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June 22, 2005 8:59 AM CDT

Chemical Stripper Restores Historic Courthouse to Former Glory


Built in 1858, North Carolina's historic Northampton County Court House is among the South's finest examples of Greek Revival temple form architecture. Thanks to the savvy work of the Mayhew Brothers, Inc., a full service contractor specializing in paint and coating removal and recoating, the red brick fa?ade has been completely stripped of paint and clear-coated to reveal the elegance of the original brick.

The front portion of the building had been painted 45 separate times, at least three times within the last 10 years. Most of the paint was white. At one point, according to Surapon Sujjanavich, county architect, the bricks had been painted burgundy.

"Testing showed that it had never been stripped to bare brick," reports Dave Mayhew, President of Mayhew Brothers, Inc., "and the paint was layered on at least 1/8-inch thick in most places."

Work began in November 2002, with plans calling for as much of the paint as possible to be removed via sand blasting, then recoated with white paint.

"Sand blasting would have required full containment measures, might have proven somewhat problematic in terms of possible damage to the original historic fabric, and would definitely have been costly in terms of inconvenience and man hours," says Mayhew.

Convinced that there had to be a better way, Mayhew explored other options. One was Peel Away? 1, a paint removal system developed for safe, containment-free removal of lead-based paint.

"It didn't take it down to bare brick with just one application, but it did remove about 90% of the 45 layers of paint in one shot, and it did it without damaging the brick and while fully containing the lead paint and lead particulates," says Mayhew.

As layers of paint were peeled away during patch testing, the Northampton County commissioners reconsidered their original recommendation that the building be repainted white. Sujjanavich agreed, noting that it would cost the county upwards of $50,000 to repaint the courthouse every 10 years, as opposed to between $10,000 and $15,000 to clear-coat. In January, the commissioners voted unanimously that if at least 99% of the thickly layered paint could be stripped, the brick would be clear-coated instead of once again covered by paint.

As this was the first time Mayhew had used Peel Away, he was somewhat hesitant to make any promises.

"I'd never touched the stuff before," he says. "I was very, very skeptical myself until I saw how well it worked during patch testing."

After the patch tests showed positive results, Mayhew was confident that he could exceed the board's expectations.

During the process, the paste was sprayed on the brick, and a special cloth was smoothed in place and left for three days to permit the paste to work to maximum effectiveness. The ground beneath the brick was covered in poly sheeting to catch any debris or run off.

"When we peeled the paper away, the paste was still damp, and we were stripping about 90% of the paint," says Mayhew.

A second application of paste, covered by paper, easily stripped what remained to bare brick.

"We had a harsh winter, unusual for North Carolina, with ice storms and extended periods of freezing temperatures," recalls Mayhew.

Nonetheless, the project moved forward throughout the winter. According to Mayhew, some 17,000 square feet of brick were completely stripped. The stripping portion of the project took less than three months.

After the paint was removed, the brick was neutralized and repointed where needed. Then a clear, penetrating sealer was used to protect the brick.

"The sealer gives the bricks a nice touch of shine and really sets off the color," Mayhew says.

The project was completed in May 2003, and everyone involved is very pleased with the results.

About the Author

Masonry, the official publication of the Mason Contractors Association of America, covers every aspect of the mason contractor profession - equipment and techniques, building codes and standards, business planning, promoting your business, legal issues and more. Read or subscribe to Masonry magazine at


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