Ever Curious About How to Expose a Brick Wall?

by Prince Of Petworth April 23, 2012 at 2:30 pm 28 Comments

“This is a time lapse video of me exposing a brick wall in the office of my town house in Petworth. My 2 most important lessons learned… tarp, tarp, tarp. For every 5 minutes you spend tarping the room well, you will save an hour of clean up. Use duct tape to tape the tarp to your baseboards… I worried that this would damage the baseboards, but you are pulling down an entire wall of plaster which will require touch up anyway. The dust will get everywhere, so tarp the entire room and create a “bubble” if possible. Other lesson learned… get a good respirator. I used the paper dust masks the entire time and was coughing up dust for a few weeks after I was done.”

  • AnonCPer

    Very cool! The end product looks great!

  • houseintherear

    Nice! Also, that video was a person with OCD’s dream with the grid system of cleaning.

    When I did my wall last summer, I was not so orderly. I went at it with a sledgehammer and some severe pms.

    • We had these gorgeous [/sarcasm] 12×12 pink marble tiles going floor to ceiling on the fireplace in our living room when we first bought the house. My husband also took out some serious aggression with a sledgehammer, until I pointed out that the pile of cream-colored dust and chunks in the firebox was all the mortar he was shaking out! He didn’t enjoy the hammer and chisel approach nearly as much.

      • houseintherear

        Haha, ooooops.

        My drywall was like 6″ out from the brick, strangely, so my sledgehammering didn’t do much other than to get that yucky old drywall out of the way. I don’t think my elbows or my house could have taken repeated hits of a brick wall with that thing!

  • Cool – neat idea to do a timelapse. That’s a fair amount of work for one person; glad you got some help towards the end.

  • What gives?

    Thanks for that! Very cool (and watching it happen in about 2 minutes makes it look so easy!) Would you mind telling us about the process?
    – What tools you used?
    – How did you remove plaster from the brick?
    – what did you use to clean/seal the brick?

    This makes me want to do this in our house!

  • Very cool. What tools did you use after the hammer and chisel? It looks like you used some kind of wire brush. I’m curious to compare.

  • anon

    This looks great! Nice job.

    I would love to do this, but would be worried that I’d have to repoint all the bricks under the plaster. And I couldn’t hire someone to do it, since I know how expensive it is to repoint!

  • styglan1

    This is fantastic. Thank you OP for making and sharing it. Thank you for PoP for once again giving me something awesome from this place.

    Question for those that have done this: does it have an impact on noise buffering? I have a 1932 rowhouse and want to expose a few walls. But if it is going to make things much noisier I might reconsider it.

    • houseintherear

      Didn’t have an impact for me or my neighbor. But we have a three brick deep wall between us- not sure if that’s normal..?

    • dat

      In these old houses it makes quite a difference not only for noise, but also for smell and thermal insulation.

      I’m actually surprised so many people go for it.

  • Anonymous

    Now if only my current contractor could move that fast, he’d be a millionaire!

  • On the Hill

    So super cool! Going home tonight to evaluate what walls might be good to expose….

  • Not that I know how to do it, but I understand there’s a type of vacuum called Dust Extractor that I believe can be rented at home depot, and it helps keeping dust away from your lungs and the rest of your house. Doing the time lapse was a fantastic idea!

  • Gtmcleod

    Besides the hammer and chisel, there’s little else but the wire brush and a lot of elbow grease. Having done numerous walls in my house I do wish I was a little more patient doing the plastic. For sealing I use Eco-Ware Trojan masonry sealer. Low VOC (“green”) epoxy sprayed on w hand pump garden sprayer. Seals and strengthens the old mortar. avail in matte or gloss. Worst part of it all is hauling old plaster outside. Down two flights of stairs. Average wall may be as many as 15-20 trips, plaster is HEAVY!

    • Interesting. We did it with an angle grinder and a flap disc sanding attachment. It makes a ton of dust, but is pretty quick. If I had to do it again, I’d definitely look at a dust extractor rental rather than killing a shop vac. Anyone know if home depot rents those?

  • Having done this myself to two much larger walls in my home, I urge anyone considering this project to invest in a ZipWall (http://www.zipwall.com) to contain the dust in the area of the house where you’re working. This is a very, very dirty process. Also, consider using a paint-removal-disc attachment for a drill like this one (http://www.shop3m.com/61500120722.html) to remove the plaster residue from the brick. It’s a very dusty method (see ZipWall recommendation above), but it’s much, much faster than any other method I experimented with. Also, though I can’t tell whether this homeowner used a muriatic acid wash, I recommend it if you’re willing to expose yourself to the chemical . . . it cleans and etches the brick, so it’ll take a clear poly coat, which, in turn, will keep the dust down in the long term.

  • dave b

    How long did that take? 15-20 hours? Looks like a lot of daylight changes throughout the video.

    This was educational for me in that it will probably make me not attempt it. I’ll just hire somebody

  • OP here. I will be sure to follow up tonight after work with answers to everyone’s questions!

  • classic_six

    You did a fantastic job – you must be so pleased with the results (minus all the dust). Congratulations and thanks for sharing. Yep, the dust accumulation is staggering.

  • ShawGuy

    When I exposed the brick wall going up the staircase in my house, I used some guttering to build in a temporary ‘dust/debris flume’. And the OP wasn’t joking about tarping, my house looked like that ET medical tent and I still had a fine layer of dust everywhere!

  • SF

    “Honey, why on earth would people purposely destroy and remove a perfectly good part of a historical house, only to expose the disgusting brick underneath? What were they thinking?”

    — Homebuyers, 2025

    • ErinC

      A lot of people prefer the exposed brick, plus you can always put up drywall if you hate it. I think it looks great!

  • I’ve done this with a couple of walls in my house. I got sick of the hammer and chisel and ended up using a hammer drill (rotation off) with a chisel attachment. It saved a lot of time. I had a lot of wall and actually paid someone to do the final cleaning of the brick (it was a lot of wall). They basically sandblasted the brick but, instead of sand, they used baking soda.

  • Greenish

    Nice job on the wall and the video.

    I have a question for the brick-wall crowd: we have an exposed brick exterior wall at the back of our place. It leaks air like a sieve, and as a result is frigid in the winter. So far as I can tell it’s not sealed in any way and it seems to shed a lot of mortar and brick particles too.

    What’s the best way to seal up such a wall? (also – it’s a rental. I’m trying to figure out if it’s something I can get the owner to let me do or split the cost on.)

  • Thanks everyone for the nice comments! In the end, this project was a lot of work, but not prohibitive. It took a total of about 30 hours, but with better prep, I could have saved about 3-4 hours of cleanup. I did the bulk of the work over a long weekend for about 7 hours a day, but then did 2 nights during the week and the next Saturday morning for a few hours at a clip. The wall is about 16ft X 9ft.

    It really is a project you just dive into. I’m a planner, but with exposing a brick wall, you never know what you’re going to find under there. I got pretty lucky as I’ll explain below, but I did come across a few oddities. There are about 5 rows of brick that are darker than the others and the plaster powder shows up on it more than the other brick. Also, the mortar consistency changes throughout the wall. Some was softer than others. In the end things held together well and I think the unevenness of it gives it a cool look, but you won’t know until you get that plaster off.

    The camera battery died a few times which accounts for some of the big time jumps. If anyone is interested in seeing the full process, I posted a 20 min long video on YouTube in 2 segments. It gets a little boring. If you get to the end of the one embedded here, you can click on the link to the video in the top left of the frame to go to YouTube, and you should be able to see the other videos.

    As the original post emphasizes, and I can’t stress this more: tarp everything. Duct tape the tarp to the baseboards/walls and just plan on a little paint touch up. You won’t regret it. Oh, and get yourself a good respirator.

    I used a plunge cut saw tool to cut around the edges of the wall to get a cleanish edge. Because the plaster is pretty solid and the brick is directly underneath, I went through about 5 blades. To pull the plaster off I used a wide edge masonry chisel and hammer. I found that if I hit the wall with a rubber mallet around the edges of the part already removed, it loosened the plaster from the wall and I could pull off larger chunks. Once the plaster was off, I used a coarse very stiff wire brush to loosen the plaster and then followed up with a finer and softer wire brush to get more dust off. I thought about going down the muriatic acid route but they convinced me at Annie’s that it’s really caustic stuff (it’s hydrochloric acid) and set me up with a mild cleaner instead. I don’t remember exactly which one, but I think any cleaner with multiple damp sponges (I went through about 10) will do the job to take off more of the dust. In the end there is some whiteish powder plaster on there, but I think it was worth the trade off of not dealing with the acid. For the sealer I used a low luster masonry sealer. They had a high gloss option, but I went with the low. A true matte would have been nice too, but I would have had to order it. I definitely recommend a sealer of some kind. It creates a coating that is almost like a thin layer of glue that locks all the mortar and brick dust in, so once cleaned up, the wall doesn’t shed. Also, once I put it on, the white powder wasn’t as evident.

    I got lucky with the mortar. Very little fell out during this process. I had investigated matching the mortar if a lot came out, but the minimum amount for a custom mix was going to be way more than I needed. It turned out that I only had to spot fill about 30 “holes” about the size of a dime and the pre-mixed grout that they sell at Annie’s was a perfect match. I know that grout is not a replacement for mortar in terms of structural rigidity, but given that it was more as a visual fill in for a few small holes, I think its fine. Having Annie’s nearby was a lifesaver by the way. Being able to run over to grab contractor bags and be back home in 5 minutes was great! Also, they were really supportive and had some great ideas.

    The trim took a long time. I had to patch the edges of the surrounding walls. I then decided to trim the whole thing with quarter round, which took some work given the dormer wall that borders the brick one, plus caulking, painting, etc. Just using joint compound to fill the gap at the edge of the joining walls probably would have worked, but I think the trim gives it a more finished look, and covers some of the edge blemishes.

    My friend Will helped out with painting on the sealant, but mainly I had asked him to come over to help me haul out the bags of plaster. As someone pointed out, they were heavy, and this job was done on the 3rd floor, so thanks Will!

    In the few weeks since I did it, I haven’t noticed any increased noise from next door and have received no complaints… I think if it was an issue, then my next door neighbor would have mentioned it at our Chez Billy happy hour yesterday. This is not an exterior wall, so I hope to not have huge problems with insulation. It was only ¾ inch of plaster on the brick, so I don’t think I’ve reduced the insulation (heat or noise) by that much.

    For those that commented about the fact that in a few years, a potential buyer is going to say, “that’s so 2003”, believe me, I thought about that for a long time and eventually I decided that I like the look enough to risk it. If today’s exposed brick turns into tomorrow’s laminate paneling, I figure I’ll put up some drywall before selling. I hope it doesn’t though. I like to think that removing the plaster to expose the structure underneath is fundamentally different than adding something that is popular now like the paneling was in the 70’s, but only time will tell.

    Even though it was a tough job, after my experience, I’m seriously considering doing a much bigger wall on the main floor of the house. I will definitely be hiring some people to help out and I will look into some of the suggestions made here on dust reduction containment and mechanical means of cleaning the brick. I think I learned enough on this “small” wall though to forge ahead in the future.

    • MV

      A few points:

      1. That’s the fastest anyone will EVER see Livan Hernandez move.

      2. I’m in the midst of an extremely similar project, except it will be a nursery, not an office. Got all the plaster down and just used the drill attachment to get all residual crap off the old bricks this weekend. My baseboards had some decades old water damage though, so they had to come off, which makes finishing the project more difficult. I’ve got a contractor coming over today to give me a quote for finishing the job.

      3. I bought a frame yesterday for the very same Petworth print that will be hung on the exposed brick wall.

    • What did you end up using as a sealer? Seems like opinions are all over the place on what to use. I want something that seals the dust but is not shiny.



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