Self Help: Getting your self-build project right

With an increasing number of homeowners choosing to self-build their next home or embark on self-renovation work, Simon Taylor, Director of Sales at Ibstock, examines one of the key considerations for any self-builder – the bricks used in the project.

A growing trend

Homeowners considering embarking on a self-build home improvement job should rest assured that they are not alone. According to a recent published study, there are more than 20,000 self-builders in the UK that are undertaking construction work, ranging in scope from loft conversions to full-scale house extensions.

This is a trend surely set to increase further still, with the government pledging increased support for self-builders. Indeed, Victoria Prentis, the Conservative MP for North Oxfordshire, recently identified custom-built housing stock as a potential solution to the UK’s ongoing housing crisis.

For any self-build project, one of the first decisions that must be made is the material used to build the structure. The most popular choice in Britain remains, undoubtedly, brick. Representing sturdiness and affording properties a sense of character that is harder to find with other materials, the UK’s love affair with brick is truly enduring.

Handmade or machine-made?

But what are the primary brick considerations that prospective self-builders must address at the outset of their project? One of the most important, unsurprisingly, is selecting the type of brick to use in a building scheme (browse through our product selector). This will be determined by a multitude of factors, including the age of the existing structure (in the case of extensions), the location of the build project and any specific local legislation that must be adhered to.

At a glance, there are two basic kinds of brick. The first is handmade, which are manufactured through the use of flexible moulds, making it possible for them to be produced in virtually all kinds of sizes. The second is machine-made, which are produced via a mechanised-hand thrown at greater volumes, typically for a lower cost.

The ‘handmade v machine-made’ debate has raged for decades, but, truthfully, the superior brick depends entirely on the type of build it’s being used in. Handmade bricks come into their own in heritage properties, or builds where personality and character are important – such as a barn conversion. If a cleaner, smoother finish is desired, the uniformity of machine-made, wire-cut bricks offers the ideal solution.

Respecting regulations

Whatever style of brick a homeowner chooses, they need to consider planning regulations and ensure that it fits with the wider local vernacular. While this doesn’t mean it has to conform to a traditional design, the bricks must be in keeping with the aesthetics of the area.

The UK is lucky enough to be home to some of Europe’s best preserved stone towns, so, if a homeowner is considering a self-build project in one of these regions, even greater consideration is required. Take for example the Cotswolds, with its Jurassic limestone, which is renowned the world over, or the iconic Collyweston slate, prevalent across the East Midlands.

There’s Mortar life…

As important as picking the right brick for a project, selecting the mortar that binds it all together is just as crucial. While many self-builders favour ready-bagged, pre-mixed mortar, remember that the colouring of mortar can completely transform the look of a building, so homeowners should ensure they use one which matches the overall aesthetics they are hoping to achieve with the project.

Right to reclaim?

Whether it’s sustainability concerns or wanting to maximise the authentic feel of their build, some self-builders opt for reclaimed or salvaged bricks. These are typically handmade and older, sourced everywhere from discontinued mills to former stately homes, some of which have obsolete design quirks which make them totally unique in modern builds.

As with all bricks, reclaimed products can be found in a huge variety of colours, sizes and textures, so when selecting salvaged material, it’s important to ensure they are in keeping with the period and location of their home. What’s more, the quality of reclaimed materials can really vary, so it’s crucial to ensure that bricks come from a reclamation yard with a reputation for sourcing good quality materials.

Next steps

Self-build projects can be a cost-effective, highly rewarding solution for homeowners looking to improve their properties. While it may seem there are myriad brick considerations, all that’s required is some careful research into the right material for a project. Homeowners looking to embark on such a project should speak to planning authorities to ensure that the project is in line with local regulations, and that key considerations such as regional vernacular are contemplated before settling on a brick product.

This article also featured on Selfbuilder + Homemaker magazine.