The Rest of the World Builds Houses with Timber, Why Don’t We?
The debate has been raging for years. Should West Australians continue their love affair with double brick or should we look at alternative building methods?
Luxury homes around the world and in the eastern states are using new building materials with spectacular results. But will West Australians embrace change for environmental benefits and cost savings or continue with what we know best? Builder building a double brick wall, or is it a brick veneer wall?
What is Brick Veneer?
Brick veneer isn’t a term you often hear in WA, but it’s readily used in every other state of Australia. Brick veneer is also the most common type of construction for Australian homes. A brick veneer home uses a timber or steel frame as the internal structure. The brick or masonry veneer over the frame is the skin of the home. The veneer is anchored to the house frame for support with using either metal ties or horizontal header bricks.
Advantages of Brick Veneer
- There are some advantages to building a brick veneer home over double brick including:
- Cost – bricks are expensive to manufacture and lay so you can somewhat reduce the cost of building a house if you don’t use double brick
- Insulation – it is easy to place insulation in the cavity between the frame and veneer.
- Alterations – in years to come when the homeowner wants to move an internal wall, it’s much easier if it’s a timber stud wall compared to brick.
- Faster Build Time – the builder needs less time on site if the home uses a timber frame construction compared to a bricklayer building a double brick house.
- Soil Movement – in states that have clay soils, the home can move with the changing soil moisture levels. Brick veneer is not as rigid as a double brick wall so it has more tolerance for movement.
- Structural Support – a brick veneer wall weighs far less than a double brick one, so the foundation and structural support requirements are reduced which will also reduce the cost.
- Cool in summer – the house doesn’t retain the heat and can cool down easier on a summer night compared to a double brick house.
Disadvantages of Brick Veneer
It’s not all good news for brick veneer; it has its disadvantages too including:
- Solid – while the home looks strong, it doesn’t have quite the same strength of a double brick home.
- Future Home Buyers – The majority of Western Australians grew up in a double brick home, and some wouldn’t consider living in anything else.
What is Double Brick?
Double brick homes have been built for around a century in Australia. Two layers of brick built with an air cavity in between for insulation was seen as the best method of building available. Steel ties placed at regular intervals between the two leaves of bricks strengthen the home. The cavity also stops moisture from penetrating inside the home.
Advantages of Double Brick
Building double brick home has its advantages over brick veneer including:
- Reduced Risk of Termites – Without an internal wood frame, there is less chance of a termite attack.
- Less Noise Transmission – traffic noise can’t penetrate two layers of brick as easily as one layer.
- Strength – No strong wind is going to blow over a double brick home unless the wind is cyclonic.
Disadvantages of Double Brick
Double brick homes have their disadvantages too including:
- High Building Cost – bricks are expensive to manufacture and labour intensive to lay.
- Energy Efficiency – a double brick home can have a poor energy rating and be more difficult to cool at night in summer because the bricks retain the heat.
Building Green Homes
Double brick and brick veneer aren’t the only two options available for building homes.
With increasing environmental concerns, countries around the world are trialling different building materials
When building a house, the environment must be considered regarding:
- The resources needed in the manufacture of building materials
- The need for heating and cooling of the home’s occupants, and
- The eventual disposal of the building materials when the home is demolished
For many people, a home is considered luxurious because of its design, the fittings and furnishings; not what the internal walls are made from.
What Are the Other Building Options for Luxury Homes?
Green building materials are changing home construction at all levels of residential building including the luxury home market. Some of the alternative building methods being used overseas include:
- Rammed Earth – Thick walls of earth combined with a little cement for strength provide protection against the extremes of weather. Popular in Europe but Margaret River in WA experienced a boom in rammed earth homes.
- Cob – a mixture of clay, earth and straw it’s a method that has been around for hundreds of years but is growing in popularity for people wanting a home that is part of the surrounding environment.
- Tilt Panel – gaining popularity worldwide because the height of the prefabricated panels can accommodate two storey homes.
- Insulated Concrete Forms – Blocks of foam interlocked together with a cavity between them for pouring concrete makes an energy efficient house with good noise reduction qualities.
- Shipping Container Homes – modular containers stacked on top and beside each other to create rooms often in idyllic seaside locations for holiday homes.
- Modular – steel or timber frame houses clad in stone, Colorbond or weatherboard.
While not all of these methods are approved for building Australian homes, alternatives to double brick and brick veneer are worth considering for the future. A luxury home can use a range of materials to make it unique and stunning.