Building Blocks: The Pros and Cons of a Brick House

Katy Willis
Written by Katy Willis
Updated February 24, 2022
A woman holding flowers entering a brick house
Photo: Inti St Clair / Getty Images

Highlights

  • A brick exterior is durable, lasts a long time, and is low-maintenance.

  • The downsides to having a brick home include cost and structural risks. 

  • Brick siding runs around $18,000 for a 2,500 square foot home. 

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If the big bad wolf couldn’t blow down a brick house, shouldn’t that be the type of home everyone lives in? You might choose vinyl and wood over brick (no straw and sticks here!), but these materials often don’t last as long. From their strength and durability to their varying style options, brick houses offer a lot to boast about. In this article, we’ll lay out a solid foundation of brick house basics to help you choose what’s right for you.

Pros and Cons of Brick Homes

It’s no secret that brick has been a popular home building material for a long time, and for good reason. Brick homes are eco-friendly, have a long lifespan, and are low-maintenance, but they're also expensive to buy or build and have the potential for structural issues, like many other home types. 

Also, if you fancy a change of color, it's expensive and challenging to paint brick. Take a look at the key pros and cons of brick homes.

Brick houses pros and cons: eco-friendly and durable, but also expensive and costly to paint costly to paint

The Upside of Brick Houses

The exterior of a red brick house
Photo: PC Photography / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Old-school brick houses are still standing for a reason. They bring a sturdy, eco-friendly material that can often withstand even the harshest winds and flames. Don’t feel as if you’re stuck with the same old red brick exterior, either. Brick colors include reds, browns, grays, and even whites.

Brick Homes Are Eco-Friendly

Modern brick homes are made out of clay and shale, which are natural and abundant. Not only that, but bricks are easy to recycle if the house ever needs to come down.

If, for example, you decide to tear down a non-load bearing wall, you can repurpose the bricks to line pathways, build a garden wall, or, at worst, have them broken up and used as sub-base matter. 

Bricks are also naturally resistant to mold, rot, and mildew because they're able to cope with high humidity, so they last indefinitely and can be repurposed multiple times. Plus, when they do finally degrade or are no longer suitable for repurposing, they won't leech harmful chemicals or micro particles into the environment, because they consist of natural materials. 

Brick Is Energy Efficient

Bricks are one of the most energy-efficient materials to build with, as they have a heat capacity of 0.84 Joules per Kelvin. This helps keep heat out and cool air in.

Compare this to wood, which only has a 0.42 heat capacity, and you see that bricks hold nearly double the amount of heat. Combine brick with insulation for the best results.

Brick House Exteriors Are Durable

Brick houses hold up against the test of time better than vinyl and wood. They can withstand high impact without cracking or denting. No wood in the house also means that fires won’t spread as easily in or out of the house. There’s a reason many pizza parlors use brick ovens. They can reach very high temperatures before they start to crack or shatter.

Not only can a brick house fare well against a wolf’s huffing and puffing, but it also tends to hold up against high winds. Because of this durability, you may qualify for lower insurance rates, though this depends on the insurance company you use.

Brick Requires LiIttle Maintenance

With the durability of brick homes also comes low maintenance. You won’t have to worry about denting or rotting with a brick exterior like you would with vinyl or wood. Termites and carpenter ants don’t have anything to feed on, so they’ll leave your brick home alone.

You don’t even need to paint the brick afterward if you don’t want to. Modern brick houses often retain their color for over 20 years. If you don’t stain or paint the brick and rely on natural hues instead, the color may last a lifetime. However, you will need to pressure wash it every now and then.

You can also take a few brick exterior maintenance steps, including checking the siding for any missing parts or cracks and ensuring the weep holes aren’t clogged.

Brick Home Exteriors Are Fire Resistant

Bricks, made from clay, are flame retardant and are not combustible. They have a high fire resistance rating, and can withstand or confine the spread of a fire for one to four hours, depending on the type of clay used. Remember, clay bricks are fired to a startling 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, so they can easily withstand extreme temperatures.  

Brick Houses Are Resistant to Weather Damage

Thanks to their robust construction, brick homes can withstand all types of weather conditions, including high pressure, high humidity, heat, and frost. Bricks can tolerate the freeze-thaw cycle that wreaks havoc on other building materials. Plus, they don't rot or harbor mold, regardless of humidity levels.

Bricks Block Noise

Because they're naturally thick and dense, bricks have excellent sound dampening capabilities. With a brick cavity wall, you can expect an average noise reduction of 50bB and, for a solid wall, a reduction of 53dB

Brick Exteriors Stabilize Internal Temperatures

Essentially, bricks hold heat and slowly release it into the atmosphere, helping to keep the internal temperature of the home stable. This maximizes energy efficiency because it means that your HVAC doesn't have to work so hard to maintain the desired temperature.

Brick Homes Have More Value

Homes with brick exteriors retain their value or appreciate more in value better than homes with wood or fiber cement siding. That's because brick has a timeless appearance, boosted curb appeal, requires little maintenance, and potentially lasts for hundreds of years. Plus, homes with brick siding cost up to 8% less to insure.

Brick Offers Lots of Design Possibilities

Not all bricks are the same uniform red. There are many different hues to choose from, ranging from gray to yellow to red. You'll also find bricks of different sizes and different mortar finishing techniques. So you do have a number of design possibilities when it comes to brick exteriors.

Real Talk: Brick Houses Have Some Downsides

Brick isn’t the ultimate modern building material everyone should use, though. There might be circumstances where a brick home isn’t right for you.

Brick Houses Can Cost More to Repair

Every home will need repairs during its lifespan, so let’s see how brick stacks up to other options. The truth is, not only do the materials themselves cost more than say, wood and vinyl, but the other jobs involved in maintaining a brick house, in the long run, can be pricier too. The average cost to repair a brick wall is around $1,400.

Bricks Are Difficult and Expensive to Paint

The cost of painting a brick home tends to be higher as well, coming in around $7,000 for a 2,500 square foot home. Whereas painting a wood or vinyl home would only cost around $3,000.

Painting brick is a difficult process because bricks themselves aren’t technically flat. They’re full of tiny grooves and holes that make painting a hassle. They don’t typically have a sealant over them either that would otherwise fill in those grooves and holes.

A Brick Structure Can Shift Over Time

The same qualities that make brick highly durable can also create issues. When the land underneath starts to move, the foundation and brick components of the house won’t shift with it. This leads to issues in the brick home’s structure, plumbing, and electrical.

Brick houses don’t tend to hold up well to any type of foundation shifts, but you can technically say this for any type of home. Foundation shifts happen because of the land rather than the material you build with. So, even if you were to build with wood or vinyl, you could face the same issues. You’ll want to check with a local structural engineer to fully understand the health of your brick home’s foundation.

Limited Color Choices

Although there are some color choices, the palette is limited to gray, red, and yellow. If you want something different, then you'd need to paint the brick, which is costly and time-consuming and can ruin the brick aesthetic. 

The Mortar Between Bricks Can Decay

Although the bricks have an incredibly long lifespan, the mortar doesn't. Eventually it will start to crumble and decay and, to stop moisture getting in and causing damage, you'll need to have the brickwork repointed. Repointing refers to the process of removing the mortar in between the bricks and replacing it. It costs around $8 per square foot of mortar that needs to be replaced.

Brick Houses Don't Withstand Extreme Temperature Fluctuations Well

While brick homes can withstand the general freeze-thaw cycle that occurs during winter in temperate climates, it's not the best at tolerating regular, rapid extreme temperature fluctuations. 

Extreme changes in temperature cause a house to expand and contract and brick just doesn't have a lot of give. So, if this is a regular occurrence, eventually damage such as foundation shifts or crumbling mortar occur.

Remodeling a Brick Home Is Costly and Challenging

Remodeling with brick can be tricky because, for a clean, seamless look, you need to closely match the original brick with the new brick. Plus, the actual construction work is more time-consuming and labor-intensive than with a wood-framed house, and so costs more.

Are Brick Houses Better?

Builders laying bricks on a construction site
Photo: Lex20 / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

There are pros and cons to all types of siding. Brick siding is considered one of the best choices, because of its longevity, low maintenance, and curb appeal. 

Advantages of Brick Siding

Brick is an eco-friendly, energy-efficient choice that will stand the test of time without losing value. It requires minimal maintenance, other than very occasional mortar repointing, and it's resistant to fire and inclement weather. 

Brick homes also block sound particularly well and, because of the structure of the bricks, these houses maintain their internal temperature better than other types. 

Disadvantages of Brick Siding

Although they hold their value and are a good investment, brick homes are more expensive to purchase or build to begin with. If you prefer a white or colorful home exterior, you'll find brick difficult and expensive to paint. 

Because of how rigid brick homes are, if the land beneath shifts excessively, you'll notice cracks and foundation problems. Similarly, foundation and structural problems can occur if the house is in a climate that experiences extreme temperature fluctuations, because brick has no give. 

And lastly, if you want to remodel a brick home, you'll pay more because the job is harder and takes longer.

Cost of Brick Siding

However, the cost of brick siding is expensive when compared to how much it costs to replace siding of other types, such as vinyl and wood. 

Brick siding costs $9 to $28 per square foot, compared to wood, which costs $2 to $5 per square foot and vinyl that costs $3 to $12 per square foot. Brick siding is, however, less costly than stone veneer, which comes in at $35 to $50 per square foot.

Brick vs. Other Siding

Wood and stone siding both offer similar traditional beauty. However, wood requires far more maintenance and is susceptible to insects, rot, mold, and moisture damage. 

Stone is generally impervious to these issues, but costs considerably more. On a super tight budget, vinyl is a popular choice because it requires little maintenance and isn't susceptible to insect damage. However, it does crack or melt when it is exposed to high temperatures and can be damaged by impacts and sharp objects.

Fiber cement is a solid compromise between an eco-friendly material, affordability, and durability. This type of siding costs $5 to $13.50 per square foot, is made from natural materials, and extremely durable. You can also find it in boards that mimic the look of other materials, including wood.

FAQs

What will I pay for a brick house?

On average, exterior brick siding costs around $18,000 for a 2,500 square foot home. Whereas vinyl costs around $11,000 and engineered wood costs around $4,000 for the same size home. You also need to account for the cost to paint the material afterward.

How long do brick houses last?

Brick houses can last at least 100 years with minimal maintenance. With regular care and attention, including mortar repointing, brick houses can last 500 years or more. 

Are brick houses better insulated?

Yes, brick houses are better insulated, because the bricks slow down the passage of air from the outside to the inside and vice-versa. This helps to stabilize the internal temperature of the home. When combined with proper residential insulation, brick houses are more efficient and better insulated than other types.

What do I look for when buying a brick house?

There are many things to look for when buying a brick house. Here are some of the key things you should pay close attention to.

  • Lintels: Look for cracks, holes, displacement, or corrosion.

  • Mortar: Check to see if the mortar is old and crumbling, in need of repointing, or new. Also check to see if the mortar has a professional finish.

  • Walls: Check along each side of the house. If a wall is bowing outward, this indicates a severe issue such as foundation damage or that the walls are ready to fall.

  • Cracks: If there are stair step cracks in the brickwork, this indicates an unstable foundation.

Can a brick house withstand a hurricane?

If a brick house has been properly maintained and has no existing foundation damage, then yes, it can withstand a hurricane. If a house has brick veneer siding, it can withstand winds of up to 150 miles per hour. Brick houses with solid brick walls can potentially withstand hurricane-force winds of up to 185 miles per hour. 

Summing it up: Should I own a brick house?

If you want to make your home eco-friendly, enjoy low maintenance, and love the fact that its looks will take people’s breath away (and not because they were trying to blow your house down), then a modern brick home is right for you. You can hire a mason to get the building process started for your brick home.

But if you’re not fond of the color and don’t want to deal with the process of repointing or other repairs, consider going with vinyl or wood. These materials offer a lower cost. While they tend to require more maintenance, they don’t cost nearly the same as exterior brick house repair.

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