DEAR TIM: I am getting ready to build an addition and need to match the brick on my home. The house is only 12 years old and the original brick had a sand finish. We are told the brick is no longer available. How is that possible? What can I do to get brick to match? Nathan H., Lindo, UT
DEAR NATHAN: I realize this doesn't help, but you are by no means alone. I suspect hundreds of people per week across the nation face the same problem you do. In some cases a person is looking for a solitary brick to make a repair. In other cases a person may want to fill in an opening. Accidents happen and brick walls need to be repaired or replaced. In some cases, the homeowner lucks out and finds a brick that is a perfect match or one that is so close that from a short distance you can't see a discernible difference.
A brick type and style can become unavailable for any number of reasons. First and foremost, the brick is made from clay. The clay deposit in the ground can become depleted and or the characteristics of the clay actually change as the mining pit is extended. The changes in the clay can be very subtle and almost impossible to detect over a period of days or weeks, but when you compare one brick to another made 12 or even 20 years later, the difference can be astonishing.
Your problem could be as simple as the brick company going out of business or the brick itself going out of style. Brick styles change over time like cars, clothes, cabinets and other consumer goods. For example, 80 years ago a popular brick style was one that was hard-fired and had a distinctive satin glaze. The brick also had a salt and pepper appearance with smaller random dark spots on the surface of the brick. Visit many east coast cities and you can see hundreds of these brick homes in older neighborhoods.
You may have to expand your search for the brick to neighboring states. It is possible the brick is still made but is now called by another name. The original brick manufacturer may have been bought by a larger company and your brick is now sold under a different name by a different distributor. Take excellent color photographs of the brick using a very good camera so that you capture the true color of your brick. Don't hesitate to mail these photographs to brick distributors in hopes that you might find your brick still in existence.
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If you discover your brick is not made anymore, then the first thing you must do is strive for a color match. Do not let a brick salesperson talk you out of this strategy. Try to find brick that are very close, if not identical, in color. When trying to match brick, many people strive to match texture first, then color.
You can see texture difference when you stand close to a brick surface, but rarely can you see differences when you stand back 50 or 100 feet. Most people will view your addition from a distance. But color mis-matches stand out from any distance. If the color difference is significant and the texture match is perfect, the result will be glaring.
The last resort may be brick staining. Any number of companies make high-quality stains that may allow you to achieve a perfect or nearly perfect color match if you start with the correct texture. You probably can buy a handful or two of brick from a distributor and use these to test the staining system. Be sure to stand back 10 or even 20 feet to look at the finished stained brick as they are held up against your existing home. Your eyes can sometimes play tricks on you when you look at the brick up close.
Don't forget about matching mortar at the same time. Pay close attention to the color and size of the sand particles in your existing mortar. Not all sand is the same. You must use new sand that matches the existing sand as closely as possible.
Once the new addition is built, you will probably have to age the new mortar to match the old mortar. You can do this with any number of brick cleaning chemicals that will wash off the cement and lime paste that covers the sand particles. Be sure to use an approved cleaner for the brick you buy. Do not automatically think that muriatic acid will safely clean your brick. It can harm some brick and may ruin your freshly stained brick if you have to go that route.