Exposed brick walls…

We’ve got two exposed brick walls at our house.

I don’t really much think about these walls until someone new comes over and starts asking questions.

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  • Do you like the exposed brick walls?
  • Did you expose the brick walls yourself?
  • How did you do it?
  • Did you seal the brick?
  • Why didn’t you remove all the plaster around the windows in the dining room?

Ok. Let’s start at the top.

Yes, I like the exposed brick walls in our house. I wish we had more. I find exposed brick walls add character and coziness. Tad isn’t quite as impressed as I am.  His desire to promote energy conservation outweighs his appreciation of the character that it adds.

Our dining room was exposed brick when we moved in. I didn’t know how much I appreciated the previous owner’s work until I had the opportunity to expose a brick wall myself.

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I exposed the master bathroom brick wall myself. Initially, I tried to talk our contractor into doing it. I had never before tried to expose a brick wall but I knew it was likely a lot of work. Our contractor was no fool. He had one of his guys try to remove the plaster for a second and told me that it wasn’t working.

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You can see below where the guys tried to remove the plaster and gave up – in the center of the photo.

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I decided that I was not going to be talked out of that exposed brick wall. I decided to prove that it was doable. I got it done myself with a hammer and a chisel. It was tedious. Thank goodness the wall was relatively small at only 4 feet by 9 feet. It took a good part of a weekend to get it done, but I proved it was doable. It was worth it in my opinion. And – I can now say I did something that others said couldn’t be done. Or – was it just a contractor ploy to not do something they didn’t want to do?…

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Our house (like many other older houses) has two layers of bricks that make up the exterior wall. The exterior brick is the nice finished brick that is seen from the outside. The interior wall is the red, soft, sandy brick that is exposed when the plaster is removed. The soft, sandy interior brick flakes easily and creates a fair amount of dust. As well, the old mortar between the bricks is really sandy so that also creates a bit of a mess. I don’t think it is a huge issue if the wall isn’t in a high traffic area. However, in our case the exposed brick wall in our master bathroom is where our towels were going to be hung to dry.  I wanted to prevent dusty towels and a constantly gritty floor in that area so I felt like some sealer was in order. I extensively researched what sort of sealer should be used. The research only confused me – as usual. I wanted a product that would not darken the bricks. I also wanted a matte finish. Most of the brick sealer products out there looked like they darkened the bricks and created a shiney finish. One day, the light bulb went off – or maybe Tad suggested it – I don’t really remember the specific details :) – but I ended up using the same sealer I used for the grout in our shower. I liked that it didn’t darken the stone in the shower and it was low sheen. I hoped for the same results on the brick wall.

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I applied the first coat of sealer with a spray bottle. I did a little happy dance – low sheen and no color change of the bricks. It is pretty exciting when things work out like they are supposed to.  I applied four or five – maybe six coats – maybe more – definitely not less – I sort of lost track.  Anyway, it was a lot of coats of sealer. The exposed brick wall in our master bathroom is dust free and beautiful with it’s low sheen finish.

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Nice new drywall built out on three sides and the tile floor scribed to the wall finishes it perfectly. That is the benefit of exposing the wall first then building in around it. You will see why I specifically mention this as a benefit when I present our exposed brick dining room wall…

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Now about our dining room exposed brick wall.

As mentioned earlier, our dining room wall was already exposed when we moved in. It is a focal point. It is one of the first things people notice when they enter our house. This is a good thing because the view out the dining room windows isn’t that great. The neighbor’s house is a few feet away and our view is of their side wall and iron security windows.  

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Anyway, the exposed brick wall itself is not in perfect shape. Since it is a focal point in our space I would like to get it cleaned up a bit. When we first moved in, we could see through the wall to the outside in a few spots. I was concerned about bugs coming in. Tad was concerned about the lack of energy efficiency. We got the outside brick tuck pointed. The inside tuck pointing is still on the To Do List. I’ll get it done eventually. I am also planning on sealing this wall as I did the bathroom wall once I get it tuck pointed. While it isn’t necessary like the bathroom wall, I still like the idea of decreasing the dust in our house if possible.

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So, for the final question. Why didn’t we remove all the plaster around the windows? The answer is that we didn’t not remove all the plaster. When we moved in the plaster had been removed. I actually added the plaster back around the windows. I know that sounds crazy. There was a good reason though. The window frames were protruding several inches out from the exposed brick wall. That didn’t work well for finishing purposes. For years, I checked out other people’s exposed brick walls and window finish solutions. Finally, I saw a loft where they left plaster around the windows. It looked cool and provided a solution to my window finishing problem.  It provided the structure for the window trim to lay flat against something. So, I added plaster back around the windows in an effort to mimic that loft detail I liked so much. It was pretty easy to do.

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The only time consuming issue was the painting of the plaster. It took a full 8 hours to tape off and paint the plaster around the three windows. I am not looking forward the day when I have to repaint that again…

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The other problem areas of the exposed brick dining room wall are the floor and ceiling gaps left after the plaster was removed.The top of the wall at the ceiling had about a 1-1.5 inch gap up into the attic. I wasn’t sure what to do about that so I added some plaster back on the wall to fill that gap.  I hope to remove that plaster and finish that area a bit cleaner when we  go to replace our sagging plaster ceiling with drywall. You can see that at the top of this photo…

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There was a gap in the flooring as well.  The previous owners filled it with scrap type wood – I think the filler wood was actually shims.  It was pretty ugly, unfinished, and messy.

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The best solution would have been to repair the wood flooring by patching and refinishing it.  We weren’t prepared for that work or expense, particularly because the rest of the flooring is not in good shape and could use patching in about five other large areas.  We ended up doing a border of sorts with just some stained wood. To do that, we had to cut back the flooring about a foot to reach the flooring joists. It accomplished what we intended – to fill the gap and neaten it up a bit.

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Long term, we think we want to replace our wood flooring and run it right up to the wall.  That would be optimal.

Go for it – expose a wall – it’s worth it.