From bricks to straw bales (yes, re­ally!), there’s a build­ing ma­te­rial to suit ev­ery type of home

Inside Out (Australia) - - Contents - WORDS KATHER­INE CHATFIELD

From bricks to straw bales, there’s a build­ing ma­te­rial to suit ev­ery type of home

The wise man might have built his house upon a rock, but if he used the wrong ma­te­ri­als, it was prob­a­bly ex­pen­sive, poorly in­su­lated and a night­mare to main­tain. Choos­ing the right base struc­ture when you’re ex­tend­ing, ren­o­vat­ing or build­ing a new prop­erty helps to make your home com­fort­able, cost-ef­fec­tive and aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing. Durable, low-main­te­nance ma­te­ri­als can make houses sus­tain­able and, de­pend­ing on how they’re used, help with in­su­la­tion and en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, too.

“If the orig­i­nal build­ing is charm­ingly old, use new ma­te­ri­als that main­tain in­tegrity. If the cli­mate has large tem­per­a­ture swings, use heavy ma­te­ri­als with good ther­mal mass, such as bricks,” says An­drew Benn, di­rec­tor of ar­chi­tec­ture stu­dio Benn+Penna. “As a gen­eral rule, if the site is steep and tricky, light­weight cladding is bet­ter.”


Clay or con­crete bricks are com­pet­i­tively priced and man­u­fac­tured through­out Aus­tralia. “Brick­work re­quires lit­tle or no main­te­nance, mak­ing it cost-ef­fec­tive,” says Bill Clifton, di­rec­tor at Robert Plumb Build.

THE METHOD: A dou­ble-brick cav­ity wall is the tra­di­tional brick-build­ing method in Aus­tralia. Two brick walls are sep­a­rated by a cav­ity, which re­duces ther­mal trans­mis­sion and pre­vents mois­ture be­ing trans­ferred from the out­side wall to the build­ing’s in­te­rior. “This con­struc­tion type can be cost-ef­fec­tive if the brick­work doesn’t re­quire ren­der­ing and the site is on rock,” says Bill. “If the house is on clay soil it can be more ex­pen­sive, as the foot­ings need more work.”

Brick cav­ity con­struc­tion is renowned for good in­su­la­tion. Adding foil or bulk in­su­la­tion will fur­ther in­crease the in­su­lat­ing prop­er­ties of brick cav­ity walls, so they can take a while to build. “The in­side leaf must be struc­turally sound be­fore build­ing the roof, so it can take longer than light­weight con­struc­tion,” says Bill.

steel and tim­ber

Steel or tim­ber frames are used in con­junc­tion with cladding, such as wood, metal, plas­tic (vinyl), ma­sonry or com­pos­ite ma­te­ri­als. “Sus­tain­able tim­ber is a great ma­te­rial but it can be sus­cep­ti­ble to ter­mites,” warns Bill. “Steel is durable and ter­mite-proof.”

THE METHOD: The most com­mon sys­tem in Aus­tralia is light­weight framed con­struc­tion. Steel and tim­ber are ex­tremely strong, which al­lows for max­i­mum struc­tural ca­pac­ity while min­imis­ing ma­te­ri­als. The cladding you choose can also have a huge ef­fect on the build­ing’s en­vi­ron­men­tal per­for­mance. “Re­con­sti­tuted tim­ber, weath­er­boards and fi­bre ce­ment have low em­bod­ied en­ergy and are highly sus­tain­able,” ex­plains Bill. “These ma­te­ri­als are en­ergy ef­fi­cient as long as you in­stall the cor­rect in­su­la­tion. Tim­ber cladding isn’t a great op­tion for coastal prop­er­ties though, as salt, wind and sun will de­te­ri­o­rate the tim­ber and paint quickly.”

Light­weight frames are quick to build “if tim­ber frames and trusses are con­structed off-site,” adds Bill. “This isn’t al­ways pos­si­ble in ar­chi­tec­turally de­signed homes, but it’s still quicker to build a tim­ber-framed house than one with brick­work and con­crete.”

Bill also ad­vises vig­i­lance when it comes to your bud­get. “Costs can blow out when fa­cil­i­tat­ing pock­ets for win­dows and doors, and build­ing com­plex curves. Keep costs down by stick­ing to a sim­ple frame.”

mix­ing it up

When brick cladding forms the ex­ter­nal skin of a tim­ber or steel-framed home, it can be eco­nom­i­cal. “Though it re­quires ar­chi­tec­tural lim­i­ta­tions to achieve sav­ings,” says Athan Gian­nikos, manag­ing di­rec­tor of con­struc­tion firm Agia Projects.

THE METHOD: Light­weight fram­ing is the main struc­tural part of brick ve­neer con­struc­tion. Con­sult a struc­tural en­gi­neer be­fore us­ing these ma­te­ri­als to­gether, warns Athan. “Brick ve­neer con­struc­tion of­ten uses ‘raft slab’ foun­da­tions,” he says. “These are cost and time ef­fi­cient, but in the long-term are riskier than foun­da­tions on rock. Brick cladding is also prone to crack­ing due to the set­tle­ment of the tim­ber frame.”

Although brick ve­neer is a cost-ef­fec­tive con­struc­tion method, it’s not en­ergy ef­fi­cient. “The ther­mal mass of the build­ing is on the out­side so tem­per­a­ture-reg­u­lat­ing ben­e­fits are lost,” ex­plains Athan. “Other ini­tia­tives have to be taken, which can negate the cost-sav­ing ben­e­fits of this con­struc­tion method.”

An al­ter­na­tive is re­verse brick ve­neer, which means brick­work forms the in­side skin of an in­su­lated tim­ber or steel-framed con­struc­tion. “Build­ing in re­verse brick ve­neer is slightly pricier than cav­ity walls but, when in­cor­po­rated into a well-de­signed house, it’s also more en­ergy ef­fi­cient,” says Athan. “Main­te­nance on a re­verse brick ve­neer build­ing is a lit­tle more when ex­ter­nal cladding, such as tim­ber weath­er­board or ce­ment sheet prod­ucts, are painted. How­ever, if the en­ergy ef­fi­ciency ben­e­fits of this con­struc­tion type are ex­ploited and the ex­ter­nal cladding is fit for pur­pose, the sav­ings will out­strip any ad­di­tional main­te­nance costs.”

BRICKS Ben­jamin Ed­wards of Ply Ar­chi­tec­ture ad­vised us­ing low-main­te­nance dry pressed bricks in Gledswood Blend from PGH Bricks and Pavers for this Ade­laide ren­o­va­tion.

PICK AND CHOOSE The Ul­tra Smooth from Aus­tral Bricks (cen­tre) is still a pop­u­lar build­ing op­tion, and it’s even bet­ter when paired with other tex­tured and coloured bricks.

MIX­ING IT UP Adding Scyon cladding to ex­ist­ing brick­work is a light­weight way to in­crease sus­tain­abil­ity.

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