Jason Hughes, Managing Director of Imperial Bricks, explains why builders should use handmade bricks for new and self-build as well as renovation.
Produced in their millions, the humble brick is often taken for granted in the race against the handover deadline. Indeed, with more and more houses being built and renovated each year, just being able to source enough bricks is often a win. And yet, when all is said and done, the choice of brick remains the single most important feature of a building project, and choosing the right one is of the utmost importance.
For example, it’s essential to match existing brickwork for renovations or extensions to ensure a seamless blend. Homeowners are happy to pay more for this as it adds value to the property. But it’s not just a question of using a close match for colour. Variations from the surrounding buildings, whether it’s in colour, weathering or size of brick, stand out and leave the passer-by with a sense that something’s not quite right. Meanwhile, self-builders and niche developers that focus on smaller, high-end projects are also focusing on the ‘right’ bricks, partly in response to planners, who are becoming more particular too, specifying the colour, size and style of brick.
In conservation areas or where a region has a very specific brick (such as the London Yellow Stock), reclaimed bricks are sometimes specified and sourced for restoration or renovation projects and even sometimes for self-builds or ‘infill’ developments, where land in built-up areas is used for further construction. However, supply is limited, quality is questionable – there is a lot of wastage – and they are expensive. What’s more, they only come in imperial sizing, as opposed to the metric measurements used in modern construction. Unfortunately, many machine-made bricks that try to mimic reclamation features often fall short of the look and character required.
Back to Basics
An alternative is new handmade bricks – now a thriving market. The demand has grown consistently for these bricks. Builders are looking for both imperial and metric sizes, and the ability to match both the regional variations in colour and texture around the UK. However, some suppliers are unable to meet this demand. We’ve heard reports from some smaller construction firms who are reporting waits of over a year before bricks arrive on site.
Our team of in-house brick specialists is often asked to help source alternative products as we have a large range available from stock. We’ve introduced several new bricks as a solution to brick shortages including a Waterstruck range in metric sizing. These measure up exactly with modern blocks and lintels.
The new metric Waterstruck range has seven varieties: Traditional Buff Waterstruck, Buff Multi Waterstruck, Mellow Multi Waterstruck, Antique Multi Waterstruck, Rural Red, Rural Red Multi and Weathered Rural Red. Waterstruck bricks have a unique texture due to the traditional methods of production. The bricks are soft-mud moulded using clay with a high water content. Water is also used as the releasing agent, giving the bricks a relatively smooth appearance. They’ve already been used in a number of high-end new builds (pictured).
Meet your match
We’re also seeing an increasing demand for brick matching. It’s always worth asking your local merchant or the brick manufacturer directly for a sample or ideally a test panel showing a section, so you can check the colour, size and texture. Often an expert eye can help quickly identify the brick required. Our brick matching app (available on Android through the Google Play store as well as iTunes) allows builders to view our entire range or upload a picture of existing brickwork for our team to match.
We recently supplied Cheshire Barn Homes for Hoofield Hall Barns, a rural conversion which is Grade II listed. We were able to match the original brickwork for infill and repair, providing Olde Reclamation Clamp handmade bricks in imperial sizing, and ensuring the new construction kept the rural character required – with a contemporary twist.
Our Farmhouse Orange blend was also used as brick slips in a country cottage in Shropshire to create an internal feature wall in the bathroom. The homeowners wanted a real contrast to the very contemporary white gloss bathroom suite, using a brick that matched those used to originally build the property, for an authentic look and feel.
These case studies show the variety and flexibility handmade bricks offer, demonstrating just why they are so popular.