The Pros and Cons of Brick and Block Construction

Brick and block constructions have been used for centuries and they’re still one of the most popular construction forms today. So are there any downfalls?

brick and block construction

If there isn’t a house in your area that’s a brick and block construction, it’d be very unusual. Millions of homes in the UK from all different eras have been built with brick and block. It’s an extremely common form of construction in parts of Devon and Somerset, where there are more red brick houses than Westcountry accents.

But is its popularity down to its practicality or just because of its traditional appearance? Read on to find out all the pros and cons that brick and block construction can entail.

Pro #1: Brick and block constructions are durable

Brick and block constructions from centuries ago are still standing in many areas. They can withstand severe weather and temperatures, and as long you have decent insulation they can have a very low U value. This is one of the reasons why 70% of self-builders are still choosing to build with brick and block. Very little maintenance is needed to keep these constructions lasting a long time.

Pro #2: You can construct entirely on site

Timber constructions require lots of work to take place off site, but with brick and block constructions you can keep all the work in one area. This means that fewer journeys are required to transport construction materials from one place to another. In this respect, brick and block constructions are therefore much greener.

Pro #3: Finding professionals will be easy

Because of how popular these constructions are, finding skilled workers to work on them will be very simple. And as the construction all happens on-site, it will be quick to rectify any problems which arise as everybody involved will be in the same place.

Pro #4: Brick and block constructions have a higher thermal mass

With all constructions it’s important that good insulation is installed. However, brick and block is the best material in terms of its natural ability to reflect internal heat back into the home. Lighter constructions require large amounts of insulation to be additionally fitted to make them satisfy modern building regulations. Building with brick and block means you’ll save energy and money without having to reduce your indoor temperature.

Pro #5: They’re also fire resistant and block out more sound

In parts of the world which are prone to wildfires, brick and block should be the number one form of construction because it increases the chance of a home not burning to the ground. Timber constructions on the other hand will increase your chances of not having a home to come back to. This is why chimneys are ordinarily constructed out of brick, regardless what the rest of the house consists of.

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The density of brick and block masonry also means you’ll have less noise pollution invading your house from outside. It easily absorbs sound and blocks it out, especially when you also fit cavity wall or solid wall insulation.

Con #1: There’s a limit to how much insulation can be installed in a brick cavity wall

While brick and block constructions can be insulated to have one of the lowest U values possible, there is a limit to how much can be installed between cavity walls. Ideally the cavity shouldn’t be more than 10cm if you don’t want to risk structural issues.

Con #2: Despite construction taking place in one location, it can be very slow

Masonry is a form of wet construction, meaning it needs time to fully dry out at several intervals. Therefore building with brick and block can take longer than building with timber and other materials.

Con #3: In cavity construction, there is a risk of settlement cracks

Because the individual walls used for cavity walls are usually tall and thin, they can often be prone to settlement cracks. You should therefore be very careful and have a good attention to detail if you’re mainly using brick and block for your cavity walls.

Con #4: Brick and block constructions can’t take place in severe weather

If it’s raining heavily or temperatures have dropped below freezing, masonry can’t be laid or it will form a building that’s structurally unsound. This is because, as mentioned above, it’s a wet form of construction and needs to dry adequately. If it freezes, certain parts of the construction could expand and need replacing. This is why in some parts of the world where the climate is very cold or moist, you’ll notice more timber constructions than brick and block.

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Con #5: Brick and block cavities could allow a route indoors for dampness

If too much mortar drops on the cavity ties above the dpc (damp proof course) level or by the insulation bats, unintended bridges could form and allow damp to seep through to the inner skin of the wall. It wouldn’t take long for this to become a big problem, so it’s very important to be vigilant with the cleanliness of the inside of cavity walls. Otherwise, the energy efficiency of your home would be limited from the very beginning.

Image: David Wulff, Max Parker, Dan Tantrum

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