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Brick Siding: What You Need to Know

By Tobias Roberts Rise Writer
Mar 16, 2021

Brick siding is one of the most common and attractive exterior cladding options that homeowners across North America choose for their houses. Data from the Census Bureau's Survey of Construction (SOC) finds that of all new single-family homes started in 2015, 22 percent of those homes had brick or brick veneer siding. Made from some of the most abundant materials on earth, brick siding is a durable building material with relatively low maintenance. This short article will look at the advantages and drawbacks of this standard house siding.

Atelier Red+Black Peter Bennetts
Atelier Red+Black Home. Photo Credit: Peter Bennetts

What is Brick Siding?

Brick siding, also known as brick veneer, is essentially a freestanding brick wall installed on the exterior wood frame. The appearance of brick siding might make a home look like the solid brick walls support it. However, brick siding offers no structural properties to homes. Brick masonry has been used for building houses and buildings since at least 4,400 BC when the earliest evidence of fired bricks was found in Neolithic China.

Until about 100 years ago, brick homes continued to be one of the most common construction methods. The wood industry's growth and the availability of relatively cheap lumber made solid brick homes less economically viable. Not only were wood-framed houses less expensive than solid brick, but taking the masonry component out of the equation also quickened construction. Especially after World War II, almost all builders transitioned away from solid brick walls. They focused instead on installing brick veneer siding. Compared to solid brick walls, brick veneer is significantly thinner and lighter and installed much quicker. However, many of the advantages of solid brick walls also translate to brick veneer siding, as we will see below.

Brick Townhouse

Is Brick Siding Environmentally Friendly?

Brick is sourced from a few of the most abundant natural materials on earth, clay, subsoil, and shale. In this sense, brick siding incorporates elements of natural, earthen architecture into the home. In almost every region of the world, you can find these natural materials for making brick. This availability means that environmentally aware homeowners should find a local manufacturer of bricks for their homes. Compared to other siding options, brick siding can have one of the lowest embodied energy footprints, primarily if you can source it locally. Check out this Rise article on some of the advantages of sourcing local building materials for your home.

Brick veneer siding can also be easily "upcycled" or recycled for future use. Fire bricks used in ancient architecture have been discovered in excellent condition, even after thousands of years of exposure to the elements. If dismantled carefully, you can reuse bricks for future siding projects. You can also easily repurpose them for different landscaping projects, such as creating a retaining wall to stop erosion or paths throughout your garden.

Another environmental advantage associated with brick siding is its durability and low maintenance requirements. When installed correctly, brick siding should easily last a lifetime (or more). On the other hand, vinyl or wood composite siding might need to be replaced every 30 years or so, thus increasing demand for raw material, manufacturing, transportation, and other environmental costs.

Is Brick Siding Better?

Bricks are made from natural materials such as clay, shale, sand, water, and air. No toxic materials should ever be added to bricks. Tests to evaluate encapsulation of harmful chemicals in waste materials show that no toxic compounds are leached from bricks.

One of the reasons bricks are an excellent siding alternative is that they are considered inert material. When fired in kilns at temperatures that reach 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, the clay particles undergo a vitrification process. This process essentially fuses the clay particles and makes the brick very resistant to reactions with other substances in the atmosphere or surrounding environment. For this reason, many modern home styles have begun to experiment with brick facades in home interiors as well.

Boreal Homes Insta
Toronto Brick Home. Photo Credit: Boreal Homes via Instagram

How Much is Brick Siding?

One of the drawbacks of brick siding or brick veneer is that it can be a more costly exterior cladding option. According to Modernize, homeowners can expect to pay somewhere from $5 to $15 per square foot for installation. For a 1,500 square foot home, a homeowner might spend from $7,200 to $22,500 for a brick veneer on the home's exterior. The variance in price depends on labor costs in your region and the type of brick you choose. Some manufacturers will charge premium prices for specific colors, textures, thicknesses, and other custom features associated with brick siding.

Despite the higher upfront cost, brick siding might be more cost-effective in the long run due to its durability and low maintenance nature. Also, in some markets, the brick siding could add more value to your home. One builder estimates that a dwelling with brick siding could perceive an immediate increase in value by about 8 percent over similar-sized homes with wood, vinyl, or fiber cement siding.

GTA Arriscraft Stone Ridgewood Group
Home by the Ridgewood Group. Photo Credit: GTA Arriscraft Stone

What Does Brick Siding Look Like? 

Another advantage of brick siding is that it offers a unique aesthetic that resembles traditional building styles. More modern brick veneers can also come in various colors and textures for a more customized approach. Most brick siding comes in earthen tones such as red, brown, and russet. However, it is also possible to find bricks that naturally incorporate more modern hues such as gray, blue, white, and black. Bricks have excellent color retention and will likely never need painting if you like the brick's natural color.

Painted Brick Row Houses

Should You Seal Brick Siding?

As we have mentioned throughout this article, brick siding requires very little maintenance once installed. The natural color retention properties mean that you will not have to repaint the exterior every couple of years. In the past, many home building experts recommended sealing brick siding with polyurethane or another synthetic sealant. Bricks can be highly porous, meaning that they absorb water over time. This water absorption can lead to cracks in the brick and lead to unsightly moss growth on the bricks' surface.

However, a high-quality brick that was fired correctly should avoid excess water absorption without sealants. The extra cement used in mortars today is also more resistant to weathering. If the brick siding is permanently exposed to moist areas near the foundation or receives excessive moisture from driving rains, a sealant might need to be applied every 8-10 years. Otherwise, your brick siding should be just fine without the use of a sealant.

How Do You Maintain Brick Siding?

Brick siding requires extremely low maintenance. In many cases, brick siding protected from driving rain and excess moisture might never need any care. However, suppose accumulated moisture is leading to visible moss growth. In that case, you can use a mild detergent, a hose, and a soft-bristled brush to remove that moss or other types of debris that have accumulated. Never use a power washer on the brick siding as the force could damage the mortar and caulking, potentially leading to moisture infiltration.

Acme Brick
Photo Credit: Acme Brick

How Long Does Brick Siding Last?

Brick siding can easily last over 100 years. In most cases, brick siding might last longer than the 2x4 and plywood frame that it is covering. As we mentioned above, you can reuse brick veneer for future siding or unique landscaping projects around your yard.

Brick Laying

How Do You Install Brick Siding? 

If you have a few basic masonry skills, you might be able to install brick siding yourself. However, if you have never worked with brick before, starting with a smaller project like installing a brick veneer over drywall in your basement or on an outside garden wall might be best. Improper installation of brick siding can lead to cracks and fractures in the mortar joints. These cracks could compromise your siding, leading to moisture penetration.

To install brick siding, you will need a trowel, a high-adhesive mortar, and a brick veneer. Start at the bottom of the wall, and add mortar to both the wall face and the brick. If the bricks are falling or dropping as you install, your mortar probably has too much water. As you lay the layers of bricks, make sure that you are following a standard and uniform spacing throughout. 

Thin Brick Stacks General Shale
Photo Credit: General Shale

What Are the Best Brands of Brick Siding?

There are hundreds of different brick manufacturers across North America. As we mentioned above, searching for local manufacturers is often your best bet. This choice will reduce the embodied energy footprint associated with shipping this heavy material over long distances. Based out of Texas, Acme Brick and General Shale, Inc., based in Tennessee, are two more prominent custom brick manufacturers. They offer a wide variety of colors and textures for their brick veneer products.

Brick Wall

What Are The Pros and Cons of Brick Siding?

Brick siding is one of the most popular exterior cladding options for homes in North America for several good reasons. Some of the benefits of brick siding include:

  • Made from abundant, natural base materials
  • Environmentally friendly manufacturing processes
  • Opportunity for short transport distances due to the widespread nature of the natural materials
  • Low maintenance
  • Long lifespan
  • Good recycling possibilities
  • Brick can act as a thermal mass for improved thermal performance and energy efficiency of the home.

The only main drawbacks of brick siding are its slightly higher upfront cost and the opportunity for moss growth if permanently exposed to excessive moisture and humidity levels.

Brick siding is thus a cost-effective, energy-efficient, durable, healthy, and natural building material that can add a unique aesthetic to your home's exterior.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-10-17T14:50:45+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.