Home Additions: Brick vs Lightweight Cladding

Brick vs Lightweight Cladding

If you are looking into a home addition and viewing recent examples from builders who specialise in second storeys like Addbuild, you will have noticed that most home additions don’t use bricks on the new level.

The large majority of home additions now use some form of lightweight cladding.

The assumption might be that this is a cost issue.

However, whilst cost is a factor, the use of lightweight cladding is now more about taking advantage of advances in new building technology: lower cost is just one of the many benefits.

Assumptions About Brick

Most of the classic Federation homes we see in Sydney – built at the end of the 19th or beginning of the 20th Century – are “double brick”.

This is essentially two walls of brick with a cavity in between.

The prevalence and popularity of these homes means we tend to assume that brick is the best material for constructing both new homes, and, by extension, home additions.

One of the reasons double brick was used is because, back then, brick was the best material available.

The use of double brick created an extra layer of insulation to keep homes cooler in summer and warmer in winter.

However, that double layer was, in reality, compensation for brick’s shortcomings.

Firstly, bricks aren’t that thermally efficient, and secondly, they aren’t water resistant.

As Federation homeowners would attest, once the interior layer of their double brick home heats up, it takes a long time to cool off because that heat radiates back inside the home.

The porous nature of brick also means that damp can eventually filter through to the interior wall creating condensation or worse.

Assumptions About Lightweight Cladding

For many people, lightweight cladding is synonymous with ‘weatherboards’, a material that has been used to build homes in Australia for 150 years. Weatherboard is essentially a wooden board with a zinc alloy coating for protection against water damage.

Weatherboards became popular as a lighter and lower cost material to use, so we now associate them with ‘cheap’. We also know that older weatherboard homes often don’t perform well in heat or cold.

And weatherboards need to be painted every 5-6 years to maintain their water resistance.

However, that broader group of materials known as “Lightweight Cladding” has expanded enormously since those early days.

The latest technology used in this cladding now means there is a range of excellent lightweight materials that offer both excellent insulation and water resistance.

Addbuild uses a specific material in around 70% of our building projects, Foamular. As well as being tremendously thermally efficient and water resistant, Foamular has other significant advantages:

  • It can be finished with a smooth render to match a cement-rendered brick home;
  • It can be 50-70mm thick, allowing windows to be recessed to match the rest of the home;
  • The epoxy render finish can be a specific colour that never needs to be repainted unless the homeowner wants to change their home to another colour.

And, yes, the cost is significantly less for several good reasons when compared to brick.

Brick vs Lightweight Cladding

Being heavier than materials like Foamular, brick has some other significant disadvantages when building a second storey to a home:

  • With brick, your builder will need to add more support underneath;
  • Brick requires more scaffolding during construction;
  • Brick walls take far longer to build – days versus hours for Foamular.

All these factors mean that brick is often more expensive to use.

Furthermore, in our experience, even if brick is chosen for a home addition, it is usually single rather than double brick, even if the original home is double, because the cost would be prohibitively more.

Single brick is known as ‘brick veneer’ and whilst this might create a more unified look for the finished project if building on top of a brick home, you have to be mindful about the deficiencies we mentioned earlier about brick. Several layers of quality insulation, for example, will be important.

Other Issues

There may be occasions when using brick is unavoidable.

This is usually only the case if a home is heritage listed. The bricks used, windows and roofing may have to match exactly the materials used in the original home.

In Conclusion

Essentially, in terms of performance, brick really comes out second best compared to the newer materials on offer and that’s why it isn’t used as often.

Once you factor in the price difference, we usually find that if a homeowner chooses brick, it is purely for aesthetic reasons.

There is nothing wrong with that choice. As the recent example used at the top of this article shows, a brick second floor on top of a brick first floor does look seamless. However, it’s important to understand the significant cost implications.

Next Steps

If you are looking into a home addition and want further advice, Addbuild has a comprehensive suite of articles to help Sydney homeowners understand their options.

If you are further down the track and are looking for a builder, we’d love to hear from you.

Addbuild is Sydney’s leading builder of home additions and extensions, with more than 40 years experience and nearly 2000 projects completed.

We offer a ‘concept-to-completion‘ service that includes experienced designers and the management of the Development Application process on your behalf.

Call our office on (02) 8765 1555 or send us a message using our contact form if outside of office hours.