I love exposed brick, but it isn’t everybody’s thing. Many people do not like the baked red color. The good news is that brick is fairly easy to paint. It is a fairly straight forward process, but more labor intensive than putting it on drywall. Here are a few tips to get it done right.
Examine the brick: This has the potential of being the tricky part, and you may want to consult a contractor. Depending on how old your brick is, there is a wide range of variables to consider when examining brick and cinder block. All clay is slightly different, and it is also difficult to know how long the brick was in the kiln and at what temperature. You probably don’t know what the quality assurance was like when your bricks were made, so you may want to consult a professional. You may need to use a sealer before painting, or simply use DRYLOK or similar sealant instead of your typical paint and primer.
Clean it off: Depending on where the brick is, there are tons of things that can be on your brick. In fireplaces there is a good chance of soot and regular house hold dust. In a basement, efflorescent deposits are common. (Dust mixed with moisture that makes a snow-like substance.) Getting a masonry cleaner and a stiff bristled brush will take care of the worst of it. Trisodium Phosphate (TSP) is the universally accepted masonry cleaner, but will require a lot of rinse and allow 12 hours to dry before you can apply primer.
Use a Primer: Like any time you want to drastically change the color of a surface, you want to use a primer. Since most brick is the reddish/brown and many people want it white, you want to look into a bucket of KILZ. I personally like Acrylic primer, but an oil based works as well. The coverage will be abysmal compared to regular drywall painting. Each little divot in the brick needs an extra glob of paint to fill it. A gallon of primer will cover only around 250 square feet of brick per gallon, compared to around 400 on drywall.
Brush vs Roller: If I had to choose just one, I’d say brush, but you really want to use both. Do not go cheap on a brush, get one with stiff bristles, because you will be pushing them into the crevasses a lot. When you buy a roller, you want a very high nap, or “padding” around the roller. 3/8 will do it, but a 3/4 lamb wool is better. In my experience, it doesn’t matter which you use first, but read the instructions on the can. Using the roller second will give you a smother finish than using the brush second. It will depend on how you want it to look. When in doubt, consult the can. There may be explicit brick/cinder block directions. (DryLok says to brush first coat, roll on the second)
Pick a Paint: Just like usual painting, you want to match primer and paint together. If you use acrylic primer, use acrylic paint. If you use oil based primer, use oil based paint. The finish on the paint is up to your personal preference. The best tip to make the brick “pop” is to go the opposite of what you used on your drywall. I usually use a semi-gloss or a gloss on the wall. If I had exposed brick (Which I don’t) I would use a flat to make the brick stand out more.
DRYLOK: This is a great thing to have, especially if you have a masonry basement. However, for those who have not used it, it applies to the wall about as well as pudding. You will need two coats (at least) and the 5 gallon bucket doesn’t spread as far as you want it to. One gallon of Drylok normally covers about 75-100 square feet. for those with 8 foot high ceilings, this is about 10 linear feet of wall. For me, each paintbrush full (I used a cheap 4″ bruch”) only covered one and a half cinder blocks.
Special Note, Fireplace Interiors: If you actually use the fireplace, you want to be careful painting the interior of the fireplace. Most paints are not designed to withstand the temperatures a fire can put out. If you really do not like the look, I suggest using a tile or a cement on the interior to reface it. Use wonderboard if you have and issue getting everything square and level, but most thinsets will adhere to the rough brick easier. There are also high temperature spray paints and canned paints out there that can take temperatures up to 1200 degrees, but these are not meant to be used where there is direct contact with flames and won’t always match your paint exactly.