DEAR TIM: I have a brick cape cod home built about 50 years ago that is a little worse for wear. Some time ago, a previous owner added a room that is covered with wood siding. I think painting the brick would give a more uniform look. Is this a good idea? What is the best product to use? Is a primer necessary? Terri W., Decatur, GA
DEAR TERRI: Brick can absolutely be painted. High quality paints are formulated to grab tenaciously to masonry surfaces. But be aware that once you apply paint or any other film to brick, you begin a vicious cycle of periodic maintenance and cost. Your desire to make the home look better and do it with little future maintenance is possible if you consider a coating that has almost been forgotten. Whitewash!
I had the joy of applying whitewash to a large brick room addition I built nearly ten years ago. This inexpensive but durable coating looks as good today as the day it was applied. A little known fact about whitewash is that it can actually be tinted a light color if you don't like the brilliant traditional white color. In many instances, the actual finish can last 20 or 30 years with no maintenance.
There are many different recipes for whitewash but the basic ingredients are the same. The most basic formula is simply a combination of Ivory hydrated lime and regular table salt. The whitewash I used was made by mixing a 50 pound bag of lime with 10 pounds of table salt. Water was added until it achieved a consistency of pancake batter.
Whitewash is applied with a brush or a roller but brushes seem to work best. One of the interesting qualities of this material is that you can make your home look like a gracious English cottage. This is achieved by varying the thickness of the whitewash. The areas where the whitewash is applied lightly will allow some of the brick color to show through. If you desire an authentic old look, you actually wash off some of the whitewash several hours after application or the next day to expose brick or parts of brick in random areas.
The lime in the whitewash is the actual glue that bonds to the brick and the wood on your addition. If you want extra holding power you can actually mix white Portland cement to the whitewash. Do this and the whitewash will last for several generations.
If you want to colorize the whitewash, it is possible. Simply purchase powdered pigments that are mixed with the whitewash. Be aware that the color of the whitewash while it is mixed is totally different when it dries. I suggest you mix a test batch, apply it to a piece of cement board underlayment and allow it to dry for a week to make sure you like the color. Carefully keep track of the ratios of pigment, lime and salt to get consistent color results with each batch.
The whitewash materials can be purchased at specialty businesses. You will find the lime and dry pigments at traditional building supply houses that sell materials to plasterers and concrete contractors. The large bags of salt can be purchased at wholesale businesses that sell supplies to bakeries. You can use grocery store salt if you desire.
If my whitewash technique does not interest you, then visit a paint store. Virtually every paint manufacturer makes exterior paint formulated for brick and wood. Look for ones that have a blend of urethane and acrylic resin. These are very sticky and will bond well to the brick and wood. At the very least purchase a 100 percent acrylic resin paint. Read the label and use the specific primer suggested for unpainted brick or wood.