Before & After: Our House's Exterior


Just a couple months shy of completing our fourth year of home ownership, we embarked on possibly the biggest before and after transformation our house has seen so far - we painted our brick exterior! Since we first laid eyes on this yellow brick ranch back in 2016, painting the exterior white has always been on our to-do list.

I know painting brick can be a hot topic for many, but we're 100% sure it was the right choice for us. Our house was built in 1950, which I would say is on the newer end of homes within Pittsburgh (our last apartment was in a house built in 1890.) We also have to consider the fact that we plan on this being the house we live in forever. We love Pittsburgh, our neighborhood specifically, and our house even more specifically. The decision to paint our brick was the best decision for us and we're sticking to it.


The overall exterior makeover started right after we closed on the house (more on that below), but the painting process started towards the end of April 2020 and was just (mostly) finished last week. The painting was a full-on DIY, and we're going to break down all of the costs for you in case you're planning a big paint job yourself (or if you're just curious.)

So what all did we do? We...
- Removed about 20 overgrown hedges, slowly over the course of four years
- Removed a chain link fence that went around three sides of the house
- Planted grass or mulched all of the new hedge-free patches of dirt
- Pressure washed the entire house
- Painted (by brush) the entire exterior
- Planted new perennials in the front flower beds
- Decorated the porch for cozy evening hangouts

Below are some photos from when we purchased the house back in June 2016. You can see that it was surrounded by hedges and had a chain link fence on both sides and the back of the house. We removed the back fence immediately, as it made getting in and out of the driveway nearly impossible. Over the course of the next three years, we slowly cut down or completely removed a number of hedges - mostly the easy ones that we could do ourselves. There were several hedges that grew to be at least 8-10' tall and had insane root systems that we simply couldn't take care of on our own. It really felt like the house was suffocating beneath them and made it impossible to walk the path alongside the house to the backyard. Once the hedges got to the point of touching our neighbor's house and sending vines up their brick, we knew we needed professional help. We hired our friend Aaron's company, Ashton Landscaping, to remove the remainder of the hedges, fences, and do all of the edging/mulching. Once all of the hedges were gone, it was like the house could finally breathe again.


When it came time to choose our paint, I knew that I wanted to use a Romabio product because it's what John and Sherry of Young House Love had used to paint their brick house in Richmond. I know from following their blog for years that they really do their research, and the way they raved about Romabio really sold me. John and Sherry had their house painted with Romabio's Masonry Paint, however, we used the Romabio Limewash for our home. In all honesty, I would have preferred to use the Masonry Paint, but it simply wasn't available for me to purchase in our area. The Limewash is sold at Home Depot, making it easy to come by, and after reading about it extensively on the Romabio website, I thought it would still work for us.

Here are some quick facts about the Romabio Limewash:
- It is most commonly applied and then lightly washed off to give your home an aged, exposed brick look
- It is made of aged, slaked lime, which is formulated to be durable for decades without much maintenance
- It calcifies to the brick, which makes it super solid and prevents peeling or chipping
- It's a concentrated product, so you dilute it with water, making it as thick or thin as you want
- It can be pressure washed off within five days if you don't like it

While I was able to find a lot of examples of people using the Romabio Limewash for the washed off/exposed brick look, I couldn't find anyone else on the internet that had painted their brick home without any distressing. It made me a little nervous to go full speed ahead on a huge painting endeavor without being sure it would work as we intended, but we did it anyway and spoiler alert - it went pretty well!


Here's what we purchased:

You may be wondering, "Why did you buy paintbrushes to do this project when you could have just sprayed the whole thing and saved yourselves hours upon hours of time?" Great question - the truth is that we just didn't want to deal with all of the prep and cleanup of a paint sprayer day after day for the extent of working on this project. Additionally, we knew that with brushing, we could be more precise, not need to prep at all really, and cleanup would be a breeze. I think spraying would have been the way to go if we were going to take time off work and really try to get this project completed within a few days, but after spending 10 days in Switzerland, taking that kind of time off work just wasn't in the cards. In order to prep the house for spraying, we would have needed to use an absurd amount of plastic waste to cover all of the windows, doors, and other things that shouldn't be sprayed, and then have to deal with cleaning the sprayer (which I've heard is a nightmare) and potentially removing/reapplying plastic everyday until the project was complete. With brushing we didn't need to do any prep, and the only cleanup was the few minutes it takes to wash out a paintbrush. Did it take way longer? Yes. Was it a lot more physically demanding? Yes. Do we regret brushing it? No.


Okay, so here we go. Before painting, Nick pressure washed the entire house to get it sparkling clean. We decided to purchase this pressure washer (also a recommendation from Young House Love) and it works great. The cost was comparable to renting a pressure washer, but we'll get to keep this one and continue using it for cleaning in the future. We also filled in any holes in the brick with masonry filler and recaulked the window and door seams to make sure everything looked nice. Next, we mixed our paint so that it was two-parts Limewash concentrate to one-part water. We mixed everything up in 5-gallon buckets from Home Depot and used a paint stirring attachment on our drill to ensure the paint was well mixed. We mixed the paint in small batches so that it didn't dry out, and on days when we didn't use up what was in the bucket, we covered it with a trash bag, pushing the bag down until it was touching the paint so that no air could get in. 

To apply the paint to our house, we used a combination of three different brushes. I purchased the Romabio masonry brush because the reviews for it were so great, but I think we could have done without it and just gotten multiple inexpensive brushes instead. The instructions on the limewash say to make sure that your brick is wet before applying, but after trying the paint on wet brick vs. dry brick, we saw no distinguishable difference. It was a lot easier to just paint the dry brick, so that's what we did for the entire house, other than the porch interior.


While our house is a ranch and looks like one story from the front, it actually sits on a hill, so the back of the house is two full stories and requires an extension ladder to reach the top. Some gracious neighbors allowed us to borrow their 8' ladder and extension ladder so that we could reach the second story and chimney. The entire house has two coats of limewash and all-in-all, it took us about four months to complete, but obviously would have taken way less had we been working on it every day. There were some weekends where we painted for two solid days and other times where weeks went by without any painting. It's pretty demanding work, especially as Pittsburgh temps have pretty steadily been in the 90s most of the summer. I may also have a problem with getting 90% finished with a project and ready to move on to something else, so perhaps that was in play here as well...

After we finished painting the front, we added some perennials from Shadyside Nursery. I wish we had finished everything and taken photos when they were in their prime, but I assure you they looked great earlier in the summer. In the back row we have Baptisia australis, also known as False Indigo, which produces cute blue flowers that our neighborhood deer love to eat. We also have Asclepias tuberosa, or Butterflyweed, which produce orange flowers. They've been serving as good pollinators for our bees, and we're starting to see quite a few caterpillars making their homes on them. We can't wait to see the monarchs soon! In the front row we have Creeping Phlox, which should grow flowers and start to "creep" and serve as ground cover for much of the flower beds. I specifically picked these plants because they're native to our area, per the Audubon Society of Western PA, and we could get them from our local nursery. They're perennials, so they'll come back each year, and I can't wait to see how they look in the years to come.


We also styled out our porch a little bit by adding an old rug that we used to have in the living room of our last apartment. It's an interior rug, but we sprayed it with waterproofing spray to try and extend the life a little bit. We weren't using it in our house and were planning to get rid of it at some point, so if it doesn't hold up long-term, we'll eventually replace it with an outdoor rug. For now, we love the pops of color it brings to the space, especially against the bright white brick. We also kept these black benches and coffee table from Target that we added last summer. They're a great design and hold up well over winter. Our porch light came from a Netflix prop sale - they were used in Mindhunter season 2, in the hotel scenes (which were filmed in the old Century III Mall here in Pittsburgh.) We also added a Letterfolk Tilemat, which I've had my eye on forever. Letterfolk is known for their letterboards, and the tilemat is like a letterboard in that you can change out the tiles to make it say whatever you want. I love it!


We also added a metal planter from CB2 to house my pride and joy, our prickly pear cacti. I've been sharing their growth journey on my Instagram Stories over the past few months and can't get enough of how much they've grown. I've had several people ask me where we got them, but they were actually in our yard when we bought our house. We had one small patch of them that were dug out when the hedges were removed, so we saved them to transfer into a planter. Our neighbors have a huge patch of them in their yard and we've seen other houses in our neighborhood with them as well. They're surprisingly native to our area, which is super cool.

We also replaced our silver doorknob and deadbolt with new matte black options that match the doorknobs we've been using on all of our interior door makeovers. It's a little thing that makes a huge difference, and we love how the black ties into the other accents on the porch. I also learned how to rekey a lock, which was super exciting.

As far as the concrete slab in our backyard, we have big plans to add a small privacy fence around it and turn it into a real patio. Not sure when exactly that will happen, but we're very excited to see what that space can become someday.
 
 
 

So what do we think?

Well, WE LOVE IT. We'll be the first to admit that our paint job isn't perfect, but it looks a MILLION times better than it did previously, and we are so happy with it. I think white just suits our house better, and suits us better. I feel like our house had been in limbo for four years. We painted our front door pink shortly after moving in, and last summer we removed the hedges, added the black benches to our porch, and swapped out the light for something more mid-century modern, but all of those changes just accentuated the fact that the yellow brick didn't match. I think this house is meant to be painted white, and I'm glad we could make it happen.

How is it holding up?

I'll say, so far so good. I've had a few people ask me if we'll have to keep up with it for the rest of our lives and the truth is that I don't know. Our neighbor thinks we might see it crack or chip after going through a winter, but I don't know what he's basing that on. The thing that I think is important to note is that though we're saying we "painted" our house, the product we used isn't paint - it's limewash. It essentially becomes part of the brick, allowing it to breathe. Some masonry paints form somewhat of a seal on top of the brick and are designed to expand and shrink with changes in temperature, but don't actually breathe the way limewash does. I expect the limewash to patina over time, because that's what Romabio says it will do, but I don't know what that looks like on a house with two solid coats, rather than one partially washed off coat, as it's commonly used. We'll definitely keep you posted in years to come, but right now we're not really worried.


How much did we spend?

$538 - Romabio Limewash
$123 - Pressure Washer
$110 - Letterfolk Tilemat
$160 - Perennials
$86 - Planter
$163 - Paintbrushes, caulk, buckets, etc.
$106 - Door knobs and deadbolts
$61 - Garden supplies
$1,347 - TOTAL

We don't remember for sure, but we think we spent about $3,000 on the hedge removal and mulching, which we had done in the prior year. For what we spent this past spring, our expenses were a little over $1,300 and that includes a lot of the extra decor and things. Honestly this is a super small investment for the overall transformation. Even $4,300 is a small investment. We didn't get quotes for how much it would have cost to have a professional paint our house, but I feel certain that the labor alone would have been several thousand dollars (Elsie Larson, for instance, recently shared that paint & labor for her (albeit much larger) Nashville home was $8,500.)


What else is there to do?

Well like I mentioned, we're going to eventually turn the patio into more of an outdoor living space. We will probably also paint the siding above the porch on the front of the house, and replace the screen that covers the attic vent. Our butterflyweed in the front of the house has produced a ton of seed pods, so we might harvest those and plant the seeds in the mulched flowerbeds along the sides of the house this fall. Those are all of the planned updates for now!


I had no idea I could end up writing so much about this transformation, but we're so happy with our little white brick ranch. Here's our sources for everything (if I missed anything you're curious about, please let me know):

Romabio Bianco White Limewash - Home Depot
Romabio Masonry Paintbrush - Home Depot
Medium Paintbrush - Home Depot
Small Paintbrush - Home Depot
5 Gallon Buckets - Home Depot
Paint Stir Drill Attachment - Home Depot
Outdoor Caulk - Home Depot
Mortar Repair Sealant - Home Depot
Pressure Washer - Home Depot
Black Metal Porch Bench - Target (no longer available)
Black Metal Coffee Table - Target
Rug - Urban Outfitters (old, no longer available)
Black Metal Planter - CB2
Porch Light - Thrifted (similar)
Front Door Color (Glidden, Pink Carnation) - Home Depot
Pineapple Door Knocker - Anthropologie (no longer available; similar)
Rekeying Kit - Home Depot
Door Knob - Home Depot
Deadbolt - Home Depot
Doormat - Letterfolk
Landscaping - Ashton Landscaping

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Thanks for reading!

Sarah & Nick

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