What to Know About Revitalizing Brick and Masonry in a Historic Home

Kristin Luna
Written by Kristin Luna
Updated May 5, 2022
Exterior of a historic brick house
Photo: Jon Lovette / Stone / Getty Images


  • Historic buildings occasionally require masonry restoration due to deterioration.

  • Repairing cracks and matching existing material fall under a preservation project’s scope.

  • Watching out for moisture issues or water damage is also crucial.

  • You’ll want to hire a structural engineer and/or masonry contractor for this restoration project.

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Keeping up historic buildings that have been around for 50 years or more while also preserving their integrity is no small task. The art of such restoration methods entails extensive modifications and upgrades to bring an old building up to code and also tailor it to modern-day life and homeowner needs. Here’s a breakdown of what goes into a historic masonry restoration and common issues to look for that might call for one.

What Is Historic Masonry?

Stone, brick, terra cotta, concrete block, cast stone, and mortar form the basis for many historic homes and are often utilized solely as the foundations for these traditional structures. You’ll also find that many older buildings are constructed entirely of brick and mortar, making it a challenge for the average DIYer to renovate and maintain because the heavy lifting and manipulation of these masonry materials is hard work.

What Does a Historic Masonry Restoration Entail?

If you’re considering taking on a masonry repair project, it’s important to evaluate a few factors that can impact the project costs and scope. Here are a few things to check as you proceed. 

Repairing Cracks in the Brick

If there are large scale breaks in the brick that appear to follow the grout lines along a vertical plane, it’s possible that you have structural issues that might involve extensive and costly repairs before you even begin to do the repairs to the masonry itself. A structural engineer will be able to evaluate the situation. 

Also note that there’s a distinct difference between what a historic preservationist would consider historic brick versus simply old brick that doesn’t have any actual historical value. An expert will be able to evaluate its merit and whether you should pay for a full restoration of historic masonry, versus a less-costly replacement with a comparable, modern product. 

Addressing Moisture Issues

A common failure point in homes, particularly with historic masonry like brick, is the long term intrusion of water into the substrate. Older bricks have a tendency to break down back to their clay component parts if they’re left in a constantly moist situation. Foundations made of brick that both meet the soil directly and are in a wet area of the landscape are especially susceptible to this wicking effect. You need to replace bricks once the’ve deteriorated to this level.

Evaluating Paint Condition

While painting older brick is often the best way to preserve the integrity of a building, if the finish on the structure has not been maintained properly as it aged, there will be problems. If the building was painted before 1978, lead paint is a concern, but you’ll also want to take a good look at situations with the paint that involves bubbling and efflorescence, a condition that indicates an excessive moisture build up that comes from the soil as the brick and mortar leaches out minerals up from the ground. Correct the underlying issue of water along the foundation of your home before moving to scrape, clean, prime and repaint historic masonry.

Matching Old Material

You’ll likely run into trouble matching up appropriate materials that match the originals with the newer products that have since replaced them. Brick manufacturing plants in the old days were never standardized for color or ingredients due to the nature of their use of locally available and suitable clay; while you might get close to the original by researching reclamation companies that specialize in this problem, it’s likely that there will still be a noticeable difference between your historic masonry and the repair. 

How Much Does Masonry Repair Cost?

Like many home renovation projects, the cost of historic masonry restoration is highly variable depending on the conditions of the deterioration. Brick repair costs $1,600 on average and typically ranges anywhere from $20 to $40 per square foot, depending on the level of damage and repairs required. If you’re working with a sagging building that clearly isn’t level, you’ll spend much more money on the project than if you simply have a couple loose bricks or a seam crack that needs fresh mortar pointing. 

Who Do You Hire for a Historic Masonry Restoration?

A man restores a brick wall
Photo: Peter / Adobe Stock

Matching and repairing brick or masonry on an old building—and making it look good in the process—is an art form. While you might get lucky and find a regular masonry company that can accomplish the task of revitalizing your historic home, as this type of work is fairly specialized, you’ll want to set aside a budget to hire a masonry contractor and have them restore the historic building back to its former glory. 

As with any project of this nature, you’ll want to take a look at a contractor’s previous work and have clear lines of communication open with them about your expectations. Structural issues can trigger the necessity of an engineer, as well, so you might need to hire multiple trades to do the job right. 

What Are the Different Types of Stone Masonry?

The most common type of masonry is a system of brick and mortar that is layered up to build a foundation or entire building. Depending on the age of your structure or the location, you might encounter limestone rock, which was fairly easy to cut back in the day, while some more esoteric buildings will have been built out of whatever local stone was available at the time. In any case, the individual pieces will be bound together with a lime mortar that will break down faster than the rock or brick. Paying special attention to this portion of the masonry often fixes a lot of issues like paint failure, moisture intrusion inside the building, or overall sagging of the home. 

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