The humble brick has been around for centuries, but how do you go about choosing the right one for your building project?
By Daisy Jeffery
Selecting the bricks for your home is one of the most important decisions you’ll face throughout your project – it’s not something you can readily change – so will require serious consideration. Brick and mortar colour, size, texture, and type of bond, will all impact on the aesthetics of the brickwork.
Material and Colour:
Before tackling the technicalities of specifying your bricks, you need to look at the design considerations.
“Your first port of call is to see whether or not brick is appropriate for the area you wish to build in. Planners will have a big influence on what materials are acceptable to the region and you could find that if the area is predominantly built up of stone, then a new brick home is unlikely to be granted permission,” says Mark Laksevics from York Handmade Brick Company.
He goes on to say that this means you need to look at what colours of brick are indigenous to the area:
- oranges are typical of the Lincolnshire region
- red bricks are common in the north
- creams and yellows are common around Cambridgeshire and London
- blue bricks are seen on properties in the Midlands
Your choice of brick will also depend on the style of your home.
“Try to select a brick that is right for the character of the house you are building,” says Stephen Blagbrough of Furness Brick. “If you are building a Georgian-style property then you don’t want anything too malty, whereas if you are building in a farmhouse style then you’re not going to want a brick that’s too mechanical and precise with tight joints.”
This will also dictate what ‘type’ of brick you choose
. “Clay is an efficient, cost-effective and sustainable option for modern construction,” says Richard Brown at Wienerberger. “Its natural properties provide complete, long-term sustainability, not only offering increasingly sophisticated low-carbon product manufacture, but giving a building life of up to 150 years with little or no maintenance.” Cement and lime can also be specified as materials.
Machine or Handmade?
Another key choice is whether you opt for machine-made or handmade.
“There is a common misconception that handmade is the best you can buy,” says Stephen Blagbrough of Furness Brick. “In terms of authentic appearance, handmade can be considered the best, however there is nothing technically different about the product.”
If you wish for a cleaner, smoother finish then opt for extruded or wire-cut bricks. These machine-made bricks are more uniform in shape and are cheaper by the thousand.
Handmade bricks on the other hand have a rougher, open texture and feature an attractive creased face. You can also achieve a more bespoke look with a range of colours and sizes — but this is reflected in the price and they cost around four times as much as machine-made.
The standard size for bricks in the UK is 215mm (length) x 102.5mm (depth) x 65mm (height), with mortar joints of 10mm.
In order to calculate how many you need, the standard method is to work out the size of the facing walls in square metres and multiply by 60 (the standard number of bricks per metre square of stretcher bond brickwork). Note, too, that there are several calculators available online (brickability.co.uk has a useful one).
Bricks are tested under British Standards to ensure they meet the necessary criteria in terms of water absorption, frost protection, strength, etc.
As clay facing bricks are subject to freeze thaw, it’s advised that you choose a brick with a minimum rating of ‘F’, with F1 being for bricks subject to moderate exposure to the elements (i.e. under the eaves), and F2 being the highest, meaning that the bricks are resistant even under severe exposure to continuous saturation and freezing.
The appearance of brickwork will be primarily down to the pattern in which the bricks are laid, also known as ‘bonds’. The style of home you are building will depend on the type of bond you select. Older properties, before the introduction of the cavity wall, were typically laid in one of the three traditional bonds (Flemish, English, or English Garden Wall), and were often two or three bricks’ wide.
In modern construction, the simple stretcher bond has gained favour with developers as it is easy and cheap to lay. But it can only be used as the outer face of a cavity wall as the courses of stretchers are only one half-brick thick and too thin to support the structure alone.
“If you’re after something more traditional and in a period style, then one of the three traditional bonds can still be specified, however you will need to factor in the cost of cutting the bricks as with the cavity walls of today, the headers for the traditional bonds will need to be cut in half — also known as snapped headers,” explains Stephen Blagbrough from Furness Brick.
Once you know the colour, type and bond you are after, you will be ready to buy the bricks for your project. There are plenty of places to buy from, including various brick manufacturers, your local builders’ merchant, reclamation yards, or suppliers such as Jewson, Travis Perkins, and Brickability (bricks can be sourced online from the latter).
“You should expect the bricks to equate to around 2.8 per cent of the overall build cost, and you’ll find you will spend more on a kitchen than you will on the brickwork, even though the bricks are more important,” says Stephen Blagbrough of Furness Brick.
Before committing to a purchase:
- request samples
- try to see a finished property in the brick you are buying
- ask your bricklayer or builder to build a small sample wall (commonly a 60-brick panel, which tends to be 1m2 in size) so you can see the bricks laid, the bricklayer’s standard of work, and it will give the bricklayers a reference of what they are working towards.
“Once you have ordered the bricks, you should receive an invoice around a week before delivery and will pay for the bricks then,” says Stephen Blagbrough of Furness Brick.
“There are, however, some companies who ask for a deposit of around 20 per cent to secure the order and prevent you from going elsewhere while waiting for the bricks to arrive — as this can cause so many problems with the manufacturers, a deposit is the only way of really ensuring that the client is going to go ahead, so don’t be too put off if you’re asked to pay a percentage upfront.”
Brick is the go-to choice for traditional buildings such as this example from the York Handmade Brick Company
If you are extending your property, you are going to want to match the new bricks to the existing. However, your existing bricks will have weathered and developed a patina. Moreover the bricks specified when your home was originally built might not be available now.
The first way of overcoming this is to speak with the different manufacturers – most of which will offer a brick matching service – whereby tints can be applied. They should also be able to source bricks similar in texture and size.
Specifying pre-weathered bricks is another solution as Stephen Blagbrough from Furness Brick points out: “Our bricks are hand-blended, so the colour can be mixed, which lends very well to brick matching, and we’re also able to weather our products, which helps to match any existing brickwork. We do this by putting the bricks into a pigmented tank after firing and this speeds up the weathering process as the bricks soak up the solution.”
Another alternative is sourcing reclaimed bricks, which, while not the cheapest option, can offer that aesthetic you’re after. Note, however, that reclaimed bricks can rarely be specified in large quantities, so depending on the size of the project and the amount of bricks you require, you should perhaps look to brick tinting or weathering options. In addition, reclaimed bricks have not been made to the established standard (BS EN771-1) which new bricks are made to.
The lead-in times for bricks will vary depending on whether you’re purchasing from a manufacturer in the mass-developer market or whether you’re choosing a small or Specialist Company.
With lead times varying it makes sense to work according to your build schedule and give suppliers as much notice as possible. The bricks will arrive on the site in batches.
Make sure that the batches are delivered to hardstanding and not on grass as they’ll absorb moisture from the ground.
Note that it is not uncommon for the colours to vary slightly between each batch, so it’s wise to have your bricklayer mix the bricks within each batch to avoid any colour banding within the brickwork.
Ensure that any laid brickwork and/or packs are covered at the end of the day to protect them from rain.
Bricklayers most often work in gangs of three (two bricklayers and one labourer), and their work will involve everything from bricklaying to blockwork, installing insulation, wall ties, damp-proof courses, and building in joinery.
The time it takes to lay the bricks will depend on the job in question and what is involved, such as any special requirements like the type of bond and the bricklayers’ familiarity with building in the style you have selected. Stretcher bond work is repetitive and simple and therefore faster to lay, with a typical four bedroom house taking between two to three weeks, whereas a Flemish bond will require more time and detail, as accuracy with this pattern is key.
When hiring bricklayers ask:
- what their experience is
- whether this is on smaller domestic projects or large-scale developments
- the kinds of bricks they’re most familiar with
- which bonds they have the most experience in laying
Contemporary bricks, such as those featured in York Handmade‘s Maxima range and Wienerberger’s Diamond range, offer a more monochrome palette of blacks, blues, purples and greys, which serve well for building modern homes.
“These more linear-style bricks date back to Roman times, and the resurgence in using longer, thinner bricks has started to take hold with a lot of today’s modern architects,” says Mark Laksevics from York Handmade.
Measuring around 327mm in length, with a flat, smooth surface, they help to create the clean, contemporary lines which bode well with contemporary architecture.