Advice on Using Reclaimed Bricks

05 July 2021 by Darren Leach

Rear extension and refurbishment of a Georgian house in Islington Barnsbury Road1

We were recently asked to contribute our thoughts on using Reclaimed Bricks for an article in Homebuilding & Renovating. It got us thinking about the subject, as we have used these in several of our projects, so we wanted to share our thoughts and advice with you.

1) What are the main reasons you might consider using reclaimed bricks?
The primary reason for using reclaimed bricks is more often than not aesthetics, as they can be more sympathetic in appearance within a sensitive context. For example, it is not uncommon for planning policy to insist upon their use on Listed Buildings or within Conservation Areas, where additions or extensions may need to be in keeping with an original building or buildings (see Barnsbury Road).

Furthermore, given the ongoing climate crisis and the construction industry's huge contribution to this, reusing materials can be a very effective way of lowering a project's carbon footprint, before even mentioning the increased costs of virgin materials owing to Brexit and Covid-19.

2) What types of reclaimed brick are available?
Reclaimed bricks fall into one of two categories: either handmade or machine-made. Up until sometime in the late 19th century, following the industrial revolution, all bricks were made by hand. Handmade bricks are unique in appearance, whereas machine-made bricks are more uniform owing to their method of production, whereby clay is extruded and wire-cut. If your construction project relates to Victorian architecture or earlier, you might want to consider using handmade bricks.

Reclaimed bricks are available in a variety of different colours, depending on the clay (inner surface), the sand (outer surface) and the kiln atmosphere (including temperature) you will want to ensure that you match your bricks to the original building material.

3) What are the advantages of using reclaimed bricks for your renovation/extension project?
Aside from the justification of reclaimed bricks being both historically accurate and environmentally friendly, there are also a number of other reasons why using them could be advantageous.

Owing to the aged - often unique - appearance of reclaimed bricks, they can be a beautiful feature of an architectural or interior project. The patina of time on their surface adds a depth of interest so often lacking from new materials, resulting in characterful surfaces (see Clissold Crescent) including most commonly walls, but also floors, stairs and fireplaces, both externally and internally. 

Used wisely, there is no reason why they should not be able to withstand another lifetime of use and enjoyment. 

4) Are reclaimed bricks readily available throughout the UK?
In short, yes absolutely. Aside from the internet (which is not always the best place to buy bulky items!), you are never far from a reclamation yard specialising in architectural salvage, often including reclaimed bricks.

Just one of the many benefits of shopping locally for reclaimed bricks, aside from supporting local businesses and in turn your community, is that the bricks will most likely have come from (sadly demolished) local buildings; this is especially important if your construction project is looking to replicate (still standing) local buildings (which is normal a key in Conservation Areas). 

5) Why might you choose reclaimed bricks over new?
Yet another benefit of choosing reclaimed bricks over new ones can be the potential cost savings, as generally speaking buying anything other than antiques, second-hand is cheaper than buying new. That said given the balancing act between supply and demand, combined with the potential for increased labour costs relating to reclaimed materials, unfortunately this can prove to be somewhat of a fallacy. It is probably best to hold off placing that bid on an online auction until you have discussed it with your architect or building contractor first!

6) Is there any situation in which reclaimed bricks are not suitable?
Whilst new, often machine-made, bricks are all the same size, their reclaimed, often handmade, counterparts can be all different sizes: whilst modern bricks are an exact 215mm x 102.5mm x 65mm, older bricks can vary by an inch or more in any direction, making them time-consuming and costly to 'tooth' with existing brickwork.

There may also be technical considerations when using reclaimed bricks such as their durability to withstand water, frost and changes in temperature, as well as their compressive strength. A competent architect or structural engineer should be able to advise you further on this matter.

The article in Homebuilding and Renovating 

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