Why is brick the best cladding material when there are so many other choices that look great and work well?
Cost aside, these all fall short of brick in one or more aspects.
I’ll start off with a qualification; I’m talking about wood framed houses with a veneer or cladding of some type. Brick, stucco and other types of siding choices are being discussed here.
Log homes won’t be mentioned as the walls are both the structure and the siding. A field-stone or cinder-block house would fall into the same category.
So why is brick the best cladding material? It’s very long lasting and holds its colour extremely well. And it’s almost maintenance free. It only has one real downside, cost.
Brick is a very durable material. Cracking, if any typically happens along joint lines and can be repointed easily by any mason. A careful examination is required to determine the cause. This can be as simple as an overloaded sill at a window or more serious evidence of foundation problems.
Take a look at these photos. The oldest is 130 years old and still looks great. And this is after painting and sandblasting, which is a big no-no for old yellow brick. Two of the three examples from the 1950’s still look amazing.
The only other material that matches this level of durability is stone. But it is very expensive in the natural state and slightly less so if manufactured. Installation technique and labour cost are similar to brick.
Stucco is one of the world’s oldest finishes, made from cement spread over a substrate such as wood, metal screen, brick, stone, or in modern times, styrofoam. It is very durable when applied to a sound substructure.
But cracking can occur if the underlying structure moves or heaves due to weather, settling, or thermal expansion and contraction. Because of this I see many older stucco homes with cracking. While the stucco itself is easy to repair, underlying problems are not. If these aren’t remedied the repaired stucco will just crack again.
The new EIFS stucco is very good but earlier versions can be problematic with poor drainage or water intrusion. EIFS stands for exterior insulation finishing system, and it’s stucco in combination with vapour barriers, styrofoam and metal lath. If done right it is somewhat impervious to cracking due to the thermal stability of the substrate. The picture above is EIFS being installed with brick on a new condo tower in Waterloo.
What about siding made of wood, aluminum or vinyl? Due to their inherent flexibility they don’t suffer from cracking like harder materials. They are light weight, fast and easy to install by comparison.
Wood siding looks great, is easy to source and easy to work with. But it needs constant attention to prevent weathering or rot from setting in. Count on painting or staining regularly. And wood is expensive.
Siding made of aluminum or vinyl is very weatherproof and colourfast. It can be made in many styles mimicking the appearance of wood. But both materials can be damaged by high winds. Aluminum dents easily and vinyl can become brittle with age. And colours will fade over time. However these materials are very affordable in comparison to every other type of cladding, explaining their popularity.
These options are really good too, so why is brick the best cladding material? Cost vs. durability.
If money was no object, a stone veneer can surpass the aesthetic of brickwork, but instead you’ll usually find a combination of the two in higher end homes. Durability isn’t the issue here.
Stucco looks amazing and has a solid place is modern architecture. But I wouldn’t recommend an entire house of stucco unless it was very sound indeed. Older structures have different issues than EIFS does. And EIFS is too new to predict durability 50 years on.
Wood, vinyl and aluminum have their place too but what would I think looking at 75 year old siding? I’d be thinking about wood’s upkeep if it was sound, or I’d be thinking about the costs of rehab. And I’d be seeing the faded colours of old vinyl and aluminum.
My reaction to 75 year old brick would be something else. ‘Wow, that still looks great!’ Enough said.