19 November 2023
8 min read
Brick selection is a detailed and intricate process to go through due to the complex nature of brick itself. It's a product of many qualities in form and function, each of which has its own influence on the overall design, look and longevity of your home. We've covered the essentials to help you choose the best bricks for your project, meeting all your needs now and for years to come.
There are several types of bricks used in New Zealand, made from different materials and often used for different applications. Understanding what these types are is the first and best place to start.
Made from natural clay, these bricks are considered the traditional choice for a home, known for their durability and long life. They are typically fired in a kiln, which creates a variety of textures and colours. They have a warm and natural appearance and are very low maintenance, making them a popular choice for homeowners and builders.
These are made from concrete, providing a uniform appearance that often suits modern and contemporary homes. They are incredibly versatile and can be used in various settings, from residential developments to commercial buildings.
Combining cement and lime, these bricks again offer a more consistent texture and finish compared to traditional clay bricks and are one of the more cost-effective options in New Zealand.
Veering away from material types, you'll also find aesthetic options like designer bricks, frequently seen in architectural style projects. These specialised bricks come in various shapes, sizes, and colours and are often used for decorative purposes.
These are bricks that have been salvaged from demolished buildings and repurposed for new construction. They tend to be lighter coloured bricks because of their aged appearance and are becoming increasingly important due to their sustainability attributes.
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Having covered the main types of bricks that are available in New Zealand, the next set of factors to consider have to do with design.
Bricks come in a range of colours, from traditional reds and browns to more contemporary greys and various shades of black and white. The colour you choose will have a dramatic impact on the overall aesthetic of your home so you need to make a considered choice.
As already mentioned, the natural warmth of clay bricks, typically reddish-brown, offers the most traditional and familiar look. Colours outside of this, especially darker coloured bricks, are usually suited to more modern style homes.
Besides thinking about brick colour in isolation, you'll also want to match your choice to the colour of your roof, joinery, doors and guttering. You may even want to take a step back for a wider view of your surroundings. This will ensure you end up with a cohesive look that is in sync with your home and its environment.
The texture of your bricks brings a tactile quality to your exterior that can add visual interest and depth. How much one embraces this is often a matter of preference as some homeowners appreciate the characteristic more than others.
The variations in texture typically range from smooth and uniform to rough and rustic. A rough, textured choice adds a bit of dynamism and shadowing on a building's facade for a bit of aesthetic complexity.
Alternatively, smooth bricks offer a sleek appearance with their flat, even surface. They also catch natural light in a slightly different way, capturing highlights and a sheen that lends nicely to a contemporary style home.
There's also a decision to be made around the size of the bricks that you choose, something that can catch people by surprise with more options than you might think.
Small bricks, for instance, can make small homes look bigger and are also good for creating more intricate designs if desired. Using them also means more mortar will be used and seen, adding greater texture and visual interest in the process.
Large bricks tend to have the opposite effect, making buildings feel smaller. However, they counter this by being bold themselves, drawing the eye. They also give a greater sense of strength and permanence, traits that many like to draw on.
Bricks can be laid in different ways, which is also known as the bond pattern.
By in large, most bricks are laid on their long side in what's called a stretcher bond pattern, where each brick is offset from the bricks in the rows directly above and below it, usually by half the width of the brick. Another popular option is the stacked bond pattern where the bricks are stacked one on top of the other with no overlap. This offers a modern and distinct appearance due to its clean, grid-like geometry.
There are also bond patterns which interchange bricks laid on their long side and their short side (known as the header). Flemish bond is an example that does exactly this. English bond is similar but features a full row of bricks laid on the long side in between rows of bricks laid on the header side. These are both quite decorative options that can create a striking impact on your home.
Choosing the right bricks for your home also means selecting the right mortar to bind it all together. While there are some nuanced differences between mortar products, the main decision will be around the mortar colour.
The most common mortar colours are grey, white, black and red — each working stylistically in slightly different ways. Grey mortar is the neutral choice that will allow the colour of the bricks to shine. White mortar offers the opportunity to add contrast, especially when paired with dark bricks. Black mortar can do the same with light coloured bricks for a sophisticated look. Last but not least, red complements traditional bricks for a clean and consistent appearance.
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As well as the above design considerations, there are a few other important factors to bear in mind before making a final decision.
Bricks are a universally reliable choice which is why they've been so popular. The traditional clay brick is the tried and tested choice, used historically in New Zealand for well over a hundred years with little maintenance required. Concrete bricks are a more modern incarnation that are incredibly robust but are porous so will feel the effect of the weather more so than clay. However, with sealing they will still provide a home with decades of protection. Reclaimed bricks can be relied on for long-term use but you'll need to check their condition and confirm their origins to be sure of their quality.
The weather you experience throughout the year will have a significant bearing on your brick selection. For example, if you live in a region with temperature fluctuations, particularly those with snow-thaw cycles, then options that can withstand expansion and contraction without cracking are key. Homeowners who live in areas with intense sun will need decent UV resistance, especially where coloured bricks are concerned due to the potential for fading. In most parts of New Zealand, bricks that have strong water resistance are also necessary given the rainfall we typically receive and the threat of water damage to the internal structure of your home.
Your budget will be a factor that dictates which bricks you'll be able to consider for your home. There's quite a range in pricing but broadly speaking you'll find that prices for bricks are between $200 - $350 per square metre (though some suppliers will charge per brick). Knowing how many bricks you'll need is key to managing your spend and it's best to discuss this with your supplier and/or bricklayer to get this calculation right.
With the fundamentals covered, you now have a strong base of knowledge to make an informed decision on the most suitable brick solutions for your home. By considering every factor on merit, you can prioritise those that are most relevant to you giving you the greatest return on investment for a cladding option that will meet all your needs and more.
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