The rise and rise of concrete facing bricks

Craig Mcbride of Tobermore tracks the rise in popularity of concrete facing bricks, explaining how they satisfy the needs of housebuilders facing unprecedented demand across the Uk.

We all remember the story of the Three Little Pigs from childhood. When given their choice of building materials for a house, one chose hay, the other sticks and the final pig, bricks, presumably as a result of the material’s well-known strength and durability.

What we do know is that the pig needed to build a house quickly. If we bring this story to life, a clay brick order could take 40 weeks. The pig would need to look at other options with a shorter delivery time that could still measure up to the quality of clay bricks, and of course, withstand that big bad wolf. That’s where concrete facing bricks come in.

In recent years, housebuilders have been using concrete facing bricks, and they now represent the fastest growing materials sector in the UK brick industry, being regularly used by national developers including Bellway, Mace, McCarthy & Stone, Persimmon, Keepmoat and Taylor Wimpey, as well as a wide array of regional developers.

The beauty of concrete facing bricks is that they are readily available, with the average lead time usually being less than four weeks. In fact, most concrete facing brick manufacturers have stockpiles ready to go. While many clay brick makers struggle to meet demand from reduced manufacturing bases post-2008, concrete facing brick makers maintained production during the downturn, and have since made a significant investment to boost production in order to meet the growing demand for quality facing brick.

In 2017, the government set the goal of building 300,000 houses, fuelling the production of bricks. The latest production figures from the office for national statistics show over two billion bricks were delivered to development sites during last year, the first time this figure has been reached since 2007. 2018 has seen the highest number of new homes started since 2007, with build rates increasing and output forecast to grow by over 20 per cent by the end of the year, showing the rapid growth across the housebuilding industry.

Alongside this, there has been a brick renaissance among architects; brick is cool. In fact, brick buildings have won the Stirling Prize for three of the last five years.

Yes, the brick business is booming; however, housebuilders are being met with a range of issues when trying to build houses on this demanding scale, beyond just availability.

The price of building materials is increasing year on year. Economic influences are exacerbating those costs. In fact, 90 per cent of housebuilders believe material prices will rise over the next six months.

With these factors in mind and the high target set by the Government, housebuilders are looking to build houses faster, for less.

Of course, reduced material costs and availability are some reasons as to why housebuilders are choosing concrete facing bricks. However, there are many more benefits of concrete facing bricks.

Aesthetically pleasing

When looking at the aesthetic difference between a clay brick and concrete facing brick, there’s not much to see. Even experienced specifiers have difficulty spotting the difference. The range of strong aesthetics, colour palette, and textures available make concrete facing brick a fair match to clay.

Efflorescence reduction

Efflorescence reduction is another factor influencing the rise of concrete bricks. Some advanced concrete manufacturers are using treatments to reduce efflorescence in bricks by 95 per cent, decreasing the risk of a house developing an unsightly white shade over time.

Batch control

Concrete bricks are produced in carefully controlled factory environments, allowing for regular repeated units. Not only does the modern concrete brick manufacturing process ensure consistent properties and appearance, it has been refined to the point where bricks can be turned out to levels of consistency and quality control that other sectors of the industry have yet to achieve.

Now, back to the three little pigs. If the pig from the story was presented with the benefits of concrete facing bricks today, there’s a good choice that after going with that option they’d live happily ever after.

Craig Mcbride is specification manager at Tobermore