Who doesn’t remember the Fixer Upper episode where Chip and Joanna wowed us all with their transformation of a 70’s brick house into a gorgeous Old World retreat with a little technique called a German Smear? It soon became a household term amongst Fixer Upper fans everywhere and inspired hundreds of DIY-ers to re-think their basic brick.
(photo via Magnolia)
One of those people was my brother, David: DIY-er Extraordinaire and a regular here on the blog now, known for his own Fixer-Upper projects you may have seen here and on my social media. (Remember this kitchen reno and this farmhouse table?) Well, he did some experimenting and research and recently took the plunge to do a mortar wash on their brick exterior. And it turned out to be fabulous! It’s a lot easier than you may think. And the amazing part? His total cost was less than $25! (Yes, really!)
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The supplies needed are basic, many of which you may already have in your garage or tool shed, but links are provided for items you may want to order…
- Two 5-gallon buckets
- Two grouting and concrete sponges
- A concrete mixer to use with an electric drill
- a pair of heavy-duty rubber gloves
- a wire brush
- 80-pound bags of mortar mix
David went with Quikrete’s Veneer Stone Mortar because it was just the shade of warm gray he and Brittany were wanting. It’s only around $7 per bag at Home Depot. Whiter shades of mortar can be used for a whiter look, or dye packs can be added to white mortar for custom colors. The color of the dry mix will be the color of the finished look. Don’t be alarmed when it looks darker during the process while it’s wet. It will dry to a lighter shade.
Their house has a brick front, which is about 900 square feet of brick that they wanted to cover. It took just under 3 bags to do the whole front, and since David already had the tools needed, it ended up costing them less than $25! It only took David around 4 1/2 hours to do the whole job himself and there’s little-to-no prep work to do beforehand!
To start the process, you need one bucket of clean water, as well as a hose nearby.
In the other bucket, mix the mortar about 1/4 of the bag at a time at about a 70/30 ratio of mortar to water (70% mortar, 30% water). Use the concrete mixer drill adapter to get it mixed well. You want the mix to be about the same consistency as pancake batter.
Things will get a little messy during application, but the rubber gloves will help to keep the mortar off your skin.
These sponges are made for working with these materials, so they are perfect for applying the mortar wash.
Once all the supplies are ready, the first thing to do is hose down the portion of the wall where you’re ready to apply the mortar. David recommends covering about a 5-square-foot section at a time, working from top to bottom. When the brick is nice and damp, it’s time to apply the mortar mix.
The difference between a mortar wash and a German Smear is in the application. The mortar wash, like David and Brittany chose, is basically a thinner, more consistent layer of the mortar, applied in lesser amounts, with various bricks left with sparser coverage. With the mortar wash, there may be less clumps and chunks left on and the coverage is a little smoother. With the German Smear, the coverage is heavier, with less definition between the bricks and more of a rustic look, with a few bricks wiped off to expose original brick. The mortar is mixed the same for either technique, it just depends on the look you prefer. If you apply more than you want, you can wipe it or rinse it off for the first few minutes until the mortar starts to set. Or, you can use the wire brush to remove larger portions…
Dip the sponge into the mix and scoop it on, applying it to the brick in an upward motion.
Then, just rub the sponge over to get the coverage you prefer.
Here’s a quick video of David showing the technique…
Rinse your sponge in your water bucket every 5-10 minutes, wringing it out well. Then change out the water in your bucket when it becomes too dirty.
The mortar will start to set within 20 minutes or so, and it will dry to the color in 3 to 4 hours on a warm day. Manufacturer’s instructions say it is fully cured in 3 to 4 days.
It’s such a huge transformation for such a small investment! And just so you know, this is permanent. But the good news is, no need to re-paint in a few years!
After the mortar wash, their next step was painting the trim around the windows in Sherwin Williams’ Rock Bottom…
The next steps are going to be the new front door, new shutters, new siding, a new roof, and new front and back porches! I’ve already seen some of this progress and I can’t wait to share it with you later! Stay tuned!
Thinking about trying a mortar wash or German Smear? I hope this how-to helps with the process! And to see some of the work David and Brittany have done on the inside, check out these posts…