Tuesday, June 12, 2007

White Washed Brick is New Again

With spring just around the corner, some people will be continuing a tradition that has existed for centuries; white washing their bricks. White washing brick involves the use of limewash (calcium oxide) mixed with water that protects brick against the elements and over time can give brick an uneven, refractive, and whitish appearance. This look has gone through a renaissance with many people seeking out that old-timey look, even for new brick.

This is somewhat ironic as decor was never a consideration when limewash was first used. Its initial function was as a sealant. In Britain this yearly application was called giving said brick structure a "good bug blindin’"--referring to the brick’s white appearance.

All quips aside, limewash has some qualities that have made it beneficial to humans for a long time-but limewash also has some safety issues to be considered as well. Historically brick kilns were used to make the lime wash using heat and moisture, which in turn lead to "slaking," a process yielding the crumbly calcium oxide. This in turn would be rehydrated when needed to limewash or white wash a house or any other brick structure. These kilns radiated a lot of heat. And in the winter months the homeless would gather around these brick kilns for warmth. Many of these unfortunate people lost their lives as they would eventually fall asleep by the kiln and fatally succumb to its toxic fumes.

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