House-hunting for brick homes? Not all “brick” homes are created equal – here’s what you need to know about brick veneer houses before you buy.
Blog, Brisbane Building and Pest Inspections, Building Inspection Tips

Buying a Brick Veneer House? Here’s What You Need to Know!

Houses in the traditional “Queenslander” style may not be to your taste or budget – they do come with their own sets of pitfalls after all, particularly due to their age.  A newer home with less maintenance may be the style you’ve got your heart set on.  

When house hunting, you are likely to come across a variety of “brick” homes, particularly in newer suburbs.  So, what are the things you should be looking for and how do you know whether it is brick veneer or solid brick? And which is better anyway?  Solid brick homes are far less common in Queensland than brick veneer, but there are a few key indicators that you can look for. This will provide a guide for which kind of brick house you are looking at.  Always get a building inspection report from a qualified building inspector and know for sure – appearances can be deceiving!

What is the difference between brick veneer and solid brick?

As the name implies, brick “veneer” is essentially a brick sheath or cladding on a timber or steel framed home where the brick does not provide the structural support to the home – in fact, the frame supplies the support to the bricks by way of ties (per Part 3.3.5.10 of the National Construction Code).  A solid brick home is usually constructed in a manner where there are effectively two “layers” of brick tied together providing the structural support to the home –  and internal structural or supporting walls are also usually brick.  

If you are thinking about making any renovations to a property once you own it, this fact alone will have a huge impact on cost and ease of any future alterations.  A building inspector will advise whether the home is brick veneer or solid brick.  A builder and potentially an engineer should be consulted prior to making decisions about wall removals, new doorways or “glass walls.”

What does a brick veneer wall look like?

From the outside, to an untrained eye, a brick veneer wall looks like…. a brick wall.  It will have bricks laid with mortar between – just like a home constructed with double brick.  It may have been painted over, rendered, bagged, or have brick or stone tiles attached also, like a brick masonry home.  Brick veneer homes can have that “solid” brick appearance of a double brick house.  Internally, unlike a solid or double brick home, it is the timber or steel structural frame that is holding the walls and roof up and is also what usually holds interior cladding of plasterboard or similar.  

How do I know if my potential house is brick veneer? 

Your building and pest inspector will be able to tell you definitively whether the home is brick veneer or solid brick.  With all the different finishes than can be used on brick, including rendering, painting, bagging, or simply cladding over the top of existing brick finishes with fibre cement, assessing the type of brick construction can be difficult for the layperson.  However, for the purposes of “just looking” at what is available, there are a few little clues that may indicate which of these two you are looking at.  

Because the brick veneer wall is not supplying structural support, the manner in which the external bricks themselves are laid will normally differ.  The brick veneer cladding is attached to the timber or steel frame of the house with metal “ties” and bricks will usually all be laid in the same direction with no variation at the top most course of bricks.  As the bricks are not structural, the lintels above doors and windows need not be as substantial as a solid brick home– they may be thinner steel lintels rather than larger beams or arches.  Older solid brick homes may attach the two layers of brick with “header” bricks at the top of the wall and at regularly spaced intervals within the wall.  These header bricks are typically the same brick rotated 90 degrees (so you will see the short end of the brick).  Newer double brick homes will usually tie the two “layers” together with metal ties.

What if you can’t see the brick because it has been rendered?  The windows and doors will usually sit close to the outside brick cladding for a brick veneer home.  The interior walls of the brick veneer home will usually all have a “hollow” sound due to the cavity between the bricks and the house frame holding the interior cladding.  With exterior walls around 250mm deep in a solid brick home, the thickness of exterior door jambs and window sills will be deeper than you might expect, with windows usually inset a full brick length.  Double brick walls don’t usually have a “hollow” sound to them, whether they are plastered or unfinished.

What’s the difference between a brick veneer and a brick façade? Brick Cladding? Brick Tiles? 

Brick veneer is the use of full sized bricks to provide waterproof exterior cladding on a timber or steel framed home.  The “brick cladding” is attached to the house structural frame with metal ties to ensure the brick cladding integrity.  Sometimes brick veneer is also referred to as brick façade – usually where the front or street facing wall only is constructed with brick. Again, this is not a structural wall but held to the structural frame of the building with ties.   Another type of brick façade is the application of what are essentially thin brick tiles laid over another form of exterior cladding like fibre-cement sheeting or existing brick for aesthetic purposes.

Is brick veneer cheaper than brick? 

Yes, usually brick veneer is cheaper, but it can vary depending on the age and condition of the home, and the area in which you are buying.  Brick veneer are generally cheaper to build and easier to construct – and consequently are more common than solid brick homes.  Brick veneer homes also tend to be less durable – typically being more vulnerable to fire, environmental conditions and termites.  

Is brick veneer a good insulator? 

With advances in insulation available both at the time of construction and after-market, brick veneer can be a good insulator.  Traditional views held that double brick homes were better in terms of insulation.  However, once a double brick home heats up or gets really cold, it takes a long time to release the heat or warm up again.  With proper insulation in the cavity of a brick veneer home, the lightweight cavity construction of brick veneer can promote air flow and is actually a better insulator.

Your building inspector may be able to determine what type of insulation, if any, has been installed during a thorough interior roof inspection.

Is brick veneer or a brick house a better investment? 

A solid brick home can be a better investment than a brick veneer house.  Brick veneer homes are generally less durable, tend to have higher maintenance requirements, and though not always the case, can sometimes be put together “on the cheap” in bulk subdivisions.  When applying for loans, banks are interested in the construction of the home as it relates to insurance which, in itself, is a good indicator of what banks deem a “good investment.”  Having said that, not all double brick homes are created equal – with solid brick homes sometimes being prone to cracking and foundation issues.  It pays to do your homework and get a qualified building and pest inspector’s report before committing to your purchase.

Brick Veneer Maintenance

The brick itself is pretty low maintenance – particularly if it has not been treated with a render or paint.  If the brickwork has been rendered or painted, then there may be a substantial amount of ongoing maintenance to be considered relating to peeling and fading paint, cracking render and more.  With any brick home, you should perform regular checks to ensure there is no crumbling mortar, cracking bricks, stained or mildewing brickwork which can all be indicative of more serious problems.  However, there are some important differences between brick veneer and solid brick maintenance which relate to the nature of brick veneer.  

Timber framed brick veneer can be more vulnerable to termite attack than a solid brick home and the outcome far more serious, should termites gain entry to a timber framed brick veneer home.  Where termites may eat out the skirtings or window and door frames of a solid brick home, if termites get into a timber framed brick veneer home, the whole structural integrity of the house can be seriously undermined.  Regular pest and termite inspections and treatments are crucial in the upkeep of timber framed homes.

Brick veneer homes are also vulnerable to moisture problems.  Regular checks of weep holes located near windows and around slab level are necessary to ensure they are clean and clear to allow any moisture to escape.  A build-up of moisture within the cavity will lead to mould growth and potentially health problems for residents.

High quality building and pest inspections will not only identify existing defects in a brick veneer home, they will also identify areas of concern that will require your maintenance in the future.  

For a thorough building inspection on your prospective brick veneer property, contact Action Property Inspections TODAY

Andrew Mackintosh

About Andrew Mackintosh

Andrew Mackintosh has been answering home inspection questions in the greater Brisbane area since 1995. He has personally carried out over 20,000 building inspections and is a licensed builder and licensed building inspector, Member of Queensland Master Builders Association & Institute of Building Consultants. Being the business owner and the inspector, Andrew is passionate about providing clients with excellent customer service, value for money, honest, unbiased, thorough inspection and reporting in a professional and timely manner to allow clients to make informed decisions when purchasing property.

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