and stone are generally not meant to be painted. Unlike wood, they are building materials that are made to withstand the elements. In addition, the color of the brick or stone is intrinsic to the natural material itself and was chosen for that building as part of its original design.
The most common and the most problematic trend are for people to paint their brick houses. Painting natural stone is not recommended or historically correct either but it is an easier problem to solve later. Due to both the seriousness and the prevalence of the problem of painting historic brick, we're going to focus just on brick.
Before you decide you want to paint your brick house, there is something important you should consider. Whether or not you are particularly concerned about the historic and architectural integrity of your property, there is another factor that tends to make someone stand up and notice: it costs you money! It will cost you money now to have the painting done or even to buy the paint (if you are a "do-it-yourselfer").
It will also set up a maintenance situation where you will have to paint and repaint like you would a wood house. So it will cost you money now, and then later, and then over and over again. You might want to reconsider starting something that will negatively affect your pocketbook in the future, ad infinitum, for the life of the
REASONS WHY SHOULD YOU NOT PAINT HISTORIC BRICK:
1) It is an unnecessary treatment for the material and not needed for purposes of maintenance and longevity.
2) It changes the original character of the historic building and compromises its architectural integrity.
3) It creates an expensive maintenance issue (for the need to keep repainting) which never existed before.
4) It can damage both the brick cladding (i.e., the exterior) and potentially cause interior damage if moisture
is trapped in the bricks and cannot "breathe" as the material normally would in its natural state.
5) It is difficult (and expensive!) to remove and can become a permanent change.
Due to the difficulty of removing paint without harming the materials themselves, this makes it almost a permanent change. This in itself goes against one of the Secretary of the Interior's Standards* primary tenets about being able to "undo" work and restore the structure to its original state.
"Okay, so if it is so bad, why do people paint unpainted historic brick?"
Very few people intentionally try to harm their own property so the answers lie in well-intentioned but misguided attempts to improve their property. (Hopefully this article will serve to enlighten property owners on this topic.)
REASONS WHY PEOPLE MIGHT THINK THEY WANT TO PAINT BRICK ON THEIR HISTORIC BUILDING:
- "Freshen up" the look of a house
- An attempt to "gussy it up" for sale
- Dislike the color of the brick
- Erroneous attempt to "solve" deteriorating mortar (when property repointing** is what is required)
"You said that there are some exceptions to the rule about not painting historic brick?"
Yes, there are some cases where it is justified and the best approach
ACCEPTABLE REASONS TO PAINT HISTORIC BRICK:
- It was already painted long ago (so repainting it will do less damage than trying to remove the paint)
- A previous poorly executed repair job resulted in an area of grossly mismatched bricks
- A past change to the property where a door or windows were removed and the space was filled with obviously mismatched brick (and often poor mortar work) leaving visual footprints, if you will, in the shapes of the former features.
- Someone has sand-blasted them or otherwise tried to "clean" them of dirt and/or paint and the exterior finish has been destroyed. What happens next is that the brick itself starts to erode - the soft interior will essentially "wash away" and you end up having concave looking bricks. So, if a previous owner has damaged the historic bricks you will need to fix it the best way you can to protect them from eroding and also from letting water seep into your structure.
Painting can be a solution in these unfortunate scenarios but this still must be handled in an appropriate manner so that it does truly help the problem. One important thing is to not paint if the bricks are holding moisture. This will
further weaken the brick (because they won't be able to dry out if covered with a coating of paint) and it will trap moisture inside the walls leading to future structural problems.
"Uh oh, I just started painting my brick house. Is it too late?"
No. If it has been done relatively recently, from a few days to a few months, use a brush, water and mild detergent. Add elbow grease.
What if I want to undertake paint removalfrom a previous owner? Is it possible?
Yes, but you have to be very careful. If the bricks have been painted, think carefully about removal and do so only after careful research about your method of choice and do test patches. Test patches are necessary to judge how well it works, what it does to your brick, the condition of your brick underneath and how much work you are in for.
The rule of thumb is to always "use the gentlest means possible". Many methods cause more harm than good and will result in long term problems. Remember, never, never, never ever sandblast bricks!
There are possible methods such as low pressure washing and "chemical peels". There are many things to consider and pros and cons of the various methods available. When dealing with water, even low pressure washing, you have to be careful that the water does not seep in and cause damage inside. With chemical peels, you apply a gel or paste to the wall that is backed with fabric. In simplest terms, the paint dissolves and when you peel back the fabric strips, the paint comes off with it. There are different brands on the market and more bio-friendly and less toxic variations have been developed recently. When dealing with chemicals and paint pre-1970 (which contained lead) you must always also consider personal safety and the issue of environmentally hazardous materials and use
proper disposal methods. Also, repointing** the mortar joints on your brick will be needed after paint removal and there are special methods to follow when repointing historic bricks. Using standard modem mortar will destroy your brick wall and all your hard work so carefully plan out all stages of your-project if you undertake such a task.
Since there are a various options and products available and each case should be studied individually as to the best method, we recommend that you do some homework about your particular situation. There are resources online and we recommend that you start here:
The National Park Service Preservation Brief NO.6, "The Dangers of Abrasive Cleaning to Historic Buildings"
Masonry: How to Care for Old and Historic Brick and Stone by Mark London (1988, part of the Respectful Rehabilitation series)
Sometime people are interested in cleaning the brick (of dirt or soot) on their buildings and/or are thinking about the possibility of applying a waterproof coating. If so, this is an excellent resource:
The National Park Service Preservation Brief No. 1, "Assessing Cleaning and Water-Repellant Treatments for
Historic Masonry Buildings." http://www.nps.gov/history/hps/tps/briefs/brief01.htm
Modern brick used in modern construction is another story. If you are constructing a building in a historic district, while it is better to leave the brick unpainted so that the structure is compatible with the other natural brick historic structures around it, painting modern brick is not seen as detrimental as painting the bricks on a historic house.
Contact our office if you would like a paper copy of one of the Park Service's Preservation Briefs rather than
obtaining it online.
* See related article in this issue.
** Repointing - fixing and re-grouting the mortar joints between bricks is a subject unto itself. See the link below for more info:
The National Park Service Preservation Brief No. 2, "Repointing Mortar Joints in Historic Buildings"
Source: Memphis Landmarks Commission
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Last Updated (Monday, 26 April 2010 07:10)Copyright © MLE Realty & Property Management, 901-474-1453, firstname.lastname@example.org