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Essentials to know about brick siding before installation

Brick siding is one of the most common and attractive exterior cladding options 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.

Essentials to know about brick siding before installation

The basics of brick siding

Brick siding, also known as brick veneer, is 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 that 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 growth of the wood industry and the availability of 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 quicker. However, many of the advantages of solid brick walls also translate to brick veneer siding, as we will see below.

Brick siding - Benefits and downsides

Brick siding offers tremendous value in comparison to other exterior siding options. Although initially more expensive than some alternative siding materials, the long-term savings and benefits take time to beat.

Some of the benefits of brick siding include:

  • Low maintenance. Brick never needs painting and rarely needs to be cleaned. It will not rot, fade, peel, or dent, and it is resistant to pests. After 25 years, if you have real brick siding, you should start inspecting your mortar joints, as the masonry can deteriorate. Aside from that, you can only expect your brick to become more beautiful and weathered with age.
  • Energy efficiency. Brick provides excellent insulation from the elements. The thermal mass of brick allows your home to hold heat in the winter and keep your home cooler in the summer. Brick veneer tends to be a better insulator than solid brick. It even provides sound insulation–a big plus for anyone who lives on a noisy street.
  • Insurance savings. Many insurance companies offer a reduced rate on your homeowner's insurance premiums if you choose a brick home because of its ability to stand up to fire and extreme weather.
  • Higher home resale value. Brick siding tends to yield a high return on investment while boosting your home's resale value. On average, you can expect a 77% return on your investment (ROI), but installing brick siding can earn you even more when you sell your home. 

Here are three major issues with the brick siding you have to consider: 

  • Expensive repairs. Brick had once been the material of choice for exteriors where strength and longevity are important. The fact that there are still historic brick homes and buildings is a testament to the staying power of brick. However, what homeowners unfamiliar with brick may not realize is just how expensive this material is to maintain. When damage occurs to brick, repairs are rarely a simple process. The removal of damaged or old bricks isn't as quick as simply popping a new brick in. Multiple bricks may need to be removed, and mortar may be replaced. Essentially when damage occurs, the brick in the weak area must be completely removed and rebuilt. This can quickly become an expensive repair, and that isn't able to be done quickly.
  • Vulnerable to moisture damage. The porousness of bricks and mortar used in construction can hold in moisture, especially during sustained rainy or humid weather. This is most often a problem with poor-quality brick-and-mortar materials, but over time can happen to even fairly well-built exteriors. When moisture becomes trapped in the brick and/or mortar, it invites mold and fungus to grow. The issue will only continue to worsen, eventually leading to chips, cracks, and crumbling. Moisture damage is the most common symptom of failed siding, which is a big reason why fiber cement is being seen in more homes every year. Fiber cement is naturally resistant to moisture and easily sheds rain rather than collects it. In fact, fiber cement is so resilient against moisture that it is a recommended siding for homes in regions where heavy rain, storms, and high humidity are common problems.
  • Lack of adaptability to climate changes. Brick is a very rigid material and therefore doesn't have very much flex or give to it. All climates experience changes in temperature, but some regions have much more intense swings in temperatures or seasonal changes. Brick and mortar simply can't expand and contract when this occurs repeatedly. Eventually, the brick-and-mortar will wear down, crack, or otherwise gradually fail. Additionally, homes in regions where earthquakes and shifting are common will find out sooner or later that brick simply won't shift with the home's foundation.

The essence of brick siding maintenance

Brick is low maintenance, but that does not mean you never need to care for it. You can preserve the beauty and durability of your home’s brick siding with occasional cleaning and spot checks for water damage, especially if you live in a damp or humid environment.

  • Cleaning

Cleaning your brick should not be a major undertaking. Once a year, plan on using your garden hose to remove any loose dirt. If one side of your home receives little sunlight and the ground nearby tends to stay damp, be on the lookout for moss, mold, or mildew growth. If you spot a problem area, create a solution using one cup of bleach and a gallon of water. Apply the mixture using a natural or synthetic bristle brush. Wire brushes can leave traces of steel behind that will rust and discolor your bricks. Also, before applying a bleach solution to your brick siding, be sure to give the area a thorough soaking with water to prevent the brick from absorbing the bleach.

  • Checking for water damage

It is a good idea to make a habit of occasionally checking your brick siding for water damage. After heavy rainfall, walk around the exterior of your home and look at the gutters and downspouts. Make sure there is no pooling or standing water near the brick exterior walls. If you find pooling, you may need to clean out your gutters and downspouts or call a professional to handle it for you. 

If you have brick veneer, inspect the weep holes – the small drainage holes along the bottom of the brick that drain water toward the ground and away from the siding. If they are clogged, you can clean them with pipe cleaners or call a siding professional to ensure they are draining properly. Any built-up moisture can cause water damage to your home and costly repairs.

  • Inspect for damage

If you find any crumbling mortar joints or cracked bricks, it is wise to call a siding professional as soon as possible. Nipping problems in the bud can prevent costly repairs or siding replacements down the road. It can also allow your siding to last longer.

How much does brick siding cost?

When a brick is used in constructing a home, it provides structure to the frame. This, however, is not the same as using brick strictly as a siding material. When using brick as siding, a full layer of brick is added around the walls of the house. Thin brick may also be used, though it is obviously not as durable.

The average cost per sq. ft. for brick siding is $15.00 to $30.00 installed. Some thin brick options may be below that range. On a typical two-bedroom American home with 2,000 sq. ft. of siding, the overall cost can range from $30,000 to $60,000, depending on the project and your home’s location.

Brick is among the more expensive siding options, but its value and longevity certainly help offset some of that higher initial cost. Brick also has the highest return on investment. On the low end, ROI is 83% and can go as high as 92%, depending on the location.

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