Many homeowners have a hard time understanding the difference between brick veneer and solid brick. Some believe that brick veneer is made of thin pieces of brick, similar to tiles or pavers. This is a common misconception, as these pavers are typically used to create floors, patios and decorative interior elements, but are not generally used on exterior walls. In fact, brick veneer and solid brick are actually identical before they are installed, and the only difference between the two lies in their installation.

Contractor and client family at construction site
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Brick veneer and solid brick differ from one another only in their installation.

Design Features of Solid Brick and Veneer

Brick veneer and solid brick are two terms used to describe the construction techniques of a brick house. Solid brick houses are built from brick or masonry. The walls are either constructed of two layers of brick, or a layer of concrete block and an adjacent layer of brick on the exterior. The brick is part of the home's structural support system, and if the brick were removed, the house would suffer structural failures.

Brick veneer houses look identical to solid brick structures, but are built using a very different technique. The house itself is built from steel or wooden framing, then covered with wood sheathing or insulation. Brick veneer walls are built several inches away from each exterior wall, then attached to the house with metal ties. In this case, the brick does not play any part in supporting the structural loads of the home. If the brick were removed, the house would continue to stand.

Benefits of Each

Each of these techniques offers a number of benefits to homeowners. Solid brick structures are much more stable in the event of an earthquake or heavy winds. Because there is no interior wood framing system, termites and rot are not an issue.

Brick veneer is generally more affordable and easier to install than solid brick. It also weighs less, as there is only a single layer of masonry, and requires a less complex foundation and support system. The primary benefit to brick veneer lies in the air cavity between the brick and the home. This air cavity acts as an effective insulating space and also helps to keep moisture out of the home.

Drawbacks to Solid and Brick Veneer Construction

Solid brick homes are very heavy, and require substantial footing and foundation systems. They are very difficult to install correctly and tend to cost more than brick veneer. Solid brick walls are also poor insulators, and also may allow moisture to penetrate exterior walls and cause problems in the home.

Brick veneer is highly susceptible to damage or failure from earthquakes or heavy wind. This is because a relatively high amount of weight is supported by a small system of wire ties. Building codes are very strict when it comes to safe brick veneer installation.

The Installation Process

Solid brick walls are installed as the home is built. They are laid out in horizontal rows and joined with mortar. Some rows, or courses, of brick will be set with their ends facing out rather than their faces in to add additional support and stability to the wall. Windows and other openings must be reinforced with beams, arches or lintels to add to the structural integrity of each wall.

Brick veneer can be installed any time after construction is complete. The home's exterior sheathing is covered with building paper to protect against moisture, and wire ties are added at intervals dictated by the building codes. The bricks are laid horizontally and joined with mortar, and are located several inches to a foot from the home. The bottom of the veneer wall is equipped with a series of drains known as "weep holes," which allow moisture to escape from the air cavity.

Construction Considerations

Do-it-yourself homeowners may wish to consider mortarless brick veneer instead of traditional veneer or solid brick. Mortarless veneer is made of interlocking S-shaped bricks that lock together without mortar or adhesive. They are much easier to install than other brick products and require only simple tools. Mortarless veneer looks just like a solid brick wall when it is complete, and is available in many textures and colors.