How To Expose A Brick Wall In 12 Easy Steps

how to expose a brick wall

how to expose a brick wall

This is my husband Aaron's 1st post! 😀

I'm semi-handy, I guess, and I’ve never attempted a full-scale home renovation project because I never owed a home until now. In our new place, we had a damaged wall, so I decided to do the stupidest thing I have ever attempted to do (to date) and expose the brick under the damaged plaster. Exposing a brick wall isn't fun or easy and creates a terrible mess. I wouldn’t choose to do it again, but I am glad I did it because it saved us some money.

If you're considering exposing a brick wall in your house, you may be asking yourself the same things I did, like, “Can I expose the brick in my house?”, “Should I expose a brick wall?”, “How much does it cost to expose a brick wall?”, “Does exposed brick add value?”, “How do you make an exposed brick wall look good?”, “Should I seal my exposed brick wall?”, “How do you finish exposed brickwork?”, “Should I paint my exposed brick wall?”, “Does exposed brick make a room cold?”

Exposing a brick wall is easy to do, and adds a ton of rustic texture and character, so if you’re mildly handy, have three to four days you want to kill, an urge to expose a brick wall, and have the guts to give it a try. Here are the steps I took to expose our red  brick wall for about $120.

The Unhandy Man's Guide to Exposing a Brick Wall…

how to expose a brick wall

how to expose a brick wall

The Essential Tools for Exposing a Brick Wall:

  • Hammer
  • Putty knife $.99
  • Crowbar $2.50
  • Respirator (the paper ones won't cut it. I borrowed one from a friend)
  • Gloves $1.19
  • Eye protection (also borrowed from a friend)
  • Oscillating saw $19.99
  • 3 x Sponges $1.99 each
  • 2 x Expanding foam (it's called Great Stuff) $5.00 each
  • Joint compound $5.15
  • Plastic tubs (we already had them around)
  • 4 x Wire brushes $2.99 (for a set of 4)
  • Old vacuum or shop van (already had)
  • A lot of plastic sheeting $1.50-$3.89 (cost varies depending on the mils/thickness)
  • Brick sealer $26.99
  • Sander $9.99

Key Things to Remember When Exposing a Brick Wall:

  • Have confidence
  • Prep, a lot
  • It will take longer and be far messier than you think it will

how to expose a brick wall

How to Expose a Brick Wall:

1. Pick the wall you want to expose (an exterior wall)

First, after picking your wall, drill a pilot hole to be sure there is actually brick back there. After you are sure, expose a small section (perhaps a square foot) to be sure the brick is something you want the public to see. If not, stop there and consult someone other than me on how to patch a hole, because I don’t know how to do that and (perhaps stupidly) chose to proceed.

2. PREP (a lot!)

Use your plastic sheeting to completely seal up your workspace, and have plastic tubs ready for constant plaster removal. You don't need to be Norm Abrams in order to expose a brick wall; you need to have the confidence to see it through. During my brick exposure escapade, my confidence left me several times, namely when I saw the outside through a gap in the brick and the other time when I realized I had no clue what I was doing. The second thing to remember (perhaps it’s more important than the first), is to prep, prep, prep. Prep. Your. Ass. Off. The more time spent prepping, the more you will love your life after it's over. Quarantine the area you are exposing, like Ebola just hit your house. Walls, ceiling, floor, everything. And then, when you think you are done, add more plastic everywhere. This can't be stressed enough. I read up about exposing brick, and heard that it's extremely messy but I took it too lightly. Hear me now- it’s dirtier than you can imagine (or have ever dared to imagine). During the brick-exposing process, I had a full-scale breach of my quarantined area, and the clean-up cost me valuable time when I was forced to re-quarantine the next day. When you’re prepping, put cardboard directly under the wall because plaster chunks will come raining down, and 3 mils of plastic sheeting will not go the distance. You’ll want the plastic tubs nearby so you can clean them as you go. Plaster gets very heavy, very quickly, so clearing it out often will save you back-breaking work later on.

3. Cut out all the trim

After your room is properly prepped and you are geared up (don’t wear anything you care about and plan to put your entire outfit right into the trash after the project) the next step is to stare that wall down and swing your crowbar. Actually, that's not true. Take your oscillating saw ($19.99 at Harbor Freight) and cut out all the trim..along the walls, ceiling, and windows (if you have any). This will take a while, but it gives you a nice clean break at the corners.

Quick side note on Harbor Freight..if you are an UN-handy person working a limited budget, Harbor Freight is about to become your best friend. It's cheap, super cheap. The power tools are pretty crappy, but again, if you are un-handy, chances are you won't be doing many renovations anyway, so you don't need the best. Unfortunately, they don't have everything so you'll ultimately be going to Home Depot during this operation, but start the journey at the Freight and get what you can….

Back to the wall.

4. Your precise, calculated blows

You can't go ape on the wall, don't even think about going ape. You must use precise, calculated blows on the drywall. I heard a crowbar was the best, but I found its distant cousin the putty knife to be more effective. Starting at your test area take your hammer (and this is the only time you'll be able to Mike Tyson the wall) pound around in a 1 square foot radius. This leads me into another excellent point, work in small areas. Don't jump around from spot to spot. Attack this wall with calculated precision. After you pound the wall, work your putty knife between the plaster and brick as far as it will go and then pry. Hopefully big chucks will fall. Don't expect this to be easy. Some sections will come off in huge, glorious chucks. Other areas will be so much trouble you'll want to cry, but by that time your tear ducts will so clogged with plaster dust that a 1000-year-old mummy has a better chance of producing a tear than you do. This leads me to my next point. When you get frustrated, it's tempting to start wailing away on the wall with your crowbar, but this is exactly what the wall wants you to do; it really doesn't want to be exposed. It's cozy under an inch and a half of plaster. It's been like that for the last 100 years. It doesn't want to be revealed and it will fight you at every turn. Going ape with the crow will do nothing for the cause, because if plaster is not in big chunks, it's in dust form. And when it goes dust, it permeates everything and goes into every orifice of your body. So after you have cleared all the plaster off your wall, you'll notice it doesn't look very good.

5. Scrub the wall with wire brushes

The next step is to take wire brushes (in various sizes, the smallest being toothbrush size, the biggest 8 inches) and scrub the wall hard! This, unfortunately, produces tons of dust and dirt, but it can’t be avoided.

6. Vacuum

Okay, congrats…the extremely messy part is done, but you are far from completing this project, which by now I'm sure you are regretting. Now is a good time to grab your vacuum (this project will destroy any normal vacuum, so be sure it's old and pretty much useless or it's a shop vac) and vacuum up all the dust that has settled on the baseboard, windows sills, etc.

7. Sponge down the newly exposed brick

After the dust has been somewhat cleaned up, grab a bucket of warm water and a large sponge and wipe down your newly exposed brick.

8. Fill holes and gaps in the bricks with mortar

Hopefully, you don't have large cracks, but if you do, you can do one of two things…lie to yourself (because, at this point, you want the project to be done) and say, “Hey, the cracks give the wall character!”, and leave them alone or get scared (like I did) that the bricks will start falling out, which will lead to my house collapsing. So, if you don't want your house to collapse, grab some mortar repair (cement filler) and fill in the cracks. You'll sleep better. And yes, the mortar won't look like the 100-year-old mortar you just exposed, but at least your house won't fall down (which it probably wouldn't anyway).

9. Fill gaps along the trim with expanding foam

After all that, grab a can of this magical foam stuff that expands when you spray it and fill in all the seams around baseboards, windows, ceiling, etc.

10. Trim off excess foam and sand

Wait for the foam to cure, then buzz the excess hardened foam with your oscillating saw, sand it smooth, throw some joint compound over it, and guess what ?!! …you are still not done. Oh No. You'll be working on the edge work far longer than you working on anything during this process, and they will still look like crap. To date, I am still trying to get my edges looking good.

11. Clean the bricks, again

Next, clean the brick one more time with a sponge to get any remaining dust off.

12. Seal the bricks

And now, it's brick sealant time (the sealant was the most expensive part of this project) to keep out moisture. I heard a sprayer works best, but since I didn't have one of those, I used a paintbrush and sponge. It's tempting to rush through this process, but the sealant is key to long-term success, especially if you don't want to be cleaning up mortar dust for the rest of your life. Use the paintbrush to get into all the nooks, crannies, and mortar (trace around each brick), and use the sponge for the face of the bricks. You can measure success when you can wipe the bricks with the sponge, and you don't hear any more mortar dust falling off and hitting the plastic below.

13. The clean-up

Now for the clean up (which will hopefully be a breeze if you prepped properly), meticulously tear down your plastic slowly and precisely to keep the dust from spreading. Sweep up the dust that inevitably got through, bandage up your bruised and bloody fingers, kick back and realize that it looks pretty good for not being a pro-pin-tucker, and you did, and you did it for cheap. Congrats. You now have a beautiful brick wall.

One last thing I forgot to mention… this project will leave you battered, bruised and unbelievably sore. At one point, my hands went numb from overuse, and at another point, I lost the ability to reach above my head. After the first day (the hardest manual labor), I lay in bed and begged Anna for any type of massage she was willing to give.

P.S. I never mentioned using the crowbar, it's really not needed, but it feels good to have it on standby. You'll inevitably, in bouts of frustration, reach for the crowbar thinking you'll show this walls who the boss hogg is and take a few heated whacks to realize the crow is too big and bulking for this project and that the putty knife is actually perfect even though it might feel slower.

Have you ever exposed a brick wall? Do you have any tips on how to do it? Do you think you might try exposing a brick wall?