I understand you’re the man to talk to! My wife and I are buying a home in historic Fells Point of Baltimore, and we would like to expose some brick on the interior walls. Do you have any ideas or procedures? — Kevin A. Perkins
First determine if an exposed brick wall is really what you want. Many historic masonry buildings were not constructed with the intent of leaving the interior brick walls exposed. They were left rather rough and unfinished because the builders knew they would be covered up with finished plaster and woodwork. It became a trend in the mid-20th century to expose brick walls because it cost less that restoring the seriously deteriorating plaster and woodwork that originally covered the brick. Many brick walls were exposed, looked too ugly, and had to be covered back up at great expense. The trend of exposing bricks became a “style” of historic building renovation. It is still sometimes done even when the finish plaster and woodwork is in good condition or could be restored or preserved, sometimes at lower cost.
Also you may want to consider heating cost and comfort issues. Removing the finish plaster and woodwork from an exterior wall will increase heating costs and may make the living space less comfortable due to drafts and radiational cooling.
If you still want to expose the brick begin by investigating the character of the bricks. Look through openings that may already be in the wall such as those made for heating and electrical fixtures. You may have to make some openings by cutting through plaster in small areas (perhaps 2″x3″ or 6″x6″) or carefully removing woodwork. If you find the brick surfaces do not look good in these areas it will be much easier to repair this minor investigation damage than if you just started ripping out large sections of the finish walls. Also determine the construction of the walls and consider how you will run electrical line to the space and how windows and doors will be finished off as they meet the bricks.
John Leeke is a preservation consultant who helps homeowners, contractors and architects understand and maintain their historic buildings. You can contact him at 26 Higgins St., Portland, Maine, 04103; or by E-mail: johnleeke@HistoricHomeWorks.com; or log onto his website at: www.HistoricHomeWorks.com
© John Leeke