How to Expose Brickwork

Credit: @1930shousetohome

During lockdown, homeowners up and down the country have been busy putting their DIY skills to the test. While some people have kept things simple by putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls, others have been taking on some more challenging tasks, like exposing their fireplaces and creating a real feature in a living room or dining room.

To learn more about the recent trend of exposing brickwork in the home, we spoke to Lisa Evans, who is a spokesperson for MyJobQuote. As a specialist in the tradesperson industry, she was perfectly placed to give us advice on how you can carry out the job in your home.

“What is the process of exposing brickwork around a fireplace?”

Although the process of exposing the brickwork around a fireplace is relatively straightforward, you need to follow certain steps to make sure that you complete the job to the highest possible standard. These are:

  1. Examine the state of the brick you wish to expose before starting. If your brickwork is in poor condition, you may need to consult with a specialist before you start the work.
  2. Protect the floor nearest the wall by covering it with sheeting. This will help stop it from scratching or chipping as bits of plaster fall from the wall. Plus, it makes the cleaning process quicker.
  3. Start breaking up the plaster with a masonry chisel and hammer.
  4. Once you have removed most of the plaster, you can then focus on the tough sections that remain. If you have some sections that refuse to come away, try using a sharp knife.
  5. Once all the plaster has been removed, use a wire brush to go over the exposed wall. This will remove any small bits of plaster and sediment.
  6. Once you’ve cleared the wall, spread a mild detergent on the brickwork.
  7. Leave this solution on the brickwork for 5-10 minutes and then wipe it away with a wet sponge.
  8. Finally, use one or two coats of brick sealant on the newly exposed wall. This will help to protect it.

“What safety measures do people have to follow?”

When you expose the brickwork on a fireplace, you need to make sure you follow health and safety protocols, particularly when you’re working with sharp tools.

Firstly, if you’re really unsure about what you’re doing or you think it might not be safe to expose the brickwork, then consult a structural engineer or a bricklayer before you begin the work. Similarly, if you’re unsure of how to use any of the tools you need, speak to someone who does.

Then, while carrying out the work, make sure that you protect yourself by using the correct protective equipment, including goggles, a respirator and gloves.

Finally, make sure you carefully check the manufacturer’s instructions on the brick sealant before you use it. These instructions will show you the correct quantity of the solution you need and any safety steps you need to take.

“How long does it usually take to expose brickwork around a fireplace?”

How long it takes to expose the brickwork around a fireplace depends on how large the wall is, whether the brickwork needs repointing and how many coats of sealant are required.

However, as a guide, it usually takes four to six hours to completely clear the area. This  time scale is for a standard fireplace and chimney breast (5ft W X 9ft H) and also includes the clean up process too.

“Can you offer any tips for things people should avoid doing when they’re undertaking the job?”

Firstly, if you’re pulling the plaster off the wall then you need to make sure you’re not doing it aggressively. If you’re too aggressive and try to get the job done quickly with big swings of the hammer and chisel, you could damage the brickwork underneath.

Then, once you have completed the job, don’t apply the sealant before you hoover all the dust and debris. Otherwise, some of this may blow up and catch on the sealant as it dries.

“Are there any different types of fireplaces people should be aware of?”

The type of fireplace and flue system you have in your home will determine how you need to proceed. I’ll quickly give you a recap of the main types of fireplaces and flues, as well as a brief explanation of each:  

• Fake fireplace: These may need to be detached from the wall before you start to expose the brick wall behind it.

• Gel fireplace: This type of fireplace uses alcohol-gel based canisters as a fuel source. They don’t need a chimney or flue and they can be placed anywhere within the home or garden.

• Ethanol fireplace: Also known as a bio fireplace, ethanol fireplaces are similar to a gel fireplace. This type of fireplace burns ethanol as a fuel and doesn’t need to be hooked up to your gas or electricity. This means you have free rein on where to place it.

• Open-hearth fireplace: This is a traditional fireplace that has been built into a property. It’s usually made from either brick or stone. Most period properties will have open-hearth fireplaces built in specific rooms. They’re usually built directly onto a chimney, but they’re not as efficient as the newer-style fireplaces we now see more often.

• Free-standing fireplace: This is a contemporary alternative to an open-hearth fireplace that works well if there’s no built-in chimney within the property. This is because it can be placed on a hearth in the middle of the room and no major renovation work is required to fit it.

• Insert fireplace: This is basically a combustion system that’s built into a steel or cast-iron surround. A fireplace like this can use any type of fuel and it is a lot more efficient than a traditional fireplace.

• Brick chimney: This is the classic flue and is found in most period properties with an open-hearth fire. However, you can use it for something more modern, such as a log burner.

• Pre-fabricated: This type of flue is usually used with gas fires. It’s commonly made from steel or another metal and it is placed through the roof of a property.

• Balanced flue: Again, this type of flue is used with gas when there’s no other flue or chimney available. It vents through an exterior wall rather than a roof.

• Pre-cast: This is a more modern type of flue. It’s typically made from concrete or clay.

“What equipment do people need to expose brickwork?”

If you head to your local DIY shop, you should be able to get all of the tools you require for exposing brickwork quickly and easily. Plus, because you don’t need any power tools, you don’t have to spend a fortune, either.

To expose brickwork, you’ll need the following equipment:

• A hammer

• A hoover

• A putty knife

• Gloves

• A sponge

• Mild detergent

• A respirator

• Goggles

• Brick sealant

• A masonry chisel

• Dust sheets or plastic sheeting

“When should people seek professional help with such a task?”

If your brickwork is in a good condition, then you can carry out the task yourself. However, you need to study the brickwork carefully before you begin. If you notice that some of the bricks are loose or appear to be crumbling, then it’s best to consult a professional before you start.

“How much does it cost to expose the brickwork around a fireplace?”

The amount it will cost to expose the brickwork on your fireplace depends on a number of factors, such as where your property is in the UK and how long the job takes. Remember, if the brickwork needs repointing or it needs more than one coat of sealant, the job will take longer and more materials will be required.

However, that being said, a job like this will usually cost you between £200 and £400. This is the cost of hiring a contractor to complete the job, and mostly to labour costs. If someone is doing the DIY themselves, they would just need to purchase a sealer (approximately. £60.00 for 5 litres) if they already have the tools to hand. 

“Do you have any top tips for installing a particular type of fireplace?”

Yes. If you’re planning on installing a log burner in your fireplace, then I have several tips for you.

Firstly, before you buy the log burner, you need to make sure that the log burner you buy adheres to the regulations in your area.

Then, before you fit the log burner, you should check the condition of your hearth. After all, log burners create a lot of heat, so you may need a new hearth if yours is old or damaged. Similarly, you should also make sure you line your chimney. This will help to stop toxic fumes making their way into your home.

Once you’ve fitted your log burner, you should install a carbon monoxide alarm to make sure your home is safe and free from potentially poisonous gases.

“How should exposed brick fireplaces be maintained and cleaned?”

Once you have exposed the brickwork, you can clean it using warm water and a mild detergent. If you have any dirt or marks on the bricks, then you can also use a sponge to scrub these areas. Once a year, I’d also advise using brick sealant to help maintain the exposed wall.

However, you need to remember that bricks absorb moisture. If you notice that the mortar between the bricks is starting to crumble or crack, then you’ll need to repoint the area. Similarly, if the bricks start to look damaged, you’ll need to replace them.

“Can you suggest any latest trends for exposed brickwork fireplaces from a decorative point of view?”

In the last few months, fireplace decorations have become one of the hottest interior design trends in the UK.

We have seen a rise in search volume for “fireplace ideas”, over the last year which is up 81 per cent YOY. 

There are lots of different fireplace accessories that are all popular, but a few of my favourite fireplace ideas include:

• Painting the brickwork: If you have a small room, then painting the brickwork white can help make the room look brighter and larger. 

• Pairing distressed brickwork with modern furniture: This provides a contemporary or industrial appearance in a home.

• Connecting to the outdoors: If you’re replacing the brickwork in the fireplace, then it’s worth trying to match it with the exterior brickwork of your home. This creates the illusion of ‘bringing the outside in’.

• Leaving building materials exposed: If you’ve exposed the brickwork in your fireplace, then it’s also worth leaving other building materials in your home exposed, such as the roof joist or floorboards. This helps to create a raw and industrial style. Alternatively, you can expose the brickwork on a whole wall, which creates an authentic, rustic appearance.

• Add an exotic-looking stove: You can then pair this perfectly with outlandish wallpaper, a Moroccan rug, indoor house plants and wood flooring. This helps to make a carefree, sophisticated space.

The fireplace ideas that work best in your space will depend on the age of your property and your style. However, I’d suggest trying a few different fireplace accessories to see which suits you best.
We hope these tips have inspired you to expose the brickwork in your home. After all, doing so can really open up your space and you can make a real design feature. Remember, if you’re thinking about adding a stove or fireplace to your new feature, then we have a wide range available and can advise you about which will look best in your space. Contact us today to learn more.

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