Choosing the right bricks

Choosing the right bricks

By Michael Brown, Managing Director of Northcot Brick

Choosing the right type of brick is one of the most important decisions you will make when building a new home or restoring an old one.  

The benefits of brick

There are many advantages to owning a brick-built home.  As a highly durable solid product, brick is ideally suited to our damp climate and requires minimal maintenance.  In addition, it has excellent thermal, acoustic and fire-resistant properties and will remain sustainable for the whole of its lifecycle. 

Used since Roman times, the natural beauty of brick not only enhances the character and individuality of our homes, but it is a sound investment, which can add to the value of a property for many years to come.       

The types of bricks

The most widely used type of brick used for building new homes is the ‘facing brick’, which is designed for the façade of a building. 

Theimmense variety of facing bricks made in the UK is determined by the uniqueness of the clay found in each individual quarry, different kiln firing temperatures, the mix of sands and pigments and the diverse manufacturing techniques used across the country. 

Although the most common type of facing brick is ‘wirecut’, where an extruded column of clay is cut by a wire, there are many other options such as soft mud and stock bricks (where the soft clay is pressed into a mould), and waterstruck (which uses water to release the clay from the mould) as well as old reclaimed bricks and traditional handmades where each brick has been individually thrown by hand.

Choosing your bricks

When choosing bricks self-builders are usually drawn to the idiosyncratic character of handmade bricks where no two bricks are exactly the same.  Each brick has variable tones, texture and creases or ‘smiles’, which can help make a home look truly stunning.  

However, whenworking to a tighter budget there can be economic advantages to using mass produced wirecut or pressed bricks, which are available in a wide range of consistently produced colours and textures, but it is important to note that the very precision of modern automated processes inevitably makes them more regular and uniform in appearance.

At Northcot our ‘master brickmakers’ use age-old bench mould methods and coal firing techniques that have been passed down over the ages to make genuine handmade bricks.  We have also developed highly sophisticated weathering techniques to widen the choice still further. Some of these techniques are used across our wirecut range to add character.

Planning considerations 

Before deciding on a specific brick type, take inspiration from your local architecture.  In conservation areas, planners often insist on a local handmade brick or, at the very least, that a local looking equivalent is used. 

One option is to visit your local reclamation yard for an exact match, but as the quality of genuine second-hand reclaimed bricks is not guaranteed, it is often worth considering ‘simulated reclaims’, modern handmade equivalents that meet modern building standards (including F2 Frost resistance) and are supported by a manufacturer’s statement of specifications.

Northcot Brick offers specialist brick matching services that can replicate many regionalbrick types (in both standard and the old imperial sizes) as well as matching special shapes.  The company also produces new reclaim ranges, which are ‘tumbled’ in order to replicate the wornirregular edges and weathered look of the genuine second hand reclaims.               

Whatever your preference, it is useful to workwith a knowledgeable merchant or directly with a manufacturer, who is sympathetic to your requirements and prepared to go the extra mile to help you.  Then, once you have made a short list of possible matches, liaise with your local planning office.

The practical considerations

It is easy to underestimate the number of bricks required for any building project.  So, when placing your order, remember to take into account potential wastage – which can be anything from 5% to 7% – as bricks may be damaged in transit or even on site, and then ensure best practice once on-site.                 

It is also worth considering any additional work you may wish to undertake at the end of the project, such as the construction of garden walls, driveways or garages to avoid having to make potentially expensive additional orders with their associated haulage fees. 

Lead times for bricks can also vary, so if you want special shapes sizes, shape, colours or other bespoke options, these will usually take more time (from two to six months) to manufacture depending on their complexity. 

Building or restoring a home is often a compromise between quality, aspiration, cost and practicality. Some things can always be replaced or changed at a later date, but ourbest advice is never to compromise on the quality of your bricks, as they will remain for the whole life of the building!