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(Re)creating History: Working With Reclaimed Brick

Reclaimed bricks’ popularity is growing, and here’s how the ModelReModel is using it

October 14, 2015
Using reclaimed brick in the 2015 ModelReModel

The ModelReModel is an ambitious project created by Professional Remodeler and sponsored by leading industry manufacturers. Part pictorial, part how-to journalism, and part reality TV for remodelers, the ModelReModel tracks one stunning project from concept to completion. Along the way, viewers will learn what makes a design great, how to select products and materials, and helpful tips and tricks. Most of the content is shorter and designed for a digital audience, but here is a longer profile of one of the project’s subcontractors. To find out more, go to

Juan Lira is one of those people who look concerned even when they’re smiling. Part of that comes from being a perfectionist about his craft, and part is just the lines on his forehead after years spent working outdoors.

“Most people have a passion,” says Lira, the owner of J.L. Masonry, in Dallas (below). “Mine is brick. My grandfather and father were both bricklayers, so it’s in my blood. I’m getting paid for doing what I love."

And Lira’s lifelong experience has paid off. Today his thriving company has a reputation for excellent work, especially when it comes to matching older brick and mortar.

Many people take it for granted, but the ability to visually blend new brick with existing pieces is a subtle mix of science and art. There are tricks to mimicking color, wear-pattern, and mortar type, and a mason’s skill level can greatly affect the look of a project.

In the case of the ModelReModel, all of the brick will be painted, which covers a lot of less-than-perfect matching between old and new. With that in mind, Lira decided to use new pieces, made to look distressed, on the sides and back of the house. But the front was a different story. In that most public of spaces, he opted for recycled brick pulled from the home before demolition.

“Sometimes builders don’t care because the whole thing is going to be painted,” Lira says. “But for me, that’s wrong. Everyone sees the front. It should look perfect.”

J.L. Masonry often relies on recycled brick, in spite of the expense of prepping the old pieces for reuse. And Lira’s company is not alone. While the market for salvaged brick is still a small fraction of an enormous industry, it’s growing quickly, especially in urban areas where reclaimed materials are increasingly popular.

“I know this brick,” Lira says of the brand used for the ModelReModel project. “It’s from a local company that’s gone now. It’s a good brick. I saw it recycled on a condo that just went up downtown.”

Yet brick is just one piece of the puzzle. Unless the mortar is also perfectly matched and then treated to appear aged, that seamless transition of old to new will be ruined. Before laying a single brick in a project, Lira creates a mock wall measuring about 2 feet by 2 feet where he tries out different mortars to see what will work. After application, he ages the mortar using water, mud, and a variety of tools. His crews are also careful to exactly imitate the pattern and spacing of the existing brick and to scrape the mortar between bricks to the same depth as on the existing structure.

“This work makes you feel like you’re doing things the way they did back then,” Lira says. “New construction is easy because there’s nothing that came before. This is harder. This is history.” PR



About the Author

About the Author

Erika Taylor is the director of content for Professional Remodeler. Contact her at or 972.803.4014.

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