Bricks: a buyer's guide
Brick and timber self-build house

Bricks: a buyer’s guide

Varied, versatile and eye-catching, masonry remains a popular option for self-build and renovation

By Jane Crittenden |

Thanks to the restrained architecture displayed in major housing developments all over the country, it is often assumed that bricks offer limited design prowess. Architects continue to disprove this theory, however, embracing its versatility with creative treatments such as contrasting colours, textured 3D-façades and herringbone-patterned brickwork.

Its durability and variety of styles makes masonry an appealing choice. Brickhunter, for example, sells more than 4,000 different sizes and colours, while Ibstock has a huge mix-and-match selection. Then there’s the many different mortar profiles, colours and bond patterns.

a grey brick extension with floor-to-ceiling glass on a red brick Edwardian terraced house

Photo: Lipton Plant Architects

Why choose brick?

A brick façade should last 70 to 100 years before needing repointing, according to the Brick Development Association (BDA) because it resists weather and doesn’t fade or decay.

‘This is a powerful economic advantage,’ says architect Michael Hammett, a former senior architect at the BDA. ‘A project that requires no maintenance will also use fewer resources. Brick doesn’t need preservatives and can be recycled after a property has been taken down.’

A brick build is typically robust, resistant to sound and has thermal properties. Available in bespoke shapes and sizes, and combined with other cladding materials, brickwork remains a popular choice for architects. ‘The design versatility is far-reaching,’ Hammett continues. ‘Bricks can be laid to form structures that are straight or curved, vertical or tilted, in simple flat surfaces or decoratively modelled.’

red brick detached home renovated with matching brickwork

Photo: CDMS Architects

Structural integrity

Bricks are laid in patterns called bonds, which give structural integrity to a building. The most common is the stretcher bond – courses of bricks with the faces (stretchers) laid on top of one another – which is widely regarded as the most efficient and economical way of laying bricks.

Other common variations include English bond, English garden wall bond and the increasingly popular Flemish bond.

‘More variations can be achieved by using contrasting colours of header and stretcher bricks,’ says Andrew Halstead-Smith, group marketing manager at Ibstock, ‘and by alternating the colour of mortar to add emphasis to the bond patterns.’

contemporary brick new build with large amounts of glass in the style of an Edwardian terrace like its neighbours

Photo: MG Architects

Bricks and mortar

Mortar, which fixes masonry units together, is available in a wide palette of hues, and can be matched to a brick colour or used for contrast and definition. It can be laid in different profiles, which adds to the longevity of the build as well as the aesthetics. A concave or bucket-handle joint is most commonly used and is curved to allow water run-off.

A flush joint sits in line with the brick edge. Weatherstruck joints are angled to cast water away and a raked joint is fully recessed. Both emphasise the shape and cast shadows as the sunlight moves across the façade.

Brick and timber self-build house

Nash Baker Architects

The production process

The most widely available bricks are wire cut and produce a crisp-edged finish. Clay pressed into moulds creates softer blocks called stocks and, when water is added, the finish has a streaked appearance. Genuine handmade bricks are never identical and feature variable tones and textures.

‘The advantage of handmade types is that the permutations are endless,’ says Guy Armitage from The York Handmade Brick Company. ‘We can make any size and a variety of textures and bespoke colours.

Bearing in mind that brickwork is typically 70% of the look of a house, yet accounts for 2-4% of the construction cost, it’s well worth the marginal extra expense of handmade bricks to give the building individual character.’

brick lean-to extension crafted from grey brick in a textured format

Photo: Fraher Architects

Latest developments

Technical advances in manufacturing have enabled brick cladding systems to come to market, which have the benefits of faster construction times, lightweight handling and insulating properties: look out for Forterra’s Wonderwall, Wienerberger’s Corium and Ibstock Kevington’s Fastwall. Ibstock also sells Faststack chimneys and Tilebrick, which emulates a traditional tile-hung wall elevation without mortar joints.

Ibstock’s elegant Linear collection is the most recent addition to its brick range and was introduced to address a demand for a traditional building material that could be used to produce a sleek, contemporary design.

‘Longer, thinner bricks, as well as glazed finishes in a variety of colours, shapes and sizes, can help differentiate facades and produce distinctive exteriors,’ says Halstead-Smith from Ibstock. ‘We now have more than 70 options in the Linear range.’