How to Remove Z-BRICK

I stripped away the Z-BRICK and drywall and installed new drywall in this house. (Photo by the author, Kevin Stevens).Thirty to forty years ago Z-BRICK was considered a wonder product. It was a design element that was a common DIY project. When I was a kid I remember seeing TV commercials for it. Simple and boring plain walls could be magically transformed into beautiful brick in just a few hours. Well I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as I was never a fan of this fake brick. Now, as a remodeling contractor in the Denver area, I have been brought in to update many of these improvement projects.

What is behind this?

I have removed Z-BRICK from just about every surface available except paneling.  Fortunately those two 1970’s combinations rarely coexisted. By far the most common install has been on basic drywall, and here the demo is pretty easy. If you think you can remove the bricks and retain the drywall you will be sadly disappointed. Drywall is pretty cheap and easy to reinstall (do it yourself or call a local painting contractor to replace the drywall) and your will be much better off by just “letting go”.

The adhesive used back than was pretty good, after all these bricks have been firmly attached for the last 30 years eh? Trying to pull the bricks off results in removing great chunks of the wallboard. The best method is to remove the bricks drywall and all. I will cut a small hole in the wall to allow me to grab the back of the drywall and simply pull it off in chunks. Once the hole opens up is gets easier. The only real concern is at the corners where you may need to cut the drywall with a utility knife to prevent tearing on the adjacent walls.  Most Z-BRICK walls were “accent” walls, so the overall scope is normally not that big. 

Once the wall has been stripped to bare studs, new drywall is installed and you're back into the modern age.

Non-drywall installs

If your Z-BRICK was installed over something a bit more substantial, like a cinder block wall, you are going to need a bit more than a utility knife and some brawn.  Here I like to use my trusty air chisel. An air chisel is like a baby jackhammer that you can hold with one hand. A basic air compressor powers it and it makes cool baby jackhammer sounds and dust, lots of dust, and some debris. Keys to success here are masking or tarping off other areas of the room, as the pieces will fly. Safety glasses and gloves are also a must. Some of these bricks will come off intact; others will come off in many pieces.

The tip of the chisel is set at a low angle along the edge of the brick and a simple squeeze of the trigger does all the work. Once the bulk of the material is removed you can “dress” some of the high spots of adhesive with the blade of the chisel as well.  An air chisel is not a pricey item and will save you lots of time over the hammer and chisel method. I got mine for about $45 or so. An alternative would be an electric hammer chisel if you already own one of those.


Next, install drywall

Once the brick is removed from these “solid” walls, you can install drywall over the brick using adhesive, or go the more common route and install some attractive tile or natural stone product. In the case of new tile or stone installations, the wall does not need to be perfectly smooth as the new mortar will cover the minor dips and bumps. Say goodbye to the 1970’s.

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