Most of us were raised on fairy tales such as “The Three Little Pigs,” which instills us with the inclination to live in a home that no one can simply huff, puff, and blow down. But childhood fables aside (and ignoring the obvious danger of having a wolf in your front yard), the classic red-brick house still occupies a place in our imagination, presenting a warm, traditional aesthetic along with a sense of solid structural integrity.
However, in the last three decades or so, most “brick houses” built in the last 30 years or so are actually constructed using a brick veneer, rather than solid brick masonry. Why is this? What’s the difference? And is one better than the other?
First off, you should understand that the biggest difference between solid brick and veneer construction is that in the case of solid brick, the exterior walls are holding up the house. Conversely, with a veneer construction, the house is holding up the veneer. So not much can be said about solid masonry outside of the obvious—it is extremely strong, and if properly maintained, is good for hundreds of years of faithful service.
On the downside, solid masonry does not necessarily make for the best insulation. It is not particularly moisture resistant; with a good wind-driven rain or an extended period of high humidity, moisture will tend to pass right through a brick wall. This is due to its relative porousness.
Brick veneer became the standard back in the 1980’s, as building codes started requiring that exterior be insulated. One of the best insulators is air, and indeed most good insulation does nothing more than trap air—which is why most insulations are light and fluffy. Obviously, brick is not light and fluffy, and therefore not a great insulator. A brick veneer house then, is really a wood frame house where the cavity between the studs in the wall can be insulated. The thin layer of brick simply hangs on the outside.
Understand, though, that were not talking about paper-thin slices of red brick material that you glues to a kitchen wall or use as a backsplash. Brick veneer is real brick. It just happens be a bit thinner—the width of a single layer of brick, as opposed to the two or three layers standard in what we refer to as solid masonry construction.
So in the end, is one better than the other? Solid masonry is clearly stronger, but brick veneer provides for better year-round insulation and is plenty strong enough to resist the ill intentions of the occasional big, bad wolf.
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