As a rule, if you have brickwork on your home then the advice is to keep it as is, showing off the glorious reds or yellows that come from the local brick where you live. But in some circumstances you can bring the brickwork back to life by going back over a century to when limewash was the standard in exterior house decoration.
Lime mortars were used to cover the exterior of buildings in the 18th and 19th centuries instead of paint, with limewash being a thinner solution being more akin to the masonry paints we know today. Such finishes should always be used where you have a period property that already uses lime coverings, but they can be used to great visual effect on bricks where you have old, unattractive or damaged brickwork.
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Limewash can be used to cover up a multitude of sins if you have a period home that has had cladding or pebbledash inexpertly removed. As well as making for a good finish, it also protects masonry work that may be damaged, providing a breathable finish that acts as a protective or ‘sacrificial’ layer against the elements.
Limewash is made from a mix of water and non-hydraulic lime, which comes in putty form. You or your builder can add a pigment at the mixing stage, but this would generally be used for older homes where the wash is being applied to an exterior that is already coated in lime mortar. For brickwork, a simple wash in white is applied, with a mix of around twice the amount of water to lime putty.
Getting a good finish is a tough job, which is why you may be best hiring a bricklayer or masonry specialist to complete the job. But experienced DIY-ers with a keen eye for design and visuals should be able to get the correct spread of limewash. Although if you are doing the job yourself you should always take care to wear gloves and goggles, as lime can burn exposed skin.
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The best finish should give an aged look to the brickwork, which is similar to what you may have seen inside when people are trying to give a semi-distressed look to new or exposed brick walls. This is where experience can pay dividends and a plasterer/renderer who has experience of working with lime can really come into their own. They will know which parts to highlight with heavier applications of the wash and where to keep it to a minimum. An even finish may be okay for some, but the uneven finish that you can get with limewash is really what you should be aiming for if you are going with that over a simple paint finish.
Limewash can take a few days to dry, but a single coat should be sufficient for your exterior if you simply want to get that distinctive chalky ageing look that it offers. To fully coat and protect a property in limewash, such as when you want to use it as an exterior paint alternative, will take three or more applications.
If you are applying the limewash to damaged or pocked brickwork then you should have a bricklayer or masonry expert to have a look at it before you start. This means that any additional patching or pointing work that may need doing can be taken care of before you apply the wash. In many cases the brick expert you get to look at the masonry should be able to carry out the limewashing job for you too.
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