Angie's LIST Guide to
Masonry exteriors

Generally considered the highest quality choice for home exteriors, brick and stone are also almost maintenance free and will last as long as the house, though some repairs may be needed from time to time.


Masonry touches to your home's exterior, such as a retaining wall, can add a timeless look. (Photo courtesy of Angie List members Deborah and Paul S.)
Masonry touches to your home's exterior, such as a retaining wall, can add a timeless look. (Photo courtesy of Angie List members Deborah and Paul S.)

Brick and stone

home with brick exteriorExteriors with masonry accents can often require additional maintenance. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Michale M.)

Timeless and refined, a brick or stone exterior is one of the best choices for your home. Either material creates a fire-resistant covering that will increase the value of your home. Research has shown that brick effectively lowers heating and cooling costs by as much as eight percent. It can withstand high winds and is not typically damaged by hail or other debris that may be blown around in windy conditions. Brick and stone exteriors are also extremely durable and can continue protecting your home well into the next century.

Disadvantages - Brick and stone cost more to install than other home exterior materials and their weight needs to be considered during construction.  Once in place they are very solid and inflexible. This makes brick and stone a problematic choice in areas that are prone to earthquakes. Over time, brick and stone will also start to weather, changing their colors slightly.   This can make it difficult to match the appearance if the home is later expanded or remodeled.

Cost - Expect to pay between six and twelve dollars a square foot for brick siding on your home. Stone siding is even more expensive, costing between eight and fifteen dollars a square foot.

Installation – People mistakenly assume brick is waterproof. However, water can penetrate and seep through to the area behind it. It is important that a waterproof barrier be placed on the wall before the brick siding is installed.  Brick needs to be installed with a drainage plane or weep holes so any water has an easy escape route. The installation will cost a little more initially, but it will avoid countless problems down the road. You should also find out how the mason ensures that falling mortar won’t block this important drainage system. When brick or stone is added to an existing home originally designed for wood siding, the builder may need to add foundational support to carry the added weight.

Maintenance - Bricks may crack over time, so you still need to inspect your brick home on an annual basis. Small cracks can be ignored, but it might be better to patch them using grout tinted to match the brick. Cracks that grow too large will require the help of a mason to replace the damaged brick.  More likely, however, would be the need to replace mortar.  It should hold up for twenty-five years or longer, but when cracks and gaps start to appear, you will want to start calling masons for estimates. The damaged mortar should be chiseled out before new mortar is put in place.

Repointing mortar is not as simple as removing the old mortar with a power tool and then slopping in a new mix. Talk to the contractor to ensure he will remove the old mortar to a depth of one inch. The new mortar should also match the existing mortar to ensure proper bonding. This isn’t a big problem for new homes, but it can be a serious issue for historic homes. If your home is older, especially if it is more than seventy years old, consider hiring professionals who specialize in working with older brick.


house with stucco exteriorStucco can be customized in many different textures to meet the homeowners' needs. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Eric M.)

Perhaps no other exterior siding can be customized like stucco. Homeowners have the option of choosing stucco that is lightly textured or has a coarse texture for more interest. Designed to be durable, stucco is a highly affordable siding option that requires little maintenance through the years. Made of cement, sand, lime and water, stucco is naturally resistant to fire. This siding option also has insulation qualities that will help lower your heating and cooling costs. Some homeowners love it because it can be installed by a homeowner, presenting a substantial savings on installation costs. Be forewarned, however, that installation can be tricky. If you don't like the final look, you will have to remove all the stucco and start over again with a clean slate.

Disadvantages - The biggest problem with stucco is that it is not well suited for extreme exposure to water. An excellent choice for southern climates, it holds up well in the warmer temperatures. Stucco can still be used in northern climates, provided certain protective measures are set in place for the moisture issue. Some homeowners confuse stucco with cement. However, it is not cement and cannot be treated as such. When grading around your home, the dirt must stay below the stucco siding.

Cost – Stucco is not the most affordable siding option, however it is a more affordable option than brick or natural stone. At six to nine dollars a square foot, it is an excellent choice for homes in warm, dry climates. With the proper installation methods, it is also a fine choice even for homes in northern climates.

Installation – Stucco cannot be applied directly to wood. Talk to the contractor to find out what kind of framework will be used for the stucco to adhere to. Industry standard is to use a framework of tar paper and wire. To prevent wall rotthe installer must leave an air gap of at least 3/8th of an inch between the stucco framework and the sheathing. Find out how your contractor will handle creating this important drying space between the wall and the siding.  Flashing must be used around windows to avoid problems with water seeping in through these vulnerable areas. At least two layers of building wrap should be used under the stucco to protect wood that is not pressure treated.

Maintenance – Stucco can crack, and when that happens it’s important to make repairs promptly. The good news is that repairs are relatively simple. Hairline cracks can usually be painted. Thicker cracks can be taken care of with a little premixed stucco patch mix. Rapidly spreading cracks and those that reappear after being patched can indicate a larger problem and should be surveyed by a professional.

Installation issues

In an earlier era of building construction, stone or brick materials often provided the primary support for exterior walls.  In modern construction, however, homes are framed in wood while brick or stone facades are attached to the exterior for decorative and weather protection purposes rather than for structural support.

Brick veneers were traditionally attached to wood frame houses, but can be applied over other materials as well. Veneers may be either anchored or adhered. Brick veneer should be 3 to 5 inches thick of an appropriate grade, generally SW brick. Thin brick veneer is between ½ and 1 inch thick and comes in many sizes, colors and textures. Properly constructed, brick veneers add protection to both the exterior and interior of the building. They are fire and moisture resistant and provide thermal and acoustical insulation.

Anchored brick is attached with fasteners to the existing exterior of a house. This creates an air space between the old siding and the veneer that also serves as a drainage channel for moisture. Adhered brick veneer attaches to an existing wall with lath and plaster; these materials resist moisture penetration.

Stone veneers provide decorative and protective attributes to a building’s exterior, as brick does. Stone is also fire-resistant, with thermal and acoustical insulation properties. Stone veneers may be natural or manufactured.

Natural stone veneers are three to five inches thick and can weigh up to 45 to 50 pounds per square foot, requiring a brick support ledge to distribute the weight. Each course of stone supports the next. Additional structural reinforcement may also be required. Masonry ties connect the stone to the wall. Several types of natural stone are suitable for exterior veneers including limestone, sandstone, marble, slate and granite.

Newer technology, like diamond blade cutting, creates thin natural stone veneers that are 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches thick, with an average weight of 10 to 15 pound per square foot. Manufactured stone veneers are lighter, usually lower in cost and have a lower waste factor than natural stone. Good quality faux stone looks like natural stone in color and texture. Stone veneers can be applied over any properly prepared surface.

When setting stone, the spacing between stones, size and color of the stone and technique of grout application can create a particular look, like rustic or old world. Both natural and manufactured stone veneers can create the effect of a solid stone wall; however, low-quality materials and poor installation may result in a facade that looks artificial. Thin stone veneers are more difficult to use in detailed work like lintels, corbels and return corners.


As a stucco specialist and contractor I can say that "painting" a cement based stucco will ruin the home if you live in a climate with rain and snow. The paint seals the surface and causes the moisture to become trapped where it will rot the building papers and then the plywood sheeting. To properly patch cracks you have to apply Primus, bonding agent, and embed fiberglass mesh in the Primus. Then apply a new acrylic stucco over the wall. Re-coloring the entire wall from top to bottom and corner to corner will ensure a proper color match. TJ Construction, LLC. Salt Lake City.

Just use a limewash colored with powdered pigment.

Mr. Powers and his crew dismantled an eight step brick front stairway that had been inundated with water and the concrete was turning to sand. He went a foot below ground in order to ensure no future movement. He discovered a leak and molding board which was causing a problem in my basement. He was able to immediately contact a carpenter who did a detailed repair and ensured that the area was water tight. All this and he was immaculate, polite and timely. He came when he said he would and stayed long hours. If he was unable to come, he called. His price was excellent and well worth the product.

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