Extreme Curb Appeal, Part 3: Different Kinds of Brick Walls & Mortar Joints

When you talk about curb appeal and changing the exterior of your home, usually simple things like landscaping, fencing, and walkways come to mind. However, have you ever thought about what it would take to dramatically change the exterior facade of your home? Well, I have, and I’d like to share a series of posts on what it would take to do just that.
In my quest to figure out if my house could indeed go from a vinyl siding to a brick exterior, I’ve learned A LOT about masonry. Certainly more than I ever thought I’d know about masonry … and lo and behold there are many different kinds of masonry to learn about.
Here I’m going to go over what I’ve learned about the different kinds of brick walls in relation to homes, and things you need to consider when adding brick to your home.

First up, we have honest-to-goodness brick walls, built as the structure was, weight-bearing in all their glory. These walls are typically eight to twelve inches thick, and consist of two separate layers of brick.
These layers not only support the weight of the walls, but are also load-bearing for the roof and the general structure of your home. The brick is generally weatherproof as long as proper steps are taken to channel water away from windows, doors, and the foundation of your home.
Basically, unless I want to tear down all of my exterior walls so you can see inside my house and rebuild them from the foundation up, this is not an option from where I stand.
Second, we have brick veneer. This can actually be broken down into two groups based on the thickness of the brick being applied as the veneer.
One type is the basic, single-layer brick wall. It is not load bearing for the walls nor the roof, and is usally one standard brick thick. However, this kind is still VERY heavy, and will require proper footings (as described here) and a solid foundation.
With this kind, you have to think about your home’s foundation and consult a residential structural engineer to see what steps need to be taken in order to support the weight of the veneer. Also, brick veneer is not impervious to the elements, so weatherproofing will need to be done to avoid mold and wood rot. I found a great step-by-step guide for preparing for brick veneer here.
The other type is something I was alerted to while researching, from Boral Bricks called Thin Brick. This product is only 3/4 of an inch thick, but made of real brick materials. The simplest way I’ve been able to get my brain around it is to think of it as brick tile, for lack of a better description.
It doesn’t require extra footings and can be applied straight to your home’s exterior (or interior, if that floats your boat) walls, as long as you take the proper steps to weatherproof your walls. The directions can be found here, and are pretty clear (complete with pictures, great for a visual learner like me). I find the different application patterns interesting, as well as the corner pieces. It also comes with a 50 year warranty, but painting it (which is most likely my end goal) can negate the warranty.
Honestly, at this point I’m gearing up to go to a local showroom to see this Thin Brick in action. I’m curious about a lot of things, mostly the cost, but also if it really looks like real brick. The last thing I want is to attempt this project and have it looking like I used faux-brick wallpaper on the outside of my house. I might as well keep the siding at that point.
And then if choosing all that wasn’t enough, apparently you can choose the kind of mortar joint you want. I just want it to look not sloppy, is that so much to ask? Here’s a good post (with pictures!) on the different kinds of mortar joints. It makes me want to go up to brick buildings and run my fingers over the joints so I can proclaim which style of jointing they used.
After all of this, I’m starting to feel like this may be something outside my realm of DIY-ness. Not that I wouldn’t want to try, but this is my house, where my family lives. I don’t want to be the reason why my walls go moldy from the inside out. Even if I could just find a mason to start me out or supervise or something … but that’s more money on top of materials for a very large scale project that we’re not quite in the market for just yet.
Stay tuned for the next post in the series where I talk brick maintenance and how to fix when things (inevitably) go wrong with one of the most sound building materials on the planet.
photo: Valerie Everett

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