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Before masonry straining.
Before masonry straining.
December 24, 2016 12:30 PM CST

The Impact of Staining on Masonry

Rehabs and Restorations Case Study


World-famous for its Golden Dome, the 137-year-old Administration Building at the University of Notre Dame (UND) serves as headquarters for its president and provost. The 1879 building is a must-see destination and a popular place for picture taking. Its exterior brick, in particular, demonstrates the ingenuity of builders in the late 1800s. Since the clay was excavated from the two lakes on campus, the finished yellow bricks are known as “Notre Dame bricks.”

The Golden Dome, or Main Building as it is called on campus, was beginning to show the effects of weather over the years. In the spring of 2015, university officials took on the task of restoring the exterior to its original beauty. A technique known as Proven Masonry Staining helped overcome some of the challenges associated with this restoration project.

UND’s Facilities Design & Operations, led by Doug Marsh, was the owner/architect/engineer on the project. Marsh is committed to excellence in every facet of his department’s projects, ranging from new construction to renovation of older buildings. “It would be a mistake just to focus on new construction,” Marsh noted. “We have a balanced mission — we see ourselves as the chief stewards of this incomparably beautiful and historic campus.”

Anthony Polotto, UND senior project manager, was one of the lead figures contributing to the success of this project. “We always strive for perfection, which can be difficult on a building this old,” he said. “Masonry staining helped in many areas where aesthetics was an issue. It has been important to use the right stain process,” he continued, “and Masonry Cosmetics, Inc. has the product we depend on.”

Larry Balcerzak was the estimator/project manager for Ziolkowski Construction, Inc., which served as restoration contractor. Multiple areas of the building where brick and stone colors did not match the original appearance of the building presented additional challenges. “The luxury that Ziolkowski Construction, Inc. had was using Masonry Cosmetics, Inc. to stain the brick and stone, instead of full replacement,” Balcerzak said. “With proper coordination,” he added, “the savings on time allowed us to produce an outstanding project and meet a tight schedule.”

Masonry Cosmetics, Inc. served as the staining contractor, headed on-site by Shawn Hoffman, regional sales manager. “Communication and teamwork on this project were the best I have ever seen,” Hoffman said. “Since the building was being restored in different sections at a time, it was so important to time each phase of the color enhancement of the brick, mortar and limestone banding.”

When restoration began on the Administration Building in 2015, it would have been difficult to find replacement brick needed for the project. It was unlikely that the brick created in the 1800s from clay at Notre Dame could be easily matched. Wisely, UND had saved brick from a previous deconstruction. That brick was close in size and texture, but not all of it matched the color of the original brick of the Main Building. As a result, UND selected the Proven Masonry Staining system they had used several times before to match masonry color. The Proven Masonry Stain that Masonry Cosmetics, Inc. uses on all its projects is a proprietary system that has withstood the test of time on buildings throughout the country for over 30 years.

After masonry staining.
After masonry staining.
This product is not a paint or a paint-like product. It cannot be sprayed or rolled onto the bricks. Rather, it is applied with a brush, one brick at a time. The Proven Masonry Stain is a translucent product that does not create a layer, so it never peels, blisters or cracks. Absorption is the key to the Proven Masonry Stain’s endurance; it penetrates the pore structure of each brick and bonds to it. Once the bonding process is complete, the brick will look natural, whether the wall is wet or dry, and the stain will not create a sheen when wet.

Brick color that was damaged by deeply embedded atmospheric dirt was another challenge during this project. Since the Proven Masonry Stain application process requires a clean, dry surface, problem areas were cleaned multiple times. Great care was taken not to damage darkened brick by over-cleaning. Lastly, Masonry Cosmetics corrected the color of these bricks by staining darkened areas with a special blend of colors.

Proven Masonry Staining will never hurt a brick. Therefore, workers were able to brush on several translucent applications to overlay the darkened brick with the correct color. Several custom colors were developed to create the color blend that ultimately resulted in the damaged bricks matching the undamaged bricks beautifully.

Everyone on this project also understood that mortar can represent up to 18–20 percent of a wall’s color and can drastically affect its overall aesthetics. It is important to consider the coarseness and color of sand needed and what type of mortar joint is required. The importance of mirroring the joint plays a significant role in repairing the affected area.

There were extensive repairs on the limestone band that clad the building. As the accompanying photos show, repairs ranged from patches to re-facing the entire stone. When the decision was made to not paint the limestone band after it was repaired, the use of Proven Masonry Stain was again helpful. Because of many varied patches and larger areas of repair, it was a challenge to color-enhance so much of the band. The advantage to using Proven Masonry Stain was that the color of the limestone could be blended for a closer match, allowing it to retain a natural look.

This project under The Dome was very successful, to everyone’s great satisfaction. Proven Masonry Stain helped accomplish the high-quality result: beautifying one of America’s truly prestigious buildings. All parties involved were awarded the 2015 Excellence in Construction Award for Masonry Restoration-Education by the Michiana Area Construction Industry Advancement Fund.

About the Author

Don Foster is founder and VP of Masonry Cosmetics Inc. He has experience with every aspect of brick manufacturing and sales, and has been staining masonry for over 20 years. Contact Don at or 888-698-8705.


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