Why Do We Still Build With Masonry?

We are in the 21st century and still using a 200-year-old technology to build our houses. Why? With a number of alternatives available today we are going to ask why they are not used very widely.

In the UK bricks have been made and used in housing construction for decades. The clay used is a natural material that is easily extracted and processed to make bricks. Built as a cavity wall with insulation between, we have now developed this technology to the Nth degree.

There are other technologies used in the construction industry, such as timber or steel frames, pre-fab systems and composite structures. Sometimes, other constructions or objects are used to form spaces and houses like shipping containers. There are also products like Durisol or Beco Wall Form that provide ‘lego’ style concrete-filled wall construction.

So, why do we still use bricks (or masonry), and is there anything wrong with this technology? It’s a well-known craft that has been passed down through generations. Where it has been developed into cavity walls and added insulation, it is quite a successful composite construction: it keeps the weather out and provides security. It’s a great method of construction that has been proven over decades.

Why aren’t other technologies used? Timber frame has been used to some extent in this country. However, it has suffered because of a combination of climate and poor weather protection or breathability. Steel framing has been used widely in industrial and commercial construction and has probably become more efficient in larger buildings and multi-storey.

Technology has made major breakthroughs in recent years with the consideration of allowing composite construction and buildings as a whole to breathe. This allows trapped moisture, a significant issue in the UK’s climate, to escape without compromising the building’s integrity. Ironically, early masonry construction (circa 19th century) naturally allows the construction to breathe. Sure, there was little insulation in a solid masonry wall between 450-600mm thick. But the combination of thick solid construction that water would find difficult to penetrate, lime mortar and plaster work with non-plasticised paint these construction methods were almost perfect.

There is a tradition of brickwork in this country. True, the brick type does vary across the country. In some parts, a vernacular stone is found and used extensively. The planning system often asks for keeping appearances in building finish. These are all significant limitations.


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