How to select the best brick for your extension

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By Philip Saich

With more and more UK homeowners resisting the urge to move up the property ladder and choosing instead to improve their current homes, the demand for bricks continues to rise sharply. It’s also contributing to advances in both technology and design, with a wider selection of styles than ever on offer. Still the default choice for extensions, bricks come in a variety of sizes, colours and textures, so how do you make the right choice?

Brick types

In essence, there are two types of brick: machine made and handmade. Machine made bricks are either moulded sticks or are extruded and wire-cut, while handmade bricks are thrown by hand in individual moulds. Whichever option you choose, they’re all subject to the same stringent standards and testing. In general, machine-made bricks tend to be more uniform, and therefore create a smoother surface suiting a contemporary property. Handmade bricks are less conventional and, it could be argued, accentuate the character of a property with their uneven surfaces. During your project’s design phase it can be helpful to gather together several samples in order to evaluate the best type not only for your personal preference but also for the stipulations of the local planning department. Speaking to neighbours and taking a drive around neighbouring streets can also provide useful pointers as to what style of brick has successfully received planning approval as planners have been known to place conditions on the materials to be used in extensions and renovations.

man made brick wall

Matching brick styles

When planning your extension you’re likely to be required to match the existing brickwork, in particular on the front elevation, to avoid a clash of styles. For most properties, and especially those constructed since the turn of the millennium, sourcing an exact match should be relatively straightforward. That said, it isn’t always possible, so it can be necessary to select a neutral brick which can be stained to the correct hue. This approach requires thorough research, not only into the correct dye but also into the brick itself as it will need to be sufficiently absorbent to accommodate the stain and deliver the required colour. And if staining fails to deliver the correct result, brick companies will also entertain the idea of a bespoke brick which can be manufactured to your chosen specification. While requiring an additional budget, this solution is guaranteed to deliver the exact result you’re looking for but it’s essential to involve the planning department from the start to avoid a costly rejection later in the project.

machine-made brick

From a practical perspective, it’s only the facing bricks that will need to be matched to the existing design, as the engineering bricks tend to be concealed within the building and are primarily there to provide stability to the overall structure. Engineering bricks are available in Class A and Class B, with the former being used in damp courses as they deliver higher compressive strength and absorb less water. It’s the facing bricks that create the exterior design, and they are therefore available in a wider variety of colours, sizes and textures.

brick wall in trendy home

Should you be considering additional complementary work in the future, such as a new garage, block driveway or boundary wall, it’s best to err on the side of caution and purchase additional bricks to meet this requirement at the outset. For an extension to an older property there’s a temptation to visit a reclamation yard to source truly authentic bricks, but there can often be a challenge in finding a large enough number for your project’s requirements, and many manufacturers offer convincing heritage-style ranges in larger volumes so ordering in this way can be a safer option.

Selecting mortar

Finally, while choosing the right brick is central to the success of your extension, it’s advisable also to consider the mortar that will be used as the colour and texture of the mortar can have a huge impact on the overall design. In the majority of cases, a standard ready-mix mortar will serve the purpose, but extending a heritage property may require the use of a lime-based mortar to enable the building to ‘breathe’. Nothing can ruin the beauty of a pristine new extension than a substandard mortar that quickly starts to discolour or crumble.

Expert advice

Although an advocate of conventional building materials, Simon Kelliher of Cambridge builders, Refresh Renovations, encourages clients to keep an open mind when it comes to bricks and their possible alternatives. ‘When we’re talking to a client about planning their extension there’s a lot of affection for the humble brick, so it goes without saying that it’s the default material for the majority of extensions,’ comments Simon. ‘Bricklaying is done by hand, and there’s something comforting about the permanence of a structure that’s been created entirely by human beings.

‘Naturally, we work with clients to deliver the extension that matches their vision, using the materials that they select, but we do also discuss alternative approaches which they may not have initially considered. A recent shortage of bricks in the UK has seen some building projects delayed so it can be helpful to explore alternatives in order to safeguard the project and mitigate against avoidable delays. That said, we focus on delivering the outcome that our clients have in mind, and their satisfaction is paramount. When looking at materials for extensions, glass, wood, straw and copper are all viable alternatives to brick. Not only do they meet a variety of budgets, they also help to create different visual impacts and, in the case of wood and straw, can offer greater sustainability.’

Contact Refresh

Refresh Renovations UK are Cambridge builders offering design and build services for home renovations and extensions. Check out Our Locations to find your nearest Refresh Renovations Branch. To discuss how Refresh can ensure your extension utilises the most appropriate materials, please get in touch today using the enquiry form listed alongside, or if you would like to submit a more comprehensive enquiry, you can do so on the Get In Touch page.

How much will it cost?

Check out the costs involved in our house extension cost estimate.

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