Jason Hughes of Imperial Bricks looks at the different brick options available to self-builders, and reviews new alternatives to reclaims
A self-build project is one of the single largest investments most people will ever make. Now, thanks to the pandemic, building a home is even more important because we’re spending so much more time in it. Our homes need to suit the ever-changing needs of the family and adapt to prolonged or even permanent home working. It can be tempting therefore to focus on the internal layout or big-ticket items such as windows, kitchens or bathrooms. But the structure and facade need as much attention – if not more
so. It’s the one thing that can’t be changed (unless with great expense and difficulty) once built – and gives that vital first impression.
Brick is the most popular construction material for a reason – offering structural strength, durability and character. But choosing the right brick for your build can require more thought and research than initially anticipated. Bricks make up approximately 2-3% of your total build cost, but they’re the one thing that can’t be changed afterwards. Spending a little more to get a better quality, regionally appropriate brick will not only look better but will also significantly increase the value of the return on your finished home.
Traditionally manufactured bricks offer longevity, quality and an aesthetic appeal that cannot be matched by mass-produced machine-made bricks. Each brick is truly unique which creates instant character and kerb appeal for any property.
Whether you are planning a renovation or an extension, or a complete new build, homeowners and self-builders need to ensure their brickwork matches the existing building and/or complements surrounding properties. More importantly, planners can stipulate this, particularly if you’re in a conservation area or are working on a listed building.
Even if your build has a contemporary design, choosing regionally appropriate bricks will ensure your home sits well with the surrounding properties.
RECLAIMED BRICKS VS NEW
‘Reclaimed’ bricks can be used to match existing brickwork for an extension of a period house (generally anything built before the First World War) or for self- builds in listed or conservation areas. But reclaims are often difficult and expensive to source. Availability depends on the frequency of period property demolition and often, the exact quantity of bricks from a site is unknown until the bricks are sorted and packed. These bricks are usually allocated in advance (before the building is demolished), come at an inflated price point and quality cannot be guaranteed. Many reclaims haven’t been manufactured or tested to meet modern standards for compressive strength and frost resistance.
Damage in transport can also result in up to 20% wastage per pallet of bricks, which in turn increases the volume of bricks required. This is largely why it’s rare for reclaims to be used in developments larger than a couple of homes, as continuity of supply is difficult to secure.
Modern handmade bricks have none of these problems; if sourced from a reputable company these will be UKCA/CE marked, fully frost resistant and available on reliable lead times.
REGIONAL CLAY VARIATIONS
There are now ‘kiln-fresh’ options available for almost every region in the UK – historically bricks have varied considerably across the country in terms of colour, size and texture. Yellow Stock is particular to London (often blackened by pollution), for example, while buff colours are found in Oxford and Cambridge, with reds and oranges in Cheshire. Additionally, while all buildings constructed before 1965 used imperial rather than metric measurements, the imperial sizes for bricks in the North are larger than that in the South. Different regional manufacturing methods also resulted in bricks with more creasing, or coal-spotting, or a smoother face. So it’s worth taking the time to research the bricks in your area to get the right match.
Choosing to build with weathered, blended bricks achieves a truly authentic look. Weathering will darken and age bricks as appropriate, while blended brick pallets mix different colour shades. For example, London Yellow Stocks could include some red or pink shades in the blend, which are also weathered to match the natural ageing and colour variations you find on period properties in the capital.
TUMBLED BRICKS – AN EXACT REPLICA OF RECLAIMS
Tumbled bricks go a step further, offering a true alternative to genuine reclaimed bricks. New, traditionally produced bricks from established ranges are weathered and aged first, then put through a finishing method which recreates the demolition process reclaims go through. This results in softer, rounded edges – and much more character.
This unique process produces handmade, extruded and pressed bricks which are identical in appearance to reclaimed bricks, but are reliably available in the quantities and quality required for easier project management and planning.
Anyone choosing bricks for a project should look for certain quality marks and accreditations that ensure brick manufacturing processes are robust and reliable. How products are made and supplied is just as important – if not more so – than where they come from.
Some of the highest internationally recognised standards and accreditations include UKCA/CE marking, SEDEX ethical trading audits, and ISO 14001 for environmental management.
Jason Hughes is managing director at Imperial Bricks