13 May 2022

How to Choose the Right Bricks for Your New Home

Bricks come in hundreds of shapes, sizes, materials, colours and finishes. So how do you choose the right type of brick for your new home or refurbishment project? Andrew Pickersgill from W McGovern & Co., one of the largest brick merchants in the north of England, investigates.

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Your choice of brick will make a huge difference to the overall look of your property. Still, there are many other things to consider than just the appearance, such as your budget, lead times, local planning conditions and sustainability requirements.

Types of brick

Over 90% of bricks manufactured in the UK are made from clay, which is shaped, dried and fired in a kiln to create a hard and durable product. Wire-cut clay bricks provide a smooth finish and typically have holes in the bed – this means less energy is required for drying, and the bricks are lighter, so easier to handle. For a more textured look, choose soft mud or handmade bricks, which can create a more characterful and authentic look – particularly effective in conservation areas.

If you’re knocking down a property and building a new one on the plot and you want to replicate the look or need to due to a planning condition, then you can use bricks reclaimed from the original building. Although, getting the quantity and quality for a whole house or a large extension can be difficult.

The small remaining section of the market includes bricks made from other materials, the largest of which is concrete bricks. Concrete bricks are made from sand and aggregates mixed with pigments and cement to harden into a concrete block. Concrete bricks usually imitate the appearance of classic clay bricks and currently have a shorter lead time: two weeks rather than 22 to 26 weeks for clay bricks.

Cost of bricks

Brickwork is about 80% of your home’s visual appeal but only about 10 to 15% of the entire build cost. With something so inexpensive in the grand scheme of things, why wouldn’t you choose something perfect that will put a smile on your face every time you pull onto the drive?

Prices range from around £400 per 1000 for machine-made bricks to upwards of £1100 per 1000 for more bespoke and distinctive handmade bricks.

There are several online brick calculators available to help you work out how many standard (65mm long) or pre-war (73mm long) bricks you need by simply inputting the size of your walls.

Brick matching

You will have been planning your dream home for quite some time and may have a specific look in mind. Perhaps your local planning department insists that you use a particular brick. Or maybe you are extending a property and want to match the new type of bricks with the existing ones. In all these circumstances, you will need a brick-matching service offered by many brick merchants and brick suppliers, including W McGovern & Co.

You should also consider asking your brick supplier to create small sample walls so that you can see how the bricks look at different times of day and in various weather conditions and even using other mortars to help you find your perfect look.

Colour choices

Your choice of colour will be influenced by product availability, cost, local planning restrictions and your own personal taste.

Historically, bricks would have been made on, or very close to, the construction site. Even in the modern day, bricks average less than 70 miles from the manufacturing location to the site. This means that different coloured bricks are used in other areas of the country. For example, red bricks are common in the north whilst creams and yellows are often used around Cambridgeshire and London.

However, it’s not unusual to see contemporary designs incorporating a contrasting brick extension, so it’s always worth investigating what’s likely to get planning permission at the start of your project.

Also, to add architectural interest and character, consider adding decorative design details such as indented bricks, angles or patterns of different coloured bricks.

Sustainability

In 2019, the UK, as recommended by the Committee on Climate Change, became the first major economy to pass a net-zero emissions law with the target to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to be net zero by 2050. Building green is a rapidly-growing enterprise. There is clearly an appetite for and willingness to change; however, the construction industry is restricted in its efforts by the lack of low-carbon materials available on the market. Those materials that are available inevitably attract a higher cost.

Check the green credentials of your bricks by asking your supplier for an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD). This document is generated based on data obtained through a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and determines the environmental performance or impact of any product or material over its lifetime. It covers areas such as the use of raw materials, resource consumption, recycled content, product waste, air miles and the like.

Brick manufacturers are now making bricks more carbon-friendly, and some breeze blocks are being built out of recycled materials, so the options are available if you are looking to achieve a more sustainable home.

To most people, a brick is a brick but look a bit deeper, and the vast variety of styles, colours and textures become clear. When you’re building your dream house, take time to choose the perfect bricks and achieve that all-important kerb appeal every time you come home.

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