From Spotlight: Your Home’s First Impression. Is It a Good One?

5 Reasons You’ll Regret Painting Your Brick House

Case in point: Removing paint from brick is almost impossible.

common easy home mistakes photograph of adjoining brick walls painted red and bluish-green colors
Image: John C Magee/Getty

Brick, brick, brick. All the homes in your neighborhood are brick. You're itching to paint over that red-orange-brown color palette so your home's personality can shine through.

Painting brick is doable — and sometimes even necessary (more on that later), but — it's not an easy DIY paint project. And it can be a huge risk to your biggest financial asset.

In other words, tread carefully, homeowner. Although painted brick might be aesthetically pleasing today, it could be a big, fat regret in just a few years.

5 Reasons NOT to Paint Brick

Here are five reasons to avoid painting brick (plus a few exceptions when it's OK):

#1 You'll Probably Destroy the Brick

Brick "breathes." Unless it can't. Trapped moisture is the main issue in the relationship between brick and paint. "Once you put a membrane [like paint] over the brick, it can no longer breathe," says Mike Palmer, owner of Remlap Construction in Update New York and president of the upstate New York chapter of the Mason Contractors Association of America.

Brick is the ultimate "coat" for your home, protecting it from all the elements while letting it breathe. Much like the fur or hair on your beloved four-legged family member, your home's brick coat adjusts as needed to protect your home from rain, sleet, snow, heat, etc. (but without all the shedding, ha!).

Putting paint on it is like encasing it in plastic. It'll breathe no more.

#2 It Can Cause Serious Structural Damage

If you paint the exterior brick and moisture is trapped in it, "once you go through a freeze-and-thaw cycle, [the brick can] degrade as moisture freezes inside it," Palmer says.

When exterior brick erodes — and if the mortar between the brick erodes — your home's structural integrity is at risk.

#3 It Can Look Really Bad, Really Fast

As the bricks begin to degrade, the paint starts to peel and flake away — making your house look neglected and nasty. That's bad news. Really bad news. That means the damage mentioned above is well under way — and it's showing up on your home's face.

#4 You Might Be Destroying a Bit of History

How old is your home's brick? If your brick is considered historic, painting it could be considered a sin against history.

If you have an older home with decorative features, such as dog-toothing, you might have brick that should be preserved in its natural state.

"Old brick was handmade in a kiln, and some . . . has a harder surface. It weathers better, and was used on the face of buildings because it's more impervious," says architect Ashley Wilson with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Since today's bricks are machine-made, these handmade varieties are worth preserving. Paint will only destroy their historic value and if applied incorrectly, could damage your home’s structure.

#5 You Can't Easily Go Back to Unpainted

The time and money needed to remove existing paint (plus the risk to the brick's integrity) makes it a very challenging task. Power-washing or sandblasting can damage the brick, so the paint has to be painstakingly stripped away using chemicals.

Technically, you could do this chore yourself, but do you really want to get to know every square inch of your entire house's exterior? Even if your home’s a little one?

As comedian Steven Wright used to joke, "It's a small world, but I wouldn't want to paint it."

4 Exceptions That Make Painting Brick OK

Look at these situations when you could paint your brick with no regrets.

#1 If It's Already Been Painted

Most painted brick needs regular repainting, and compared to removing the old paint, it's typically the lesser evil. Just be sure to use the right paint.

The right paint for exterior brick is a mineral-based paint or a silicate paint that's designed to be breathable and recommended for brick, such as the brand KEIM.

Should you DIY it? The long and short of it is this: There’s so much critical, tedious prep work required, like cleaning and repairing damage, you're better off hiring a professional. According to Angi, the average cost for a professional to paint your brick home is $1.40 to $4.20 per square foot. That adds up fast.

#2 If the Brick is Damaged

Let's say you've got an older home, and the "the grout between the brick is old and may have turned to sand," says Chris Landis, chairman of the Advisory Board of Landis Architects/Builders and a past member of the Washington, D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board. Painting could be the solution.

Sure, you could have the brick repointed (replacing/adding new mortar), but that can cost $3 to $20 per square foot, according to HomeGuide. It depends on where you live and the degree of damage. (Cha-ching!)

If you try fixing it yourself, "you'll likely get cement all over the brick, which is really messy. The best thing to do in that case is to actually paint it," Landis says. Dried cement all over your brick isn't a good look.

#3 If the Brick Was Meant to Be Painted

There's a slim chance your home might have an old type of brick that needs to be painted for protection. A few rules of thumb help determine if that applies to you:

  • It was built before 1870.
  • The brick was handmade, not machine-made.
  • It has traces of paint that looks faded or whitewashed.
  • The home lacks ornamental brick decoration.

The paint for these bricks isn't your typical latex paint, though. It must be all-natural, such as milk paint or lime-based whitewash. Modern paints will only damage the brick, potentially causing structural damage.

Because these bricks are more delicate, homes using them are less likely to have ornate brick architectural features such as dog-toothing. If you see features like those, you have the more durable handmade bricks, which should never be painted.

#4 If the Brick is Inside

Indoor brick isn't subject to harsh outdoor elements. If you paint your fireplace surround, for example, you won't have moisture and humidity issues, Palmer says. So have fun with it!

If You Must Paint Brick, Here’s How

So, you’ve decided to give your brick wall a makeover, anyway. Maybe it’s looking a bit too vintage for your taste, or you just love a challenge. Whatever the reason, here’s how to do it right:

  • Inspect and Fix: Check for any damage. Cracks and crumbling mortar are not your friends.
  • Clean Like a Pro: Your brick needs a spa day. Scrub off dirt and efflorescence with a stiff brush and some soapy water.
  • Prep the Surroundings: You don’t want to paint everything in sight. Cover windows, doors, and anything else nearby with painter’s tape and drop cloths.
  • Prime Time: Grab a high-quality masonry primer. It’s like a moisturizer for your brick, ensuring the paint sticks and looks fabulous. Let it dry according to the label.
  • Pick Your Paint: Go for latex-based or mineral-based paint made for masonry. If you’re working outdoors, choose a high-quality exterior paint – your brick deserves the best.
  • Keep It Looking Fresh: Check your masterpiece regularly for any peeling or cracks and touch up as needed.
Author photo of writer Stacey Freed
Stacey Freed

Stacey Freed writes about homes, design, remodeling, and construction for online and print national trade and consumer publications, including "Better Homes & Gardens." Previously, she was a senior editor at "Remodeling" magazine. Follow Stacey on Twitter.