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Removing Formstone from a RowHome Part 2 of 2 (Behind the Building Edition)


As I mentioned in what ended up being the first part of this article, I know it (this information) may only be of real benefit to the folks in and around Baltimore, Maryland. And while I have been working to get away from the more personalized, “progress not perfection,” journal-type entries (all the time), this is one case where, well, I am still going to indulge myself.  You’ll find part one of this article here >> Removing Formstone from a Baltimore Rowhome.  Thanks and enjoy. ~jb


My wife, Jenny — then girlfriend, and I had headed off to Colorado before I had a chance to see the property that she had recently purchased.  And not to go too much into how our relationship kicked off,  I will tell you that Jenny and I ended up in California, and she ended up managing her first home, as a rental property, from three thousand miles away.

In 1997, Baltimore’s waterfront still hadn’t fully experienced its revitalization.  This house sat innocently enough in the community called Canton, just a few blocks up from the water on the east side of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The two-story, end-of-group rowhome was clad with what John Waters called “the Polyester of Brick” . . . what we Baltimoreans generally know as formstone.

The History & Significance of Formstone

I do tend on the side with those that think it is “historically significant.” But while I have seen many fine examples of it both bare and/or painted, it didn’t take long to realize that for *our* first property —  this formstone had to go.  The removal of it remained on our to-do list for, well, a long time.

Through the years though, we had received a handful of verbal estimates on that project.  I have to admit even me working “around” construction, it was difficult finding (let alone getting a callback from) anyone that specialized in the removal of this material.

Formstone, I have come to know as a sort of stamped stucco, was applied primarily to the face of homes between the 1940s and the 1960s.  There was nothing to indicate that we were any different in that regard.  Wire mesh was laid over the facing brick and this concrete-like substance was colored, applied, and stamped (maybe not necessarily in that order).   While I knew removing it probably wouldn’t be a big deal, it was dealing with what’s left underneath that frightens . . . most.  We knew we needed a mason.

Removing One Surface Will Always Leave Another Surface

We finally found ours in early 2011. An old friend of Jenny’s, reunited through Facebook, was our guy.  He works for a larger general contractor (almost primarily on commercial projects), and he agreed to (no, he was anxious to) do this project for us.  His quote — $3400, and a couple of weeks in the middle of summer.  He planned to remove the formstone and simply re-point the brick that remained.  Jenny and I had our doubts that it would be that easy.

Editor’s Note: Here’s an article I wrote (with tons of images) on How to RePoint Brick.

Personal BackStory – This is a Rental Property

From the time she purchased the property, this faux stone had been buckling at right about the midpoint.  When a structural engineer had a chance to look a few years back, he suggested that there were potentially clips from an old awning pushing the formstone outward.  We in fact confirmed later that the property was used as a butcher’s shop during some part of the last century.

What we found in the end was just a little different than what that structural engineer and our mason both expected.  And while we had braced ourselves over the years for the worst, and you figure with all that time… we would have set aside just a little more of it . . . to develop “contingencies.”  HaWell! Not so much.

Of course, we did have a rough idea, and I say that if we were “rehabbing” this property, we may have taken the time to look at (re)building out a storefront-type window at the first floor.  But alas, for a rental, a simple window swap out and a new (unassuming) brick façade would do.  Our guy felt any sort of trade-out like this would amount only to a marginal change in cost.


Lessons Learned: Removing Formstone – Planning

I think I was happy enough with the project as a whole, despite minor difficulties with staying on pace. We ran into our biggest trouble however when our guy (who was nice enough to work with and yes, I would still use again) brought in a carpenter (friend) for the window work.  (I had put myself through the paces trying to find affordable windows that would end up staying somewhat in scale, while still working with what I have doing on the interior.)

I believe (I hope) this carpenter did a good enough job installing them — he was monitored, after all, by our guy.  And I didn’t really have a problem with any of that.  Rather it was the fact that we allowed that work to then lead to . . . all too improvised cornice work . . . and, well, I think I will stop myself about there.

This is the Type of Project that Leads to Many Other Projects

Needless to say, and as this is not the type of project that most people (including me) do every day, I learned a lot. This project did give me the opportunity to toy again with shooting video for the DAP Seal Your Home Blogger Challenge. (Not the highest quality or best job. I was hot and sweaty, and I took limited post production time before I posted it But I did include below.)

It should also be noted that DAP is literally walking distance from this property. Barry & I toured DAP’s Headquarters, here.

Later, I wrapped (or capped) the windows in aluminum (the article – Working with Coil Stock.) And we ultimately built an all Azek Cornice for an additional $2000.

That said, I learned again (and is that really learning?) that soooo much communication goes into working on even a moderately-sized project with another party.  And I learned . . . it is of absolute importance to be on site, well, as. much. as. possible. always.


The Cost of Removing Formstone

Total Costs (for my job, if you were curious):




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Thanks for reading and happy hump day. ~jb

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