When it comes to building a brick home or extension (or renovating an existing brick built property), selecting the right type of brick for your project is essential – after all, it’s not something you can readily change.
Bricks have been a mainstay building material, staunchly holding up the walls of hundreds of thousands of buildings in the UK for centuries. So surely, a brick’s a brick? Not so. Tone, texture and form all come into play – soft yellow hues or dusky red bricks; reclaimed, machine-made, handmade; metric or imperial sizing – there’s lots to consider.
Here we explain the different types of bricks you can choose from, and their likely costs, to help you make the right decision for your project. And we’ll throw in some useful tips on your choice of brick bond and mortar as well as brick storage and British Standards you should know.
Types of Brick
When it comes to types of brick, clay is an efficient, cost-effective and sustainable option that needs little to no maintenance, but you can also choose cement and lime as materials should you wish.
Machine made bricks
If you’re looking for a smooth finish then an extruded or wire-cut clay brick could be a good choice. The clay is extruded (pushed out) into a column. The column of clay is then wire-cut and, to keep it smooth, isn’t modified before drying and firing in the kiln. This is a more modern method of brick making and is also known as wire-cut.
In contrast, soft mud bricks (also known as stock) are made by dropping the clay into sand-coated moulds, which produce a sanded face with slight creases.
This was originally done by hand but is now generally a machine-made process. Waterstruck bricks are made in a very similar way to soft mud bricks but no sand is used in the moulding process, just water, which means the brick surface is a lot less grainy.
If you wish for a cleaner, smoother finish then opt for extruded or wire-cut bricks. These machine-made bricks are more uniform in shape and are cheaper by the thousand.
If you want to match existing bricks or you’re building a home in a conservation area for example, handmade bricks provide an authentic look.
The clay is rolled in sand then ‘thrown’ skilfully by hand into a mould. Handmade varieties offer more flexibility as they can be made up as standard or nonstandard sized bricks, creating and instantly characterful and charming look.
Handmade bricks have a rougher, open texture and feature an attractive creased face. You can also achieve a more bespoke look with a range of colours as well as sizes — but this is reflected in the price and they cost around four times as much as machine-made.
If you’re knocking down a property and building a new one on the plot then you can use bricks reclaimed from the original building(s) if you want to replicate the look or need to due to a planning condition.
Reclamation yards are another good source of second-hand bricks but getting the quantity and quality for a whole house or a large extension can be difficult. Wastage can be high and you may need to discard a few.
How Much Do Different Types of Brick Cost?
The cheapest types of facing bricks are wire-cut and are between £250/1,000 and £400/1,000, while distinctive handmade bricks are upwards of £600/1,000.
How Many Bricks Do I Need?
To calculate how many metric-sized bricks you need, the standard method is to work out the size of the facing walls in square metres and multiply by 60 (the standard number of bricks per metre square of stretcher bond brickwork). Online calculators can help you work out how many you’ll need for your project. (Brickability has a useful one).
Metric vs Imperial Brick Sizes
Pre-1965 houses were built using imperial-sized bricks, which typically measured 9in (w) x 4.5in (d) x 3in (h). Now metric size bricks are used. They’re slightly smaller at 215mm (w) x 102.5mm (d) x 65mm (h).
How to Choose the Right Type of Brick
It may sound obvious, but the materials are used in the local area will have an impact on the external appearance you go for, or are allowed to go for.
If the area you want to build in features the soft yellow hues of Cotswold stone, for example, choosing to build entirely out of Staffordshire blue bricks probably won’t be favoured by your local planning office.
Have a look at what colours of brick are indigenous to the area:
- oranges are typical of the Lincolnshire region
- red bricks are common in the north
- creams and yellows are common around Cambridgeshire and London
- blue bricks are seen on properties in the Midlands
But that’s not to say you can’t approach your local planners to ask what their stance is on materials. It’s not uncommon 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.
How are Clay Bricks Made?
The first part of the process begins at a quarry site. The clay is extracted and then goes through a process that transforms the hard, raw material into a mouldable one. The clay is crushed and mixed with certain quantities of water to make it malleable enough to shape. Clay bricks are then formed using different methods. Each method then determines the characteristics of the brick.
What Colour Brick Should I Choose?
There are many colour variations — from white to cream, yellow through to orangey reds, browns and blue tones, there’s a spectrum for traditional and contemporary designs. “The colours of bricks are determined by the position of the brick in the kiln and the firing temperatures they reach,” explains Jim Matthews, partner at HG Matthews.
Colour is also down to the type of clay and the surface sanding or staining that occurs as well. Because colour variation will inevitably happen, it’s a good idea to mix bricks from different packs before they’re laid.
How to Store Your Chosen Type of Bricks On Site
- Make sure that the batches are delivered to hardstanding and not on grass as they’ll absorb moisture from the ground
- Note that it is not uncommon for the colours to vary slightly between each batch, so it’s wise to have your bricklayer mix the bricks within each batch to avoid any colour banding within the brickwork
- Ensure that any laid brickwork and/or packs are covered at the end of the day to protect them from rain
Choosing the Right Bond Pattern for the Type of Brick and Desired Result
Once you’ve chosen the brick type you want to use, you’ll need to think about the bond: the pattern the bricks will be laid in.
Brick bonds have an impact on aesthetics but they also have a job to do structurally, too. The way the bricks are laid will determine how the load is distributed. Each horizontal row of bricks is called a course and a course is made up, most commonly, of headers, stretchers or both. A header is the smaller end or ‘face’ of a brick and a stretcher is the long, narrower ‘face’.
The most common brick bond is stretcher (which, as the name suggests, uses stretchers only). The joins on each course are centre aligned with the bricks above and below. However, there are a number of options available to the self builder and extender, including more traditional Flemish bond, English bond and contemporary stack bond.
“If you’re building your own home, ask for a test panel to be made up, so you can see exactly how the bricks will look when they’re laid,” says Jason Hughes, MD of Imperial Bricks. It will also allow you to see the standard of your bricklayer’s work. Test panels should be around 1m².
Adding in Design Detail
To add form and character to what can sometimes be a mass expanse of flat wall there are design details that you can incorporate. A dentil bond features alternating indented bricks in one or more courses. Dogs-tooth features a projecting course of bricks laid at 45°, cropped at the cavity. The design can be used to create corbelled eaves or decorative banding. A corbel is a bracket that projects further than the face of a wall often in and around the eaves of a roof.
Choosing the Right Mortar
“The mortar joint surface area varies from 18% for stretcher bond to 22% for header bond,” says Sean Wilkins, Technical Manager from The Brick Development Association, so you’ll want to make sure the mortar doesn’t dominate or clash with the brick and is in-keeping with the overall design.
Make sure the mortar is appropriate for the type of brick you choose to use,too. Hydraulic lime mortar, for example is a good choice when working with handmade bricks.
“The mortar allows for natural movement, offers an improved aesthetic with a textured finish and is available in regionally matched colours,” says Jason Hughes, Managing Director of Imperial Bricks. “It is also breathable, allowing any moisture within the brickwork to escape naturally, reducing the risk of frost damage and brick faces ‘blowing’ which can be a problem with cement-based mortars.”
Whatever mortar you end up using keep it consistent throughout the job to avoid unsightly banding. Once you’ve decided on a mortar mix, stick to it, using the same sand, cement and lime throughout.
“The perception of mortar colour can be varied by changing the joint profile,” says Sean Wilkins. Profiles can be recessed (best used with frost-resistant bricks as this profile isn’t as weather resistant as others); struck or weathered (introduces light and shade to brickwork, good strength and weather resistance); curved (good strength) and flush.
Bricks are tested under British Standards to ensure they meet the necessary criteria in terms of water absorption, frost protection, strength, etc.
“All bricks are made to the harmonised standard of EN771-1,” says Simon Hay, CEO of the Brick Development Association (BDA). “The UK is divided into zones where long-term studies have shown likely levels of rainfall and it is recommended that all external works be classified as severely exposed to the risk of frost attack and be designed and built accordingly.”
As clay facing bricks are subject to freeze thaw, it’s advised that you choose a brick with a minimum rating of ‘F’, with F1 being for bricks subject to moderate exposure to the elements (i.e. under the eaves), and F2 being the highest, meaning that the bricks are resistant even under severe exposure to continuous saturation and freezing.
“Mortars are also currently required to conform to the requirements of BS EN 998-2 if they are factory made, but if they are site batched they are defined by a design document, BS1996-1-1, Eurocode 6 — these standards cover a number of properties, including strength,” adds Simon.
Where Can I Buy Different Types of Bricks?
Once you know the colour, type and bond you are after, you will be ready to buy the bricks for your project. There are plenty of places to buy from, including various brick manufacturers, your local builders’ merchant, reclamation yards, or suppliers such as Jewson, Travis Perkins, and Brickability (bricks can be sourced online from the latter).
Costly Mistakes to Avoid When Building in Brick
Keith Aldis, CEO of the Brick Development Association, explains how to spot brick building mistakes
Keep Bricks Dry
After construction, changes can occur to brickwork. Efflorescence is caused by soluble salts in bricks being brought to the surface as water in the wall dries out; it shows up as a white deposit on the external skin of the building.
It is considered unattractive by many homeowners, but its problems are more than just cosmetic. Over time these salt crystals can grow large enough to cause cracks in the brick.
Beware of Staining
Another problem with bricks being exposed to water is that staining such as vanadium (a yellow, green or light brown stain) can occur on buff-coloured and sometimes, on red or brown clay products. Protect bricks from saturation to reduce the likelihood of these colour changes.
When storing bricks for use check that your bricks are stacked on a clean, firm level surface; cavities are closed to the elements; gutter downpipes are installed soon after work is done; and scaffold board closest to the brickwork is turned up at interruptions to construction.
Get the Mortar Mix Right
Your choice of mortar is an important part of a masonry specification as it makes up a significant part of the wall. Stronger mortars are commonly darker than the standard mix ratios. If coloured mortar is specified it is best to use dry silo mortar for colour consistency. Bagged or ready-mix mortar can be subject to contamination on site and can affect the material.
Coat Your Steelwork
Corrosion to steel supports (caused by excess moisture) within a masonry wall can, over time, lead to severe cracks. The rust which forms on the steel can expand significantly, putting pressure on the masonry which it was not designed to withstand.
If you’re building a brick structure from the ground up, ask your contractor for coated steel supports for an extra measure of protection. In addition, ask about the experience of all the people who will be will be working on your project to ensure that they are knowledgeable about proper flashing and tight joints.
For more on good site practices and brickwork, visit brick.org.uk
If you are extending your property, you are going to want to match the new bricks to the existing. However, your existing bricks will have weathered and developed a patina. Moreover the bricks specified when your home was originally built might not be available now.
The first way of overcoming this is to speak with the different manufacturers – most of which will offer a brick matching service – whereby tints can be applied. They should also be able to source bricks similar in texture and size.
Specifying pre-weathered bricks is another solution.
Useful Brick Contacts
Bricklayers most often work in gangs of three (two bricklayers and one labourer), and their work will involve everything from bricklaying to blockwork, installing insulation, wall ties, damp-proof courses, and building in joinery.
The time it takes to lay the bricks will depend on the job in question and what is involved, such as any special requirements like the type of bond and the bricklayers’ familiarity with building in the style you have selected. Stretcher bond work is repetitive and simple and therefore faster to lay, with a typical four bedroom house taking between two to three weeks, whereas a Flemish bond will require more time and detail, as accuracy with this pattern is key.
When hiring bricklayers ask:
- what their experience is
- whether this is on smaller domestic projects or large-scale developments
- the kinds of bricks they’re most familiar with
- which bonds they have the most experience in laying
You should also seek references from those they have worked for before.
For simple brick façades or walls, facilitating good runs of work will encourage high levels of output and laying 400 bricks a day can be expected. However, more demanding brick bonds will lead to output levels of between 150–200 bricks.
How Much Should You Expect to Pay for a Bricklayer?
Some bricklayers will work on measured rates per thousand bricks laid, which can vary between £300–400 per 1,000 for a simple stretcher bond construction.
If your project requires more intricate work then you can hire a bricklayer on a day rate of around £150–£200 and around £100 for a labourer.