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Masonry Cleaning  |  Paint Stripping

Of all the changes an historic building can undergo, stripping paint off exterior masonry is one of the most visually dramatic. Exposing the original color of the masonry by removing paint brings about impressive improvements. This is especially true in the appearance of many urban buildings blackened by industrial pollution. It is a process which changes not only the fundamental appearance of historic masonry buildings, but also the environmental context in which they exist.

While visual improvements brought about by removing paint from historic masonry should not be underestimated, neither should the dangers. Irreversible damage has been caused to thousands of historic masonry structures by unscrupulous contractors. Unskilled and hurried workers using inappropriate paint stripping techniques have caused permanent damage to our country's masonry heritage. There is no reason to let it happen to you.

 
 

 



This historic brick building was painted in the past in an attempt to 1) "seal it" from water penetration, and 2) to cover the dirty masonry underneath.

   

Frequently Asked Questions
about Paint Stripping:

Question: Why did they paint my masonry in the first place?

Answer: The most common reasons masonry gets painted are:

  1. A prior owner may have felt the masonry appeared dirty and unattractive. Because the technology did not exist back then to adequately clean masonry, the owner probably thought the best option to make it look better was to paint over it.

  2. Some past building owners may have thought the best way to prevent water from penetrating their masonry was to "seal it" with paint. Painting was usually done when signs of masonry deterioration or cracking were first noticed.

  3. Over time old walls may have been modified. Original window or door openings may have been replaced with brick, stone, or mortar (see Mortar Matching) that no longer matches the original masonry. The best solution at the time may have been simply to paint over all the masonry to achieve a uniform appearance. If this has happened to your masonry, see Changing the Color of Masonry.

  4. To quickly enhance the appearance of exterior masonry prior to selling the building.

  5.  

 
 



Moisture eventually worked its way behind this painted brick and caused both the paint and the brick to fail.






The above two photos illustrate the damaging effects of expansive salts caused when paint traps moisture inside the masonry.


   

Question: Is it unwise to leave my masonry painted?

Answer: Usually yes. Here's why:

  1. Most paints have limited breathability, which is the ability to allow water vapor to move through a material. As a result, moisture becomes trapped in the masonry behind the paint. The moisture is then subject to the expansive forces of freeze-thaw cycles, which expand and contract by as much as 9%! Over time this deteriorates the masonry. The trapped moisture can also contribute to the crystallization of soluble salts. This is known as efflorescence, or if the salts crystallize under the outer surface of the masonry, sub-efflorescence or crypto-florescence. These also cause masonry to rapidly deteriorate.

  2. If your paint contains lead, it may be a potential health risk. Read more about lead-based paint below.

  3. Painted masonry hides areas that may be in need of repair.

  4. Painted masonry is usually far less attractive than exposed masonry. Leaving it painted usually negatively influences property values.

Question: Will my soft masonry hold up to having the paint removed?

Answer: Yes if:

  1. An appropriate and suitable paint stripping method is used.

  2. Thorough, written specifications are given to the contractor that clearly outline what is expected and what is not acceptable. These specifications are best prepared by a competent person who has had substantial hands-on experience removing paint from historic masonry buildings.

  3. The paint stripping is performed by a trained and experienced craftsperson who has respect for your historic masonry.

Contact us for assistance with any paint stripping concerns you may have.

Question: Will stripping paint from my masonry cause it to become pitted, discolored, or damaged?

Answer: Not if:

  1. An appropriate and suitable paint removal method is used.

  2. Thorough, written specifications are given to the contractor that clearly outline what is expected and what is not acceptable. These specifications are best prepared by a competent person who has had substantial hands-on experience removing paint from historic masonry buildings.

  3. Stripping the paint is performed by a trained and experienced craftsperson who has respect for your historic masonry.

Contact us for assistance with any of the above concerns.

Question: What if my paint has lead in it?

Answer: If the paint on your masonry was applied prior to 1978, chances are significant that it does contain lead. Simple tests can be performed to determine if any layers of paint on your building contain lead. Lead-based paint is usually more difficult to strip than most paints not containing lead. Properly protecting workers and building occupants during the stripping of lead-based paint is important, even critical. Also, proper and legal capture and disposal of waste water, paint, and stripper is vital.

Question: How much will it cost to strip the paint off my masonry?

Answer: The cost varies depending on several factors:

  1. The number of layers of paint.

  2. The composition of each layer of paint.

  3. The total square footage of paint to be stripped.

  4. The height of the building.

  5. How accessible the areas to be stripped are.

All these factors can be analyzed via a thorough on-site inspection, usually followed by testing to determine the best methodology for removing the paint.

The goal is to utilize the most effective method of fully removing the paint without pitting, discoloring or otherwise damaging the masonry.

Queston: What are the risks associated with stripping paint?

  • Permanently pitting the masonry.
  • Discoloring the masonry.
  • The expansion of soluble salts after cleaning, known as efflorescence. (See Deteriorated Masonry for information about efflorescence.)
  • Water or other cleaning substances damaging the masonry surface and penetrating to the interior of the building.
  • Damage to surrounding plant life.
  • Etching or pitting windows.
  • Contaminating your house and property with lead.

All of these risks can be eliminated by:

  • Having thorough and specific written specifications in the contract with your contractor. Contact us us for more information.

  • Hiring the right craftsperson with proven experience, reliability, and respect for historic masonry.

Question: Can paint be stripped from interior masonry surfaces?

Answer: Yes.


Abstract Masonry Restoration has extensive experience stripping paint from historic masonry. Contact us to remove yours, and rest assured it will be done right the first time.

 
           
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