The brick essentials

With an increasing number of homeowners choosing to pursue self-build or embark on self-renovation work, Simon Taylor of Ibstock examines one of the key considerations for any self-builder – the aesthetics as well as function of the bricks they will use for their project

Anyone considering embarking on a self-build home improvement job should rest assured that they are not alone. According to a recent published study, there are more than 20,000 self-builders in the UK that are undertaking construction work, ranging in scope from loft conversions to full-scale house extensions.

This is a trend surely set to increase further still, with the Government pledging increased support for self- builders. Indeed, Victoria Prentis, the Conservative MP for North Oxfordshire, recently identified custom-built housing stock as a potential solution to the UK’s ongoing housing crisis.

For any self-build project, one of the first decisions that must be made is the material used to build the structure. The most popular choice in Britain remains, undoubtedly, brick. Representing sturdiness and affording properties a sense of character that may be harder to find with other materials, the UK’s love affair with brick is truly enduring.

Choices, choices, choices

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is often preference among self-builders to go for the cheapest – or cheaper – brick. While cheaper bricks can often be perfectly acceptable, we would advise people consider the overall aesthetic appeal for their home.

We would advocate not picking the cheapest brick, but instead finding a brick that delivers the greatest value for money. Ultimately, people want to be happy with how their house looks – so sometimes it’s worth spending a little more so that you truly love the look of your house as you pull onto the driveway.

Indeed, a key priority for many self-builders and renovators is achieving ‘kerb appeal’, ensuring the build is as striking on the outside as it is on the inside. Finding the right brick for a project really depends on the overall look and feel a self-builder is hoping to achieve for
their home.

In general, we find that handmade and soft mud bricks are more popular among the self-build market, because they bring guaranteed character to a property. However, wire cut bricks are often the preferred choice if factors such as regional vernacular or cost is a primary concern.

There is a huge amount of choice available to self-builders when it comes to brick. With a seemingly endless number of colours, textures, finishes and sizes to choose from, it’s surprisingly simple to make a design vision a reality.

Respecting regulations

Whatever style of brick a homeowner chooses, they need to consider planning regulations and ensure that it fits with the wider local vernacular. While this doesn’t mean it has to conform to a traditional design, the bricks must be in keeping with the aesthetics of the area.

The UK is lucky enough to be home to some of Europe’s best preserved stone towns, so, if a homeowner is considering a self-build project in one of these regions, even greater consideration is required. Take for example the Cotswolds, with its Jurassic limestone, which is renowned the world over, or the iconic Collyweston slate, prevalent across the East Midlands.

There’s mortar life

As important as picking the right brick for a project, selecting the mortar that binds it all together is just as crucial. While many self-builders favour ready- bagged, pre-mixed mortar, remember that the colouring of mortar can completely transform the look of a building, so homeowners should ensure they use one which matches the overall aesthetics they are hoping to achieve with the project.

Right to reclaim?

Whether it’s sustainability concerns or wanting to maximise the authentic feel of their build, some self-builders opt for reclaimed or salvaged bricks. These are typically handmade and older, sourced everywhere from discontinued mills to former stately homes, some of which have obsolete design quirks which make them totally unique in modern builds.

Reclaimed products can be found in a huge variety of colours, sizes and textures, so when selecting salvaged material, it’s important to ensure they are in keeping with the period and location of their home. What’s more, the quality of reclaimed materials can vary hugely, so it’s crucial to ensure that bricks come from a reclamation yard with a reputation for sourcing good quality materials.

Next steps

Self-build projects can be a cost- effective, highly rewarding way for homeowners to improve their properties. While it may seem that there is a myriad of brick considerations, all that’s required is some careful research into the right material for a project. Homeowners looking to embark on such a project should speak to planning authorities to ensure that the project is in line with local regulations, and that key considerations such as regional vernacular are contemplated, before settling on a brick product.

Simon Taylor is director of sales – Builders Merchant at Ibstock