Brick Buying: Selection and Tips

By Kevin Gladd, Architectural & Residential Sales, Potomac Valley Brick

Brick is one of the most popular materials in construction. Used in a wide variety of designs, everything from homes to schools to condominiums, brick gives buildings a sustainable and classic appeal. But as an architect or builder, it can be difficult visualizing and selecting the right brick for your project—let alone determining how many you’ll need. That’s why it’s important to fully understand the brick sampling and buying process, from beginning to end. Here are some tips to ensure your next brick project is a success:

  • Know your brick samples

When navigating the process of selecting and purchasing brick for your project, it’s important to know the different types of brick samples available and the purposes they serve in the selection process. This will help you get an accurate visual of how the brick you select will look on the exterior (or interior) of your structure.

    • Mini Board:

This is the starting point for brick selection with 4-8 brick faces laid out on a small board. It provides the Designer with a general idea of what to expect. It is important to remember this is a small sample that shows the general color range and texture of a particular style of brick. It is impossible to show all the range of color and texture in a mini board.

 

    • Hand Straps:

This is another way of sampling brick, more often used for submittal purposes due to its size and weight. A hand strap shows 4-6 full size bricks to give customers a more precise look at the entire brick, front and back. A hand strap might be a small sample of the exact same run of brick you will use on your project, however that’s not likely.

 

    • Grouted Panel:

These panels are used to show combinations of brick blends, or aid in the process of selecting a mortar color. Grouted means the panels are created by putting mortar between the brick to show the relationship between the two. More brick is used to assemble a grouted panel than those above, giving customers a better visual of what the brick will look like and how the mortar color can affect the finished product.

 

    • Field Panel:

Field panels are often created by the mason working on a particular job or project. A field panel is typically 15 square feet (about 4×4) and shows the full range of a particular brick style. These are often made with existing brick and not built out of the run produced for your particular project so variation may occur. That’s why it’s imperative that the mason layup all the brick provided for the field panel. For example, if 100 brick are provided for the panel, all 100 brick should be used in the panel. These panels are typically selected by the manufacturer to best represent what the customer can expect. If the mason doesn’t lay all the brick provided, you won’t see the full range the panel was intended to show.

    • Mock-up

A mock-up is a grander scale field panel often including a window, corner turn and other related products such as stone. This is used to give an accurate visual for a job and can be used as a reference point throughout the entire project. This type of sample should be built with brick from the same production run as the rest of the brick being used on the project to assure color and texture accuracy. A mock-up is used as a control, unlike the other samples listed above, which are examples only.

 

  • Understand run-to-run variation

No two bricks are the same. And no two runs of bricks are the same either. During the sampling process, it’s important to remember that you’re dealing with the firing of raw materials. While brickmaking isn’t the primitive process it was thousands of years ago, variation will still occur. Today’s manufacturers have computers that track and control nearly every aspect of the brick making process, however, different runs of brick are likely to have slight variations in color, size and texture.

 

  • Perform an accurate takeoff

Your mason should have a qualified estimator who will carefully read the plans and come up with an accurate takeoff for the amount of masonry materials needed. Since brick runs will vary, performing an accurate takeoff is essential to the success of your project. While everyone wants to save money on materials and production, customers need to order an accurate amount of brick so that you don’t need to order more down the line. If this does happen, there’s a chance different runs may slightly vary, and you could have a noticeable variation in the wall. By ordering the correct amount of brick, you can avoid this. If variation does occur, stop work before you lay the last of your brick. This will give you a chance to mix the two runs together to best hide the run variation. Or better yet, determine if you can use the additional brick in an inconspicuous area.

  • Hire a qualified masonry contractor

Masonry is a craft, and it takes a qualified professional to know how to lay brick properly with the quality of workmanship one should expect. Masons are the last step in the blending process and play a huge role in the aesthetics of your project. Masons should work from several cubes of brick at a time, working diagonally through each cube as they go. This will help ensure proper blending of the brick and get you the finished look that you are after.

Brick has been used in building for centuries and creates a timeless look. But due to its natural origins, it’s not always easy to match brick when it’s ordered from different runs. Therefore, it’s critical to fully understand the sampling and buying process to help ensure that you’re able to bring your project’s true vision to life.

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