What You Need to Know Now About Masonry Staining

Words: Dan Kamys

By Jennifer Gill

Masonry staining Masonry staining has a long and successful history as a crucial support service to the masonry industry, as well as the construction industry as a whole. Masonry staining firms work hard, and successfully, to get an exact match for masonry, helping projects to close out on time when unexpected color issues arise. Masonry staining firms also work to assist architects, owners, general contractors and mason contractors by removing all color limitations when designing and building with masonry. When architects and building owners are empowered with knowledge about masonry staining, they’ll be confident of achieving an exact match for any desired color, and they’ll be more likely to specify and build with masonry products in the future. Yet for every mason contractor or architect who uses staining regularly, there are still many who have yet to learn about this vital process. What happens when mason contractors and others don’t know about masonry staining? A simple color issue might needlessly risk the success of an entire project, or even prevent masonry from being specified in the first place. Contractors lose both time and money trying to track down, custom order, or ship from afar masonry that is similar in color; and if it is located, the result is often a disappointing mismatch. Some mason contractors have even been forced to tear down high-quality walls because of color issues. Though the mortar industry recommends masonry staining for any mortar color issues, without this information, masons may be ordered to cut out and repoint joints for mismatched mortar. Repointing for color-only issues does not solve the problem, but instead can damage the masonry and compromise the building envelope, potentially allowing water infiltration down the road. This risks damage to other surrounding substrates, such as cast stone or trim pieces, windows, and more. Newly repointed mortar joints often appear as a patch job, though the walls are actually new, and everyone involved must wait yet again for the mortar to cure, hoping it’s a closer match. When excellent workmanship is called into question over a color issue, financial losses can occur. Future business may be at risk, as well. Owners and designers may hesitate to build with masonry again. Even worse, when professional masonry staining solutions aren’t used, architects may simply choose to design with a material other than masonry because they’re too worried about color mismatches. At a time when the industry is rebounding, we should not agree to lose projects to other building materials simply because of a lack of knowledge. Mason contractors need to know how to harness the power of masonry staining for their projects. When professional masonry staining is the norm, what seems like a negative situation is quickly turned into a positive one. Architects, armed with this information, incorporate masonry in their designs without hesitation. New masonry can match old masonry, or old can be matched to new. Custom colors to match any theme are now an option because of maintenance-free, sheer and natural-looking color that won’t change the masonry’s texture. Adaptive reuse projects incorporate new masonry. It becomes easy to match new masonry to historic restoration projects, additions and renovations. Change orders to add even more masonry to a project can be awarded to mason contractors without hesitation, as any dye lot changes or mortar variations are easily corrected. Even an unexpected mismatch is turned around to a resounding positive with masonry staining. When an owner begins with a mismatch, it can be corrected undetectably to an exact match, and even comes with an added-value warranty against color fading or change. Reaching out to your masonry staining expert before a project begins can make masonry staining more cost-effective. This is why it’s vital for mason contractors to have a relationship with a trusted staining company. When masonry is chosen for a repair or addition, masonry staining firms can review all factors ahead of time. A basic, solid-color brick in the same size and texture is preferable as a good canvas for staining, rather than wasting time and money looking for multi-colored brick that is “similar or close” in color. Every situation varies, however, which is why relying on your masonry staining expert is necessary. Calling the color expert for guidance at the first sign of trouble prevents a surprise issue from compounding. For instance, mismatches that are washed aggressively can result in damage to masonry, worsening the problem. Applying hardware store materials off the shelf, or using sealants to change the color, actually worsens the problem, and these foreign materials need to be stripped off the masonry to solve the issue. Hardware store materials can’t be correctly color-matched, and often appear like — or may actually be — a paint, which may confuse an owner about the natural, maintenance-free result that professional staining provides. This may cause an owner to reject any future offer you may make to bring in an expert staining firm to solve the problem permanently. While chemically burnt masonry, wand marks, and worsened color damage can be corrected by masonry staining, having these problems on top of the original mismatch can be avoided with a prior consultation. The most successful firms will gather facts about the project and begin engineering a solution that will often exceed expectations.

Masonry stainingPut Masonry Staining in Your Arsenal

When masons include masonry staining in their bids and change orders, architects and owners will know ahead of time that staining is an option if color results are undesirable. Incorporating masonry staining in their arsenal, mason contractors have been able to confidently bid projects and work with customers they used to shy away from, due to concerns about matching color. Customers may not be aware of the challenge it can be to match additions, fill-ins or repaired areas, and may have expectations for results that are not within the control of the best mason contractors — unless they turn to a trusted masonry staining firm. Building plans may change, and masonry may be constructed in different stages, which can cause an undesirable shift in color. Contractors can build their business more easily by pricing out and meeting a high standard of color quality with the help of a masonry staining firm. When more people realize that staining masonry is not a compromise, and that there are no known drawbacks to the process when performed by the best firms, the masonry industry wins.

Masonry Staining FAQ

Q: What is masonry staining? A: It is the art and science of transforming the color of masonry with a sheer, maintenance-free professional-grade, custom stain. Q: What masonry can be stained? A: Brick, block, mortar, natural and manufactured stone, concrete, cast stone, precast, tilt-up precast, and more can be stained to look very natural. Porous masonry that will accept water should work with typical water-based, professional-grade stains. Q: What is the difference between masonry stain from a store and professional-grade custom stain? A: Professional companies manufacture their own, often proprietary systems, which should be specifically designed to achieve exact match results and not fade or change. The texture will remain unchanged while the color will be transformed to an exact match or the correct custom shade. Store-bought products are generally thick like paint, need maintenance, and have no guarantee of performance or warranty against fading or changing. Q: How do masonry staining companies get an exact match for color? A: Colors are hand mixed on site, tested and adjusted for an exact match. Q: How is masonry stain applied? A: The most flexible, high-quality product lines are applied by any typical means to achieve the exact match result. There should be no limitation on method unless the company’s product line won’t work with anything else but a brush, but this is not typical of the industry. Q: Does masonry stain look like paint? A: No. Professional masonry stain should be very sheer and natural-looking, and should not cause any future maintenance issues. Q: Can I have just mortar stained? A: Yes. Companies can stain just mortar, just brick, or both, for instance. Q: Can masonry be stained lighter, or just darker? A: Masonry can be stained lighter, darker, or any desired color. Q: How do I locate a masonry staining company? A: Check with MCAA or their online directory to find reputable member companies, and don’t be afraid to ask for referrals within the industry. When needing color help with cast stone, for instance, ask the Cast Stone Institute for a staining company with expertise working on cast stone. – Jennifer Gill, president and principal, Exact Match Masonry Staining, LLC
Significant strides have been made in the art and science of staining. By many accounts, masonry staining is centuries old, having begun as a process in which various forms of organic matter were applied to whitewash masonry, disguising the mismatches that occurred through years of repairs and renovation. While today’s masonry staining is cutting-edge, it still incorporates an old-world style of craftsmanship. Color is created by hand and by eye every time. Masonry stain provides a sheer wash of color, and the original, incorrect color is just one component of the mix. High-quality components are lightfast, do not fade or change, and again, are hand blended and not able to be computer matched. Computer matching is to be used only for coatings that can be applied as thick, heavy paint, which has nothing in common with precisely applied, customized, professional, sheer masonry stain. If you are looking for high-quality results including a color warranty, seek out a company that has custom products tested to endure ASTM testing for both UV and freeze/thaw exposure as well as a reasonable warranty period. Some companies may boast unusually lengthy warranty periods that are not consistent with real-world industry experience, and have no lab testing to back their claims. The best staining firms can get an exact match for all porous masonry, including brick and block, but also more challenging materials such as natural and manufactured stone, including cast stone. When block needs to be stained to match, including aggregate colors, the company needs to know how to recreate the exact background color and aggregate color and pattern to blend the wall to match. One expert firm even knows how to stain the background color of ground-face block without hiding aggregate color, which is astounding. Any number of application methods may be used in masonry staining. While some companies have products that must be brush-applied, others have flexibility in application method to create almost any result. Firms should generally not need to stain areas that are not mismatched, unless there is a sensible, technical explanation. Be sure to carefully judge the skill set of the firm, or you may run the risk of the owner rejecting the stained project anyway. Be sure to choose a company that meets your needs and works well with your particular style of doing business. When you have researched and found a good fit with a highly rated staining company, work on forming a relationship with them. Call the company and get to know them before you need them. Look for firms that are fully insured, have an excellent safety record and mandatory OSHA 10 training, and perform background checks for employees, ensuring they can gain access to high-security sites. Some firms also maintain FBI clearances and fingerprinting. Elite firms have experience working with celebrities and public figures and understand how to operate with discretion and follow special security protocols. Typical initial consultations happen by phone and email, so be prepared to email good-quality photos of both the area needing color correction and what you’d like a match to, or your chosen custom colors. You should be able to ask as many questions as you need to. Doing business with the right staining company will be a pleasure, and the results will not only please your customer but also help the industry as a whole. The phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” is appropriate here. What you need to know now may actually be more about who you need to know now: your trusted masonry staining firm.
Jennifer Gill is president, co-founder and principal at Exact Match Masonry Staining, LLC. Contact her at jennifer@masonrystaining.com or visit www.masonrystaining.com.
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