Brick and Block Construction

Brick and block construction is one of the most popular building methods when it comes to self-build projects, with almost three-quarters of self-built homes constructed using this technique.

Alternatively known as ‘modern masonry construction’, brick and block construction involves creating a block inner skin separated by an insulation cavity from an outer skin made of brick, with the two held together with wall ties. In most cases, the block is made from sturdy ‘aircrete’ and is also used to create the load-bearing internal walls of a property.

How Does it Work?

Brick and block houses will be typically be built up to the first floor including all load-bearing internal walls, and timber joists or a cast concrete floor added before the rest of the property is built up to roof level. The cavity between the inner block skin and the outer brick one is filled with insulation and the two are held together with wall ties. There is little difference in cost between this method of construction and the use of a timber frame, especially if you are able to carry out the work yourself.

The Advantages

Brick and block construction has a number of advantages over other building methods:

  • Greater flexibility – Unlike a timber-framed construction which is made off-site, using the brick and block method means you can change your mind as work progresses. Adding or removing a wall is easy, giving you greater choice over how the internal space of your property is laid out.
  • A feeling of traditional solidity – For both external appearance and internal vibe, brick and block homes have a reassuringly ‘safe’ feel to them. Nor are you confined to using brick as the outer skin – finding traditional stone, reclaimed brick or other materials which are in keeping with the area you are building in can also be an option, allowing you to fully customise the outer appearance of your home.
  • Easier to find a builder – Timber framing is quite a specialist art, whereas most builders will have experience of brick and block construction. Finding a skilled tradesman to manage the project is easier if you use this method.
    Good insulation – Homes built through brick and block can have a very low U value if you use quality insulation, meaning savings in energy consumption and money. The brick outer skin also has the natural ability to absorb and reflect heat back into the home, adding to the level of cosiness.
  • Better sound insulation – Compared to timber framed properties, the density of the brick and block skins makes your home more sound-proof. The cavity wall insulation helps absorb both internal and external noise, making it a good choice if your self-build plot is close to a main road.
  • Better fire resistance – It goes without saying that timber built houses are more likely to be completely destroyed should a fire break out. Brick and block homes, on the other hand, can withstand extreme temperatures, so are safer for residents and more likely to survive a blaze.

The Disadvantages

There are, of course, some downsides to brick and block construction:

  • It means a longer build time – While a timber frame is constructed off-site and then manoeuvred into place, building in brick and block takes longer. Building work can be slow because masonry needs time to dry out between different stages, and masonry can’t be laid at all if there is rain or very low temperatures.
  • There’s a greater risk of cracking – Settlement cracks are a danger when building in brick and block, largely because cavity walls are tall and thin.
  • There’s greater weight on the foundations – Foundations need to be strengthened with this building method, because they are carrying a greater weight than a timber frame and are therefore under greater stress.
  • The outer skin may be more prone to damage – The brick outer skin might be more susceptible to frost damage or the effects of damp, which can penetrate to the cavity wall insulation. Similarly, if you’ve used reclaimed bricks they can be prone to chipping and start to look unsightly – simply replacing one or two is also not really an option, and you’d probably need to replace an entire wall.

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