Brick FAQs

Why should I buy a brick home?

Nothing else can match the classic beauty and elegance of a brick home. Building with brick says, "You have arrived." But there's more to brick than just looks. Brick offers lasting value. It can enhance the resale value of your home by as much as 6 percent. Brick is virtually maintenance free. It doesn't rot, dent, or need to be painted and it won't be eaten by termites. Brick is also energy efficient, keeping you cool in the summer and warm in the winter. In short, brick offers you a combination of advantages not found in any other siding material. The world's most beautiful and most practical homes are built with brick.

Is brick that much more expensive than other siding materials?

Brick costs more than some other commonly used siding materials because brick is a premium product, but it's not nearly as expensive as you might think. In many parts of the country, a new brick home will cost you only a small percentage more than a comparable vinyl-sided home. Other products, such as artificial stucco, cost about the same as brick, but are far less durable and require much greater maintenance and upkeep.

What kind of maintenance does a brick home require?

A brick home is virtually maintenance free. Brick is one of the oldest building materials in the world, and one of the reasons it's still so popular is brick's ease of upkeep. Brick never needs painting, never rots, will never be eaten by termites and will never dent or tear. Brick homes built hundreds of years ago still stand today.

Is brick energy efficient?

Brick is a building material that has exceptional "thermal mass " properties. Thermal mass is the ability of a heavy, dense material to store heat and then slowly release it. For you, this means that during the summer months your brick home stays cool during the hottest part of the day. During the winter, brick walls store your home's heat and radiate it back to you. Vinyl, aluminum, wood or EIFS (artificial stucco) are all thin, light building materials that don't have good thermal mass properties. The superior thermal mass qualities of brick have been known for centuries. Most notably, the Pueblo Indians in the Southwest used adobe masonry to moderate weather extremes and keep their homes comfortable.

How does brick impact my home insurance costs?

A brick home is fire resistant, pest resistant and weather resistant. Brick is such a strong and durable building material that your insurance companies may even offer you a discount on your home insurance costs. Check with your agent for more details.

Do brick homes have a better resale value?

Take a look through this Sunday's real estate section of your local newspaper and read the home listings. Notice how people always list brick as a primary selling point. Brick's beauty and practicality are always a plus when you resell. On average, a brick exterior adds 6% to the resale value of your home.

Are there many color options available with brick?

Brick is an all-natural building material that is made from a mix of clay and water that is then baked, or "fired," in a kiln until hardened. Different clays produce different colors, and there are many different types of clays. In addition, various natural coatings, such as sand and limestone, can also be added during the firing process to produce different colors, effects, textures and finishes. Even a brick's position in the kiln can affect the final look. When you combine these with the tonal varieties of today's mortars, you can see that your color choices in brick are virtually endless.

Where can I find out about my color options in brick?

Visit a brick showroom near you to review your options. You'll have the chance to review hundreds of brick and mortar combinations. To locate a showroom, check your local Yellow Pages under "Brick."

Does brick allow me to personalize the look of my home?

Brick is not a one-dimensional product like stucco or siding. Brick allows you to personalize the look of your home with elegant detailing, such as arches and quoins, different bond patterns and special shapes. Brick expresses your personality and style like no other building product can.

How can I remove paint from my brickwork?

As always, the wall should be thoroughly saturated with water before and after any cleaning application. Also, a small inconspicuous area of wall should be tested to confirm that any solutions used will not harm the brick.

Freshly applied paint can be removed with a solution of trisodium phosphate mixed with water at a rate of 2 lb. per gallon of water. Apply the solution to the brick; allow it to soften paint; and remove with scraper and stiff bristle brush. Manufactured chemicals are also available from your local hardware store to remove fresh paint.

Existing paint which has been in place for some time is more difficult to remove and may require using abrasive techniques with non-steel scrapers or sandblasting by a professional. Certain brick should not be sandblasted. Specific chemical compounds from your local hardware store in the form of a gel solvent may be necessary to soften existing paint. More than one application may be necessary depending on the number of paint layers.

Should I paint my brick wall?

A brick wall may be painted provided the correct preparation is done, the proper paint is selected, and the paint is applied correctly. Generally, new brick walls are not painted. However, if you desire to paint a recently constructed brick wall, it should be allowed to fully cure 28 days and should not be cleaned or treated with acid solutions. Alkali-resistant paints should be used and a zinc chloride or zinc sulfate solution may need to be applied to the wall to neutralize the surface.

Painting brick does not preclude good construction and detailing practices. Any deficiencies such as surface deposits; broken brick; cracked, loose or missing mortar; or inadequate flashing and weep holes should be corrected prior to painting. In addition, the brick should be thoroughly cleaned and given ample time to dry before application of paint. See Technical Notes 7F and 20 for more information.

For brickwork to function properly, the wall must resist moisture penetration and be permeable to vapor from the structure. Consequently, any paint applied to the wall must also have these same characteristics. In addition, the inherent features of a brick wall which channel water out, such as weep holes and vents, must not be clogged by paint or caulk to inhibit the flow of water.

Latex and portland cement-based paints perform well on brick walls. Oil-based, alkyd, rubber and epoxy paints do not allow any vapor in the wall to escape and consequently should not be applied to brick. Prior to painting, the brick should receive a prime coat suitable for the paint application per manufacturer's instructions.

Should I apply a water repellent to my brick wall?

Generally, water repellents are only an interim solution to any water penetrating a brick wall since they loose their ability to repel water after 1 to 10 years. However, in cases where all other options have been exhausted, it may be considered as long as one is aware of the inherent nature of water repellents.

There are basically two types of water repellents: films and penetrants. Films such as acrylics, stearates, mineral gum waxes, urethanes and silicone resins form a thin membrane over the brick. Penetrants such as silanes, siloxanes and blends actually penetrate the brick surface. Films are good at repelling water but poor at permitting water vapor transmission which allows the wall to breathe. Penetrants, on the other hand, are good at both. They will usually have a matte finish while films may produce a higher sheen. Penetrants are more acceptable since they allow any water present in the brick to exit the wall. However, penetrants will not provide graffiti-resistance to a wall while some films will.

Application of a water repellent does not negate proper brick construction and detailing procedures. Any deficiencies in a brick wall such as inadequate flashing, weep holes, mortar joints or broken brick should be corrected prior to the application of a water repellent. The wall should also be cleaned and allowed to thoroughly dry before administering a water repellent.

How can I remove stains from my brickwork?

Most stains and discoloration can be removed from brickwork if the proper cleaning technique is employed. There are essentially two categories of stains; those which are externally applied to the wall and those which originate from within the wall. Those which come from within a wall may need additional investigation to prevent the stain from returning.

As always, it is important to thoroughly saturate a brick wall before application of any cleaning solution. As a general rule, acidic cleaning solutions should only be applied to red brick with no surface finish such as sand. Also, an inconspicuous area of the wall should be tested with any cleaning solution for compatibility prior to application on the entire wall. Any cleaning solutions should be thoroughly rinsed from the wall.

Most stains can be dealt with by thoroughly washing the wall with a common household or kitchen cleanser dissolved in water and applied to the wall with a stiff bristle brush. If this is ineffective, a poultice which dissolves the stain and pulls it into an inert material may be necessary. The inert material can be talc, whiting or fuller's earth available from your local hardware store while the solvent will vary based on the type of stain. There are also several manufactures which produce chemical compounds to remove stains. Your local brick or masonry supplier should be consulted for specific advice.

Sandblasting and pressure washing brickwork can also be options for certain brick when especially stubborn mortar or externally applied stains are involved. Bricks with coatings such as sand or slurry finishes should not be cleaned in this manner. Sandblasting and pressure washing should usually only be undertaken by a competent professional with experience. If improperly executed, either of these methods can permanently damage the brick.

Can water penetrate my brickwork?

Homes have been built for hundreds of years with the knowledge that brickwork is not impervious to water. Water can migrate into brickwork. Brickwork handles this moisture by either having a cavity or air space between itself and the wall behind it (drainage wall) or by being so thick that it acts as a barrier to the water.

For a drainage wall, water travels down the backside of the brick in the air space and is then channeled out with flashing (metal or plastic sheet) sloped toward the face of the wall and weep holes (small openings or tubes) spaced every few brick at the mortar joints. These flashing and weep holes should be located above all doors and windows, below all window sills, and above the ground at the base of the wall. In a barrier wall, the mass of the brickwork keeps the interior of the wall dry by allowing water to evaporate before proceeding all the way through the wall. Only under prolonged exposure to sustained moisture or rain will a barrier wall exhibit moisture on the interior. When this occurs, the moisture then drains down the back of the wall into flashing at the base which channels it out through weep holes.

The overwhelming majority of brickwork is properly detailed and constructed, experiencing no moisture problems. In the few instances where moisture is a problem, it can be attributed to poor construction or detailing in the brickwork. It is important to maintain a clean space behind the brick in drainage walls. Full contact between mortar and bricks and proper installation of flashing and weep holes are also important to ensure the highest water penetration resistance. Applying and maintaining silicone caulk around window and door openings also plays a vital role in keeping moisture out.

Can I change my brick's color once it is in a wall?

A brick's color can be attributed to its clay composition, any added compounds, its firing temperature and any surface treatments. Because brick is composed of naturally occurring materials, all brick will not necessarily be exactly the same. For this reason, some brick may be of a slightly different color than others in a given batch. Usually, this adds character to a wall, but occasionally it is desired to blend these brick with other brick in the wall. This can be done by individually staining the brick in question.

Staining is a common practice and is usually done by a professional with expertise in its application. The stain itself is a proprietary product made specifically for brick. A local brick supplier in your Yellow Pages should be consulted for a product and professional applicator. Since the surrounding mortar joints must be masked, it is a time consuming process and is usually only done when a limited number of brick are involved. If staining is done properly, it should have no detrimental effect on the bricks and should provide a long lasting finish.

Can I add brick to my existing home?

Brick can be added to an existing home. This can be done by adding a nominal three- or four-inch thick brick in front of the wall and supporting it by either the existing footing or on an angle fastened to the existing concrete or block foundation wall. It is important to properly detail the wall by providing flashing and weep holes at all points of support. The area beneath the angle at or below the ground level should have gravel at least six-inches deep to provide good drainage. The brick should also have at least a one-inch air space between itself and the existing siding. Building paper should cover the existing siding unless it is already provided behind the existing siding. Corrosion-resistant metal anchors should tie the brick to the studs in the existing wall. The joint between the brickwork and all doors and windows should be closed with silicone caulk. Insulation may also be added to increase the total thermal value of the wall.

Another alternative is to use thin brick in panels and attach them directly to wall studs. This may mean removing the existing siding in order to attach the thin brick. Insulation may also be added if desired.

Can I install brick over my existing concrete or asphalt driveway, patio or walk?

Paving can be installed over existing concrete or asphalt as long as it is in reasonably good shape. To ensure an adequate foundation for the brick, the existing concrete slab or asphalt should be inspected and repaired as necessary. Any cracks, chips, holes, dips or spalls should be repaired in order to achieve a flat surface.

The brick can be installed either with or without mortar. If no mortar is used, a half-inch setting bed of coarse sand should be laid and compacted. An edging of metal or heavy-duty plastic should then be placed around the perimeter of the brickwork and set to just below the height of the finished brick surface. Pavers can then be placed in the desired pattern on top of the sand. The bricks should be placed as close to each other as possible. It may be necessary to cut some of the brick near the edging. Once the brick are all in place, install mason's sand between the brick and over the surface. Sweep away excess surface sand and your brick is ready to enjoy.

If mortar is used, you may consider hiring a mason for the job. If you do the job yourself, the concrete slab should be prepared in the same manner as above. A half-inch mortar setting bed should then be applied upon which the bricks are set with mortar placed between the pavers. Only a small area should receive the setting bed at a time in order to ensure that it does not set prior to laying the brick. Mortared brickwork should not be laid on asphalt.

How can I construct a new brick driveway, patio or walk myself?

A new brick pavement can be constructed on asphalt, concrete, or compacted gravel as a base. For asphalt and concrete bases, the base material should be installed according to standard construction procedure and then the brick can be constructed on top. (See previous question.)

For a compacted gravel base, the earth below should be well compacted. All brick pavements should have the earth graded to a minimum slope of quarter-inch per foot for drainage. Then four-inches of gravel, followed by a layer of geotextile material, if desired, and a one-inch coarse sand setting bed screeded with a 2x4 should be laid. An edging of heavy plastic or metal should be installed at the perimeter of the brick. The brick should then be laid together tightly on top of the sand and cut as needed at the edging. Mason's sand should then be spread on the top and in between the brick and consolidated with a plate compactor if necessary. Mason's sand should be added until all the joints are filled and excess sand should be removed.

For heavier use pavements such as driveways, a six to eight-inch gravel base should be installed and compacted with a plate compactor. Then a geotextile material should be installed and a one-inch setting bed of coarse sand laid. Placing edging, brick and mason's sand between the joints should then proceed as outlined above.

Adequate preparation of the earth before installation and consolidation of the entire assembly after installation with a plate compactor are essential to a well-constructed brick pavement.

Can ivy or other plants growing on my brick damage it?

To answer this question, you need to understand the consequences of leaving or removing plant growth. This growth on brick can potentially damage it by forcing root tendrils into the mortar joints. Moisture can then find its way into the wall and freeze-thaw action or other moisture related events can occur resulting in damage. However, ivy also sheds rainwater and reduces the surface temperature of the wall. Properly constructed walls with good workmanship and well-tooled joints can also resist tendril intrusion better than poorly constructed walls.

When existing plant growth is removed from a brick wall, it may also remove part of the mortar from the joint. This could result in the wall having to be repointed by removing any broken mortar and repacking with new. Further, complete removal of the tendrils is difficult. Failure to do so may result in stains on the wall.

Therefore, it is an evaluation which is best made by the owners taking these as well as the aesthetic and economic considerations into account. While plant growth can shorten the life of brickwork, a well-constructed wall should still last for many decades.

Are cracks in my brickwork acceptable?

New homes properly detailed and constructed of brick should have no cracks in the brickwork. In the unlikely event that a crack is observed, it is usually not structurally significant. Such a crack is easily repaired and will rarely recur. It should be corrected by removing and replacing any cracked brick and repointing (removing and replacing unsound mortar).

In older homes, cracks in brick are sometimes observed. Most of these cracks are not structurally significant to a home's structure - especially if the brickwork is a veneer over a structural frame. In general, these cracks occur where the wall is overstressed. By cracking, the stress in the wall is dissipated.

Cracks can be divided into two categories: passive (which are not increasing in width or length) and active (which are increasing in width and/or length). Determining which category a crack is in can be difficult and may require careful observation over an extended period of time and/or a structural engineer.

Generally, cracks which are passive can be repaired and will not return. A passive crack in brickwork can be repaired by removing and replacing any cracked brick. Cracked mortar between bricks should also be repointed by carefully removing and replacing any unsound mortar. Mortar used in repointing should be similar in strength and type to the original mortar.

Repairs made to cracks which are active, however, may again become overstressed and cause the crack to recur. Consequently, before repairing an active crack, it is important to determine and alleviate the cause of the overstress. However, diagnosing the specific cause of a crack can be difficult since several factors might have contributed to its formation. It is therefore recommended that a structural engineer evaluate and make recommendations for correcting the causes of such cracks. Your local Yellow Pages should assist you in finding such an engineer. Once these corrections are made, the active crack can be reclassified as passive and repairs to the brickwork can proceed.

Active cracks may also be closed by installing a backer rod and sealant. It may be necessary to widen the crack to receive the backer rod. Of course, if an active crack is repaired in this manner without correcting its cause, the crack may continue to increase in length and width.

How can I match the existing brick on my home?

Unfortunately, there is no national database of brick colors and textures. However, a local brick distributor representing a wide variety of manufacturers will probably be able to match your brick if it is still manufactured. A good brick salesman will know which brick in his stock comes closest to yours. This web site also has links to manufacturers many of whom have brick displayed on their web site. For names of local brick manufacturers and distributors, see your local Yellow Pages under "Brick."

Courtesy of the Brick Industry Association