Get ready because this is a messy one, but don't be afraid! While preparing to do mine I had browsed through some other home reno blogs and their warnings almost made me back down. I'm so happy that I didn't though because it totally transformed the room. It makes spaces effortlessly impressive (it's honestly the one thing people pay attention to when they walk in so sometimes I wonder why I even do anything else). All brick walls are different and I'm sharing my personal experience so I'll try to provide as much information as possible. My favourite advice for this one is be confident. Once you start you don't want to stop, and you have to give it your all. It should also be noted that this is for exposing brick under lath and plaster. That's why it's a big project to take on because plaster is dusty and heavy. I have yet to expose a brick wall under drywall, but that is to come!
First Things To Think Of:
Is there actually brick to expose
I have an old brick house with plaster interior walls and no insulation, so I knew brick was waiting under there. If your house is newer or if there have been previous renovations done and drywall has been put up, then you'll most likely have insulation that you probably don't want to remove.
The location of the brick wall
I live in Ontario, Canada so heating my house is important. My house is a semi-detached and you often see exposed brick walls done on adjoining walls between the houses. These are the most optimal because they are interior walls so you are not losing a layer of protection between you and outside. You ARE losing a layer of protection between you and your neighbours though. So if you find that sound is already an issue, you may notice a bit more.
The brick wall I exposed is in my kitchen and was originally an exterior wall that someone added an addition to on the other side. My kitchen ceilings are around 10 ft. and the addition only goes up about 8 ft., so there is a gap of a couple feet at the top of my wall where it is exposed to the exterior. This concerned me before because I had people say that it's not worth it because I would lose so much heat. But I just waited till someone told me what I wanted to hear to do what I was going to go anyhow (don't we all?). In comparison to my whole house, this wasn't a big deal. And my dad reminded me that people put windows all over the place and they let out the most heat (thanks dad).
So my advice would be to think of the size of your wall in comparison to what is around it. I left an exposed brick wall in my attic after having the whole space insulated. It's ratio to the whole attic wasn't enough for me to seal it away and say goodbye to my beautiful brick. There will be people who shake their heads at me reading this (I know because people do it right at me...), but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.
The condition of your brick
Basically at this point you can't continue without doing a test spot. Pick the most subtle spot to smash a whole in your wall and open her up!
Use a hammer to smash away some plaster. You'll find lath underneath which are horizontal boards that are used to receive the plaster. You can try to hammer through the lath to break it up, or use a sawzall to make a clean cut. Then you'll be faced with a layer of concrete that you can chisel at with a hammer or use a mason chisel. Be gentle here so that you don't damage your brick right away. This is just to get a peek at what's happening underneath, keep reading for a full list of all the tools you'll need.
Interior bricks are different than exterior so unfortunately you can't judge from the outside of your home. Interior bricks are a lot more fragile because they are intended to be covered up. There is a chance that once you start opening up your wall you will find bricks crumbling apart and falling out. You may even discover some holes. I personally like the look of a distressed wall, but you don't want to see to the exterior or have bricks falling down later on. Be prepared to have to do some mortar work. Luckily for me I didn't have to do this! Unfortunately for you I don't have advice on how to do so!
Prepping your space
Luckily my whole house was under construction and already a dusty disaster so I didn't have to worry about sealing my space too intensely. But that is a definite must. Buy some big plastic painters sheets and tape off any opening to an adjacent space. Clear out as much as possible from the room and tightly cover whatever can't be moved. Don't underestimate how far that dust will travel once you start blasting off the cement .
Ventilation is also key. Open your windows or exterior doors and get fans blowing out of them. But be careful where those fans are blowing, you don't want to cover your neighbours gardens with dust.
Cover as much as possible. The disposable bodies suites with hoods are the best because you are definitely going to want to toss them afterwards. My mom was a trooper and helped me with the dirty dirty stuff. The body suites we got kept ripping so make sure you get a big enough size. You also want full body motion, so get a bigger size to avoid major wedgies!
The more intense the face mask, the better! We got the heavy duty disposable ones, but the big plastic ones where you change the filter would have been better. If you use the ones like we did then just make sure to change them often enough.
Full protection googles are a must! But holy hell did they ever get foggy from the face masks. I don't know how to avoid this, so please share if you do! Maybe the plastic face masks would have helped? I'm not sure.
Reciprocating saw (Sawzall)
Electrical drill with wire brush head (my favourite tool for this project)
Shop Vac (a good one)
Knock off the plaster
Plaster isn't too hard to get off because it comes down in big pieces. Try to stay above where you're knocking off (i.e. get on a ladder).
Most important thing in this step (all steps actually) is to clean up as you go. Plaster gets extremely heavy so you will want to bag waste often and keep it small. I lined a bin with a contractor bag and tried to knock pieces down directly into the bin. I replaced the bag before it got to heavy to carry.
Breaking some lath off as you go can help you get leverage under stubborn areas.
Remove the lath
Using a sawzall to cut the lath into smaller sections will make it easier to pry the boards off. I didn't do this with a sawzall and it was okay because I just broke the boards with my hammer. But if you have one, then I promise this will be easier.
Remove the strapping
Definitely needed a sawzall for this.
Blast off the cement
This was the super dusty part. The cement doesn't come off like the plaster. It is applied directly onto the brick so it is a lot more attached. You can chip away at it with a hammer, mason chisel, and crow bar. These got rid of the big chunks that were willing to come off. But this is where the power drill and wire brush saved the day. It blasts the cement off without having to smash the brick underneath. Pay attention because you can start blasting the bricks apart if you go too far (but it'll be obviously so don't worry).
Having backup batteries was key because power drills aren't built to continuously run for hours straight. I had to change about every 20-30 minutes. The battery got harder and harder to take off though after it got built up with dust. So maybe try to wipe it out every time to avoid this. At one point I had to have someone hold the drill while I pulled the battery with all my power, so if you can avoid... I would. OR use a drill with a chord to avoid all these problems.
This is really where you have to remember to be confident, because it can get exhausting and frustrating.
The edges that meet the existing walls are going to need some attention. The gap was pretty deep for my wall so we used some foam sealant to fill the gap so that there was something to receive the thin pieces of drywall. This had to happen on the sides and top. And then some mudding and sanding, and voila! I am not a mudding expert and do not have a good feather technique, so this was executed by my drywall who was already doing work around the house (thanks Luc!).
I left my wainscotting and door frame, and they had their problems of their own. My dad added a new ledge of the top of the wainscotting to fill the gap, and an extra layer around the door frame. He's a skilled carpenter and scribed the wood to the uneven lines of the brick (very thankful for that).
Sealing your brick will ensure that loose dust won't kept falling from your wall. I had some extra cement sealer and I bought a a hand pump sprayer to apply. I have yet to do this part actually... things just kept moving forward and it became less and less convenient. Don't do what I do and wait until you've moved all your stuff in!
The results were worth every morsel of dust! It adds so much depth to the room. And like I said before: effortlessly impressive (well after you're done all the hard work of course...)