Building All Masonry Homes: Q&A
Q. Doesn’t masonry greatly increase the cost of a home?
A. No. A home built with 50% brick costs approximately 4% to 6% more  than the same home clad in 100% hardboard. However, these initial costs are more than offset by homeowner savings in maintenance costs, lower insurance rates, and an average 6% premium on resale  for a brick home over a comparable non-brick home.
Q. But even a small percentage increase in the cost of a new home could make that home unaffordable for some buyers. Is brick really worth it?
A. Yes, brick is really worth it. Buyers who have to stretch to purchase a home are usually the folks least able to spend money maintaining it. Therefore, lower cost housing should be built to withstand little or no upkeep. Brick never needs repainting and it won’t crack, rust, peel, corrode, melt, buckle, warp, bend or dent like other siding materials. The most affordable house in the long run is a solid masonry structure. The homebuyer can amortize the additional cost of brick over the life of the mortgage, and will probably earn back the extra cost of brick in the first five to seven years due to lower home maintenance and insurance costs.
Q. Isn’t there a shortage of modular brick in Colorado?
A. Nope. Colorado’s four major brick manufacturers – Acme Brick, Lakewood Brick, Robinson Brick, and Summit Brick – have a production capacity of 200 million brick per year. They are selling between 75 and 80 million brick per year in Colorado. That means that another 100 or 120 million brick are being sold and shipped out of state each year. As local demand for brick increases, these manufacturers are reducing their out-of-state commitments. Colorado’s brick manufacturers would greatly prefer to sell all of their brick locally.
Q. There aren’t enough qualified masons in Colorado now. If additional masonry is required by ordinance, where is the labor force going to come from?
A. It’s always a challenge to locate qualified subcontractors when you need them, and brick masons are no exception. But the good news is that there are more skilled brick masons working in Colorado now than there have been in the last 10 years. The majority of Colorado’s professional masons are currently working in the commercial sector, where demand is high. If demand for masonry on homes increases, you’ll see a shift in the local workforce. Additionally, out-of-state masons can and will move to Colorado if there is more work in residential construction. Last but not least, associations like the Rocky Mountain Masonry Institute and area vocational schools will continue to recruit and train new masons through their apprenticeship programs. In essence, market forces will cause the masonry industry to react appropriately.
Q. Time is money in construction. Won’t the addition of another trade group on the job site slow down construction and increase costs?
A. With the proper project management and scheduling, NO. Masons can begin their work as soon as the framing and sheathing are up. Other interior work such as plumbing, electrical, and interior finish can be taking place at the same time. Also, if a builder constructs several masonry homes concurrently, the masons’ mobilization costs are greatly reduced. Example: If a builder puts just 500 brick on a home as an accent, that job should take a mason a half-day to complete. But it takes the mason another half day to mobilize and de-mobilize for the job. That means that 50% of the cost of a small masonry job is mobilization cost. If a builder puts 5,000 brick on a home, the mason will complete the job in approx. 4 days. Mobilization and de-mobilization of his crew and equipment will take another half-day. For the larger job, mobilization costs total just 15% of the total job cost. Brick for brick, the large job is much less expensive to complete than the small job.
Q. Doesn’t the use of brick veneer reduce the net square footage of a home?
A. Slightly, but not as much as you would think. Consider a 2,000 square foot ranch home with outside dimensions of 40’ by 50’. A wood-framed home with hardboard siding (4” walls) would enclose 1,940 square feet. A wood-framed brick veneer home (8” walls) would enclose 1,880 square feet, or 3% less area. To balance this, the brick veneer home has improved sound insulation, lower upkeep and lower energy costs for heating and cooling.
Q. Doesn’t the additional weight of the masonry veneer result in higher foundation costs for a home?
A. For a single or two-level residence, the weight of brick veneer results in an increase of 15-20% of typical vertical loads supported by the foundation. In most cases, the additional load is easily accommodated by widening the footing by the same proportion (approximately 2”). Brick veneer can also be supported on a continuous steel angle through-bolted to the existing foundation. In those communities in and around Denver that have swelling soils, the additional weight of a masonry veneer will actually reduce the required length of drilled piers and reduce foundation costs.
Q. What is considered a “masonry” material?
A. In the most basic terms, masonry is “something which is constructed of substantial materials laid in units with mortar by a skilled worker, a mason.” Masonry materials are also noteworthy for being made entirely or primarily of natural ingredients, such as clay, rock, sand and water. Traditional masonry materials include: clay brick, concrete masonry units, natural and cut stone, and traditional cementitious stucco that is applied over a concrete masonry base.
Q. What about the stucco systems that are applied over rigid insulation? Aren’t these also considered masonry?
A. Absolutely not. These systems are generically referred to as External Insulation and Finish System or EIFS. These types of synthetic stucco have none of the advantages of true masonry, such as: near zero maintenance, high durability and impact resistance, noise reduction for the interior, lower insurance costs, and low environmental impact.
Q. Won’t mandating the use of masonry tie the home designer’s hands? Won’t all neighborhoods begin to look the same?
A. Masonry is one of the most versatile building materials available. Over 70% of the buildings in the world are built of masonry . Denver alone sports such architecturally diverse all-masonry neighborhoods as Washington Park, Park Hill, Bonnie Brae and Lower Downtown. With its 10,000 shapes and colors, clay brick can achieve any architectural effect imaginable and combines beautifully with every other exterior material. Natural stone, such as flagstone, limestone, granite, or river rock, are in abundance in Colorado and have been used to create a number of western looks. Manufactured stone is becoming more consistent in its quality and appearance, and can be economical and easy to work with due to the modular nature (regular dimensions) of the product. It is very important, however, to choose a manufactured stone product that is integrally colored, adhered with mortar to a rigid base, and thick enough to endure our climate’s frequent freeze thaw cycles. Cementitious stucco, which is best used in conjunction with a masonry backup, offers great design versatility, too. Concrete block is very economical when it doubles as both the load-bearing structure and exterior finish in buildings, and now comes in hundreds of colors and decorative finishes.
Q. Will architects and homebuilders have to scrap their existing models and redesign their plans for homes to include masonry?
A. No. In order to make masonry cost-effective, the openings and wall dimensions should be some multiple of the masonry unit’s dimensions. For standard brick, this means that openings and wall dimensions should fall on a superimposed grid that is 8” in height and 4” in width. Minor adjustments to elevations to line up with the grid will ensure minimal cuts and improve the mason’s productivity.
Q. How does masonry fit into the “Built Green” movement?
A. Brick is hands-down the most environmentally-friendly building material available. Brick is simply fired clay, a material which is readily available, inexpensive and can be reused or recycled in making new bricks. The energy required to manufacture brick is from 300 to 1750 BTU per pound as compared to 19,200 BTU/lb for steel or 2,625 BTU/lb for wood . Quality clay deposits are abundant along Colorado’s Front Range and are, for all practical purposes, inexhaustible. Brick during a fire emits no toxins, nor does brick require periodic painting with toxic paints. Concrete masonry also requires relatively low energy to produce at 2,900 BTU/lb. In addition, concrete can be easily recycled. Masonry materials do not emit volatile gases while many other construction materials do, such as wafer board, particle board, and plywood. The greatest gift to the environment is masonry’s exceptional durability. Properly constructed, masonry buildings have been known to last for hundreds -- even thousands -- of years. While other houses are being “scraped off” for new construction, a masonry home can itself be recycled!
Q. Masonry is usually a poor insulator. Won’t adding a masonry veneer actually increase the energy used to heat or cool a home?
A. No. In fact, according to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) , masonry construction requires less insulation than other building systems because of its thermal mass. Because of its heavy weight, brick is slow to absorb or lose heat, reducing peak loads on heating and cooling systems. Low-mass walls, such as those with wood framing and wood siding, are unable to store energy in the wall. That leads to rapid temperature changes inside the home, and the need for additional heat or air conditioning. Simply put, masonry homes keep you cooler in summer and warmer in winter. Simple passive solar concepts can be used with masonry materials to greatly reduce energy requirements in residential construction.