Should I Paint My Foundation?

After doing some renovations to my house last year, it became very obvious that my block foundation walls were an eyesore. I thought about using shrubs to hide them, but I don’t have much of a green thumb. So I wondered, should I paint my foundation?

Yes, you should paint your foundation walls. The primary benefit of the paint will be to provide aesthetic value for your home. Exterior masonry paint also provides a measure of protection against moisture and UV damage. Quality masonry paint can last from 10 – 15 years.

In this article, we’ll take a look at how to paint your concrete block foundation and the benefits and drawbacks. We’ll also investigate other products such as concrete stain and paint over other foundation coverings such as parging and tar.

Should I Paint My Foundation

Should I Paint My Foundation?

Should you bother painting your foundation? The simple answer is yes. Modern paint products such as masonry waterproofer not only cover concrete for up to 10 years without peeling but also come in colors other than gray or white.

The great enemy of any exterior surface is not just water, but UV light. Concrete, despite its durability and strength, is susceptible to sunlight. Over time, direct exposure to sunlight can cause block foundation walls to deteriorate to the point that mortar can crumble and small cracks or holes can form.

Concrete Foundations

The most common foundation, you most likely have a poured concrete or concrete block foundation. Visible beneath your siding and above ground level, most homeowners opt to simply leave it alone.

However, leaving the concrete alone is not always the most aesthetically pleasing choice. Luckily for homeowners, it is a straightforward process to paint concrete and there are tons of products available to choose from in all colors.

Brick Foundations

Brick foundations are not brick, but concrete. Somewhere along the line, either when the house was built or later on, a homeowner decided to cover the foundation with brick.

Brick is a bit more difficult to paint since it is more porous than concrete and the surface of brick will likely have more cracks or penetrations. As well, the actual surface of the brick wall has more undulations, making the painting more difficult.

With that being said, brick can be painted and the finished product can change the whole complexion of your house. Using plenty of primer before painting brick – using a sprayer – makes the process much easier.

Pros

  • Provides aesthetic value to your home
  • Protects masonry from UV and moisture damage
  • Can seal small cracks or holes

Cons

  • If you change your siding, it won’t match your foundation paint
  • Is not a substitute for foundation waterproofing
  • Paint is not cheap – a 5-gallon bucket is about $150

Can You Paint Over Foundation Coatings?

Paint foundation

Chances are your foundation already has something covering it. It could be parging, which is the smooth grey coat of mortar usually applied over a concrete block or poured foundation walls. Or you simply might have a coat of tar, which is the waterproofing the initial builder put around the foundation of your home.

Whatever you have, understand that not every coating or foundation wall covering was meant to be painted. Let’s have a look at what’s covering your foundation and if it can be painted or not.

Tar

One of the most common foundation coatings, particularly on older homes, tar has been around for decades in terms of providing a seemingly elastic weathertight barrier between the earth and your foundation walls.

If your concrete block or poured foundation has tar on it, you cannot paint over it. Your only solution is to remove it.

Removing tar requires muriatic, aka hydrochloric, acid. Diluted in water, you can use a heavy-duty scrub brush attached to your cordless drill to scrub the acid onto your foundation. Then use a scraper – preferably an electric one if you are doing a large area.

Wash everything down with water afterward. This is a very difficult process but is the only solution if you are intent on painting over your concrete foundation.

Parging

Parging is a smooth layer of decorative mortar placed over poured or block concrete foundation walls. IT gives a uniform look to your wall and covers up any cracks or other imperfections in the wall.

Since parging is largely aesthetic, it doesn’t provide a weatherproof barrier for your foundation wall. Therefore, parging can contain quite a bit of moisture, particularly after rain. Older parging can even get water stains after a hard rain, drying when it is sunny.

Painting over parging must be done with care. Since moisture can build in it, painting with a waterproof paint can trap moisture in the parging and make it deteriorate faster. On the other hand, not using waterproof paint on your exterior foundation could lead to leaks.

If you were not having any issues with water coming through your foundation walls before painting, then wait for a dry spell and paint your parging. Otherwise, consider using a non-elastomeric exterior masonry paint on top of your parging.

What Kind of Paint to Use on Foundation?

There is an excessive amount of paint products for exterior masonry. Below we’ll briefly go over each to give you a better idea of which product you should use for your home.

Concrete Stain

The first option isn’t even paint, but a stain. Concrete stain is either water or acid-based. Acid-based stains last longer and are permanent – carefully consider the color before applying because it is for life.

Applying stain requires an airless sprayer, lots of pressure washing, and a concrete sealer applied afterward. The water-based stain is easier to apply, but will not last as long as the acid-based stains. However, water-based stains have more color options.

The semi-transparent concrete stain also comes in a variety of colors but allows more of the surface texture to come through. This typically gives off a more “rough” appearance, but still applies in the same manner as a regular concrete stain.

Waterproof Paint – Elastomeric

Elastomeric acrylic masonry paint is waterproof and many brands come with a lifetime guarantee. This is not to be confused with standard waterproof masonry paint, which we’ll look at next.

As the word might suggest, “elastomeric” simply means that this product has elastic qualities. It fills into the minuscule pores of the concrete and can shift as the concrete shifts. This product can expand to 500% or more, thus retaining its seal over your concrete wall.

This paint is only meant to cover vertical surfaces above grade because it is “breathable” and will allow moisture beneath it to escape.

Put below grade and the waterproofing seal of the product fails. Therefore, this makes for a great option for painting above grade foundation surfaces.

Waterproof Paint – Acrylic

Acrylic waterproof paint is very similar to elastomeric masonry paint – they are both acrylic – but this non-elastomeric version is meant to be utilized in above and below-grade applications.

This means that the waterproofing ability of the paint is more effective than the elastomeric paint since this paint provides a true “seal” – no moisture in or out.

However, unlike elastomeric products, these paints typically come with only a 10-year guarantee. So you may have to re-paint eventually. Both elastomeric and non-elastomeric acrylics come in various colors.

Latex

Latex masonry paint is available in various colors and is a cheaper option than the acrylic products used for the same applications.

The difference between latex and acrylic is that, in general, latex does not offer the weatherproofing capabilities that acrylic does.

A benefit of latex, other than the lower price, is that it does not require a primer and is very simple to apply. A roller will apply latex easily – no sprayer required.

Latex offers guarantees up to 20 or even 25 years, but it does not offer the same protection for your concrete walls as acrylic masonry paints.

Do I Need To Prime?

If your product is “self-priming”, then you don’t need to prime. Otherwise, priming your surface is always a good idea. If you don’t, then you can expect to void any warranty the product offers, and see poor results as well.

Acrylic-based paints typically are not self-priming, while the latex products are, which is another consideration when trying to decide which type of paint to purchase.

What Color to Paint Foundation

Choosing a color may be even more difficult than choosing which type of paint to purchase. Unfortunately, siding manufacturers do not provide matching paint colors to go along with their products, which leaves homeowners trying to mix and match colors.

Instead of trying to match the identical color of your siding with your masonry paint, choose an accent color. You want your masonry paint to accentuate your siding by drawing attention to it.

How do you accentuate your siding? Choosing a neutral color, any hue of gray or something darker that matches the color of the earth near your foundation. That way, people will be drawn to your actual house and not the masonry.

Conclusion

Covering your exterior foundation with paint can add incredible curb appeal to your home. If you have trouble choosing a color, there are numerous color matching sites all over the web that can help, or simply go to the paint department at a local home reno store.

Also, carefully consider the type of product you use on your masonry. For some of these products, such as the stain, is that once they are applied, they don’t’ come off easily. Choose wisely and carefully to avoid costly repaintings or stain removal in the future.

Thanks for taking the time to read the article – please leave a comment with any questions or comments you might have regarding your next exterior masonry painting project.

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