Painted or Natural?

We haven’t played “painted or natural brick” in a while. This whole row is natural brick except for one in the center that just got painted yellow. A friend mine really likes the yellow. Which do you like better?

54 Comment

  • A mixture of both. The nicest streets have unpainted and painted homes. Adds a little bit of character.

  • In the old row houses I think I have fairly recently changed my mind from brick to painted.

    The problem is that so much of the brickwork is just so ratty looking on the older row houses. Even in the picture you can see the discoloration on both the unpainted houses. I think I am also not a big fan of the dark brick that they used to build many of the row houses either.

    I do agree that a mixture of brick and paint in a neighborhood gives it a lot of character. But the painted ones look newer and really “pop”.

    • I have a question in regards to that. I recently purchased an unpainted brick house that looks really nice. However, the identical house next door has the ratty looking discolored brick. Did the previous owners of my house do something to keep theirs looking nice? If so, what is that process called, who does it, what does it cost, and how often should I get it done?

      • it’s called tuckpointing or repointing, and i think it only needs to be done ever 10+ years. google it and you can get a lot more info.

        • Also pressure washing keeps the brick clean. You have to be careful with the tuckpointing. If your house is old, you need to make sure the appropriated mortar is used, and I’m not sure I can tell you what that is. The Mt Pleasant Forum had something on that recently.

        • Historic masonry needs total repointing every 75-100 years depending on original mortar content (how much lime, how much cement). Only spots at constant water exposure (like leaky downspouts, or drippy window ac units, that allow water to run down the surface of the brick for prolonged periods) need earlier repointing.

          Here’s the difference between Petworth rowhouses and Dupont rowhouses. Victorian rowhouses in Dupont were generally built around 1885 and their mortar has little or no cement. Being 125 years old, most should have already gone through their century repointing. Colonial revival rowhouses in Petworth are generally 1920. Being 90 years old, most Petworths are in the middle of, or approaching, their century repointing.

          Mortar in Petworth will have a higher cement content than Dupont victorians; not alot, but more. Portland cement hit the market around WWI and really took off from there; so 1920 was early as far as Portland usage goes. That does not mean the mortar will last longer. Portland content just makes a harder, less flexible mortar; builders loved switching over to Portland cement because the mortar cured alot faster.

          • damn. sometimes I really love this blog.

          • crin,

            Good tutorial.

            In the full context of the period you describe, the thickness of the mortar between the bricks is a primary and important consideration as well, regardless of its age or content.

            In my lifelong experience, the now lost practice of thin butter joinery allowed by and combined with the higher grade brick with the excellent size uniformity production of the old brick foundry material available at the time as I describe below, I contend does not require repointing as often as you describe.

            Read my comments to 4nature further below.

    • I agree about the old brick. I prefer red bricks with black/brown ‘flecks”.

  • The yellow makes you notice the rest of the street. A win.

    Although I do want to point out the house next door with the boarded up attic window and shabby air conditioners. Yellow House Person! Points for maintenance!

    • Or points for being redone (signs in the window and all).

      I go with a mix of both. natural brick, painted brick and some whitewashed brick.

      • Exactly. My wife and I call that color “flip yellow.” Not that I think it looks bad or anything, just seems to be the color of choice for those jobs.

  • The yellow one is so cute! I think a mixture is good especially when the brick isn’t that pretty to begin with.

  • I too like a mix as well as the painted look but will keep my brick unpainted. Much easier and cheaper in the long run.

  • SO many streets in DC are all this plain brick. I think it looks terrible. It’s so gray and dull. Paint it!

    • Agreed. In most cities, I like the look of the natrual brick. But painted is just so DC – when they’re not painted they look like they have no personality.

  • some brick looks better unpainted. the houses in the picture look better painted. the color of the brick is so blah and gross like it needs a shower

  • I like the blocks where one side of the street is the red brick, and the other side in the light brown. Nice contrast.

  • I am generally against painting brick, but this one is clearly better painted.

  • So I have a painted rowhouse. How often do they need repainted typically?

    • Every 8-10 years, depending on how it weathers and how new you want it to look. Covered areas and north facing facades will last longer. Exposed areas and south facing facades will need repainting sooner. Type of paint is a factor too: oil primer? latex? acrylic? mineral?

      • I’m wondering, how many people still use oil-based paint?

        The stuff is nasty, hard to clean up, and let’s not forget toxic.

        Hasn’t it been illegal to sell commercial quantities of oil-based paint in the District and Maryland since 2005?

  • I did a double take, thinking that was my house!

    There are 4-5 flipped houses on my block, and all but one are painted “flipper yellow” as PP said. One is a neutral green.

    I agree with others, a mix is nice. I generally go for original features (like unpainted brick) but it makes such a nice difference when a house gets updated that I’m not even sorry to see the brown brick go away.

  • bfinpetworth

    I live on a block with a mixture and I like it. I also like being one of the houses (yes, a flip) that is painted (light gray, not yellow). I agree that some brick holds up better than others over the years. The brick used predominantly in Petworth (light tan and highly textured) is one of those that holds up well, I think. Perhaps it is the heavy texture that hides the discoloration of some other brick homes, like the ones shown in the photo.

    I like having a painted house because it does have a fresher cleaner look. I also like blocks with a good mixture of colors – creates a kind of festive look! One other benefit of painted row houses is that the paint provides a clear delineation between houses – which really doesn’t matter but there is something about being able to see where your house ends and the other house starts.

    Basically, I think all my feelings on this derive from growing up in he suburbs and feeling more comfortable with a newer, cleaner, and more autonomous appearance to my house. Which raises the question – what the hell am I doing living in Petworth???!!! 🙂

  • i love painted brick–I just wish more homeowners would really go for it and use 3-4 colors instead of 2.

  • I like the painted brick. I so want to paint my brick but y’all turned me off that plan in the PAINT YOUR BRICK AT YOUR OWN PERIL thread earlier this year.

  • I really like painted brick. It’s pretty unique to DC. If townhouses are painted brick, it turns what is a boring long rectangle brick building into indiviudal houses.

  • Having lived in Miami, i missed colorful houses out in the burbs of VA – one of the reasons I moved to DC. I wound up buying a house that’s on a block with all red brick on one side, brown on the other. I personally like the red better, and wish more of the brown were painted! Because a mix would be much better.

    But another way to spice up things is to paint the trim different colors. You don’t have to paint the whole house. The brown houses really look good with red and cream trim, the red houses with blue or green. The ‘problem’ with many of the red houses in the picture is they all have the same white trim. boring.

    Also, shutters used to be quite common. (they recently fell off my neighbor’s). I intend to install workable shutters (give me a year or two) that I think will really help jazz up the house.

    • 4nature,

      I agree with you that most row houses don’t need their entire facade painted when only the trim highlights of the frieze and cornice suffice, and as you write, not all white either.

      Most of our Washington row houses have been around for a very long time when late 19th century brick foundries still manufactured some attractive excellent dense brick of high quality and remarkable uniformity, some but not all.

      This allowed for a thin butter joinery of mortar that has in many cases long endured for decades with an outstanding aesthetic contribution to our capital city’s architecture and without deterioration or water seepage problems either.

      Over a century ago, some builders (just like today) cut corners and built with inferior bricks that can well be painted over today,

      but the reason I’ve taken to writing on this subject here on this Saturday morning is that there are so many of my hometown DC row houses, including some yellow brick houses in my lifelong neighborhood of Adams Morgan and Washington Heights where the brick used in its original construction is so dense and refined with colorful specs of aggregate that it looks like tiered granite rising two and three stories resplendent and stately on a facade -just remarkably solid and elegant.

      In those cases I think it’s a terrible mistake to paint over such beautiful brick that often just needs a good detergent scrub and a light water pressure washing to bring out the original splendor, color and luster of fine century old brick of such a superior quality we will never see manufactured again.

      I, too, enjoy the bright tropical colors commonly used in Miami that show so well in the South Florida sun. I’m writing now from my Miami home where it is so different here and most everything was built post 1925.

      Over the years I have seen these bright colors make their way into our urban capital city landscape which used to be quite drab and lacking interest in the far too often gray skies of my great hometown.

      A resident and smalltime property owner in both these vibrant cities, I’ve been fortunate to experience these two environments living only between two hour flights all my life, seen quite a few changes over the years and offer this landlord’s advice which I’ve often given to those who are going to paint their brick:

      Prep is vastly more important than anything, including the choice of Duron or Sherwin Williams. A bad paint job that breaks and peels after the natural expansion and contraction of few short summers and winters is lamentable and then so hard to remove. Do it right the first time !

      Working from top to bottom, spray a water and bleach solution on all the exposed brick and before it dries lightly pressure wash it off so as to remove not just the soot (mostly car exhaust built up) but more importantly to kill the mold and mildew you don’t want growing underneath your new paint job. Allow to dry fully.

      Apply two coats of a water based primer sealer on two separate days and then apply two coats of finish on two separate days as well. Work with nature and start in the early morning so that you’re working with the sun and choose a week when it’s been dry and there’s no forecast for rain.

      Paints, and most especially primer sealers, are not formulated to cure and adhere at temperatures below 50. So for the best results, this work should be done before mid October and after mid April up there in Washington. A dry sunny week in May or June is ideal.

      Functioning shutters add an additional accent to well appointed row brick facades. Taking a few pictures of not only of your house, but further from across the street with neighboring houses helps with the important work of color selection and matching. The magic and wonder of these modern day computers will help you make the right choices.

      From the Magic City, good luck to you, 4nature, and welcome to Washington.

  • Also, I want to add that although paint needs upkeep, it does help in one area. When I had to have my house repointed, they only had to do the unpainted sections. They said that the mortar had been protected under the paint and was solid. (It was good, solid paint).

    • It doesn’t quite work that way. Any relationship between the paint and the mortar was coincidental. I’ve worked on plenty of projects with painted brick where as soon as you peel off the paint, the mortar (which had reverted back to sand) just pours out of the joint. Paint on brick has a better chance of covering problems than avoiding problems.

  • notlawd

    I also like a mixture of painted and unpainted. My house is the flip yellow as well, but my block tends to have a good mixture of colors. I like the yellow, but will probably go with something else when it is finally time to repaint. Any other color favorites? I want to keep up the variety on my block, we currently have green, grey, yellow, blue, and white. What are we missing?

  • There is a special place in hell for flippers who paint. Like most who have commented here, they do it because it looks “fresh” and new. Its stupid because it makes a material that only needs maintenance once every century, and instead you are stuck with repainting every 10 years or less. Totally negates one of the key benefits of brick, and of owning a brick house, all in the interests of fashion and those with short r.e. investment timelines.

    There are plenty of opportunities for color that can be articulated in windows, trim, porches, shutters, landscaping, etc.

  • It depends on the brick. If it’s nice, leave it unpainted, but that greyish brick that so many Petworth rowhouses are made of is ugly. So, in this case, yellow wins!

  • The yellow looks really nice. The problem will be the cost/effort of maintaining a nice looking paint job. You’ll have to repaint it every 5 years or so. We talked to a painter about doing our row house and they talked us out of it.

  • in this case, painted.

    that’s some ugly brick.

  • Painted brick = ugly

    If you want to see a hideous example of a recently painted house, check out the one on 12th Street just above “S”. They turned a perfectly lovely red brick house into a gaudy mess by painting it bright green with orange and gold trim.

  • Hands down the painted one is better. I wouldn’t advocate painting nice looking brick, but the brick in these rowhouses is ugly and will look MUCH better pained. Here’s hoping that whole block will follow suit (with different colors of course). Funny that some say the paint makes it look newer, but I actually think it makes it look more historic. This shade of brick to me looks like cheap 60’s era material.

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