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Brick, Block and Stone

Brick Block Stone

A brick is a brick is a brick. Ah, but what a little variation can accomplish! There has been a trend toward giving both residential and commercial buildings a unique look through the application of color and texture via brick, block and stone. No more "all-the-sameness" even though the elevations might be identical.

We contacted several suppliers of brick, block and stone for input on what they see as the current and coming trends in their materials. Here are some of the answers.

The basic brick has become standardized in size and shape. But there is a wealth of variation available — including new non-standard sizes and shapes — from many companies. According to the Brick Industry Association (BIA), over the past two or three years, brick manufacturers have added, and continue to add, new and more textures to their product lines in response to — or in many cases, anticipating — customer demand.

Brick Block StoneBill Seidel, marketing manager at Acme Brick, Ft. Worth, Texas, agrees with the BIA and notes that colors are also "hot." He says, "Our newest product is the 'Acme Handmades' line but we see another trend in the use of white, gray or pastel brick with matching mortar color to achieve a Mediterranean or contemporary look. In the past these looks were achieved with a product that can have water intrusion problems, such as Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems (EIFS)."

Seidel adds, "Architects seem to be using more banding and mixing of different brick colors on buildings. Sustainable design, which is one benefit to using brick, is also becoming more popular. One of the most popular brick designs with builders is tumbled or 'used effect' brick."

Acme produces a line of king-sized bricks that, Seidel claims, is gaining in popularity. "In our region, the cost efficient king size — it requires 4.8 brick per square foot of wall — is increasingly popular. Today, even custom homebuilders demand this size."

Duane Walker, director of marketing at Mutual Materials, Bellevue, Wash., continues the regional theme. "In the Pacific Northwest, we're seeing particular interest in blended brick both for revitalization projects and new construction projects. The architects mainly drive this trend. Use of ground face block, for visual appeal, is also growing among architects. The major regional difference out this way is the specification for reinforced brick to confront West Coast 'seismic' concerns."

Regional differences abound. J. L. Miles, vice president for sales at Redland Brick, Williamsport, Md., says, "There are definitely regional brick color and texture preferences. For example, Redland Brick's plant in Hartford, Conn., has developed most of its brick colors for the New England market. Traditionally, this market has preferred primarily red brick. However, the market is changing and all colors, including pastels and earth tones, are now being selected in New England. As a result, we have introduced many new colors and have broadened our product line to include grays, tans and browns. The discriminating tastes of homebuyers, especially custom-home buyers, are forcing brick distributors and manufacturers to broaden their product lines. In this market, style can rank ahead of price."

Perception of value more than price can be an incentive. Miles, continues, "Builders are always looking for new brick styles and colors to help them keep their home appearances fresh. After several years, tract builders need to change colors so that their new subdivisions do not continue to look the same.

"In addition, architects continue to design buildings with banding of different colors and/or textures. Brick manufacturers who specialize in commercial brick styles must be able to provide different sizes and textures in all of their standard colors."

Brick Block Stone Miles delves into some other things that he sees across the country. "A residential trend is adding colors that are either a substitute for stone or that compliment stone. Today's home designers often mix their exteriors with stucco, stone, brick and siding. Many older brick colors and styles don't fit well into these new designs. A lot of the new brick styles include grays, tans and other light earth tones that do work well with different exterior colors."

Several manufacturers, including Redland Brick, have developed products that are designed to replicate stucco. Miles comments, "When these new light brick colors are installed with a matching mortar color, the result is a very mono-chromatic look that fits the desire of customers who want masonry but do not want a traditional brick appearance.

"Many brick manufacturers are also developing 'thin brick' that can solve several design issues and also help meet strict seismic codes. Because of design and load requirements, we are seeing an increase in thin brick specifications. Often the building will require 90 percent of the exterior be done with traditional brick units and 10 percent will require thin brick. There are several different thin brick systems in the marketplace, but this brick category remains a very small part of the brick industry."

In Macon, Ga., Cherokee Brick and Tile's Ray Hughes is proud of a new line that was developed by their plant workers. "It's a machine tumbled line of brick that we've never had before. It's created in a process that the plant operators here at Cherokee came up with themselves. We have it available in five different bricks that have been good sellers for us. It started out just in the Atlanta area, but we now sell it through 30 state distributors, including Canada."

He adds, "We are trying to get the architects in this area off commercial-style brick. Every commercial builder uses the solid color brick, red or gray or pink. We're trying to get them converted to different colors. We've had good success with that as far as new schools and commercial buildings by getting them to use a residential style brick so that the buildings blend in with the communities. When you ride down the road you see pretty houses with different color brick, but then you drive up on a school and it's solid red or gray. Around here a lot of schools are built in residential areas, so we're trying to get them to use brick that will blend in with the community."

But that's not easy. "The architects are hard to change sometimes. They get set on one plan, and you go from community to community and all the schools look the same. We're trying to get them to use different brick, such as residential brick, so you've got thousands of different colors and combinations you can use."

Arguably, the biggest change in the world of concrete masonry units — block — is the mortarless system. AZAR Mortarless Building Systems, Windsor, Ontario, has developed dry-stack systems for building construction in larger block sizes and smaller brick sizes. "We originally started with a below-grade block with scoring (primarily for water drainage control), but now offer designs in smooth-face and split-face textures," says Alan Ferguson, director of marketing at AZAR. "Over 500 home basements use AZAR Dry-Stack instead of poured/cast in place concrete. The new AZAR Brick can be laid as fast as one can stack — on a brick ledge or angle — and wraps easily around the corner of a structure. It uses tiebacks that are easily installed in the bricks where required, usually on 16 inch centers."

Brick Block StoneEven with a new system, changes take place. Ferguson continues, "AZAR, in an exclusive agreement with Pavestone Company, has set the stage for extensive use of dry-stack systems for above-grade building construction. It can be used for projects ranging from a simple masonry mailbox to masonry walls/fencing. But more importantly, Pavestone and the other AZAR independent producers will provide mason contractors all over the country a way to stay competitive in the face of other masonry alternatives."

He also says that in discussions with masonry contractors it has been evident that they need new ways to construct with block and brick. "AZAR Dry-Stack allows masonry projects to be built up to 10 times faster than conventional mortared systems. The building owners gets professional results well ahead of a normal schedule — projects that generally take three months can be done in three weeks — all with the look of classic mortared masonry, such as full raked joints on stacking. AZAR Dry-Stack can be placed with two hands, eliminating the need to lift conventional block with one hand and placing mortar with the other. Skilled workers are needed (but not as many are required on the crew) to ensure that the first course is level and plumb, that transitions at doors and windows are done correctly, and general supervision as the walls are built-out."

Ferguson makes a quick note on below grade applications of the mortarless/dry-stack systems. "We participate in the NCMA (National Concrete Masonry Association), specifically in the Basement Sub-Committee where the CMU/block producers have been complaining of losing market share to the poured/cast-in-place (CIP) systems in recent years — millions of units in the last year alone. Dry-stack methods offer the best hope of these producers to stem the tide of competition from CIP and pre-cast basement wall systems."

Bill Russell, president of Continental Cast Stone East in Berlin, N.J., explains, "One of the newest aspects of our business is the availability of cast stone in rich colors such as reds, yellows and other colors to match brick. Previously, cast stone was regarded as a concrete product, normally only available in white, buff or gray, or shades within those hues. We now have a catalog with over 800 shapes and sizes that come in 10 different colors. An architect can order our catalog or go online to view it and get budget pricing right there. They pick their profiles and then narrow it down to sizes and colors. It's all catalog pricing, so it can be done either through the printed catalog, through a phone call or online."

Brick Block StoneUsing the online catalog can save a lot of time for the designer. Russell adds, "All of our catalog items are available in a CAD format for downloading. The builders and architects can download the shapes from our website and paste them right onto their working drawings. Our stone then becomes part of the wall design and part of the load bearing capacity. It's a veneer that is normally used in a composite wall system such as natural cut limestone or a precast concrete. The cast stone is produced from the same types of natural stones that have been in existence for thousands of years. We recreate those stones into a new color and a new shape. They can be cut by a traditional diamond blade or abrasive saw, or we can produce them cast to length so they can go together in the structure without any cutting required."

Cast stone can now be compared to natural stone and many other materials when working in a tight budget. Russell explains, "Costs have come down substantially in recent years because of standardization where the trend now is moving toward the catalog type product that enables us to get greater efficiencies by machine making a number of the units. Where four men could make 100 pieces per day of custom stone, those same four men can produce 1000 or 2000 pieces per day because the units are now more standardized and they are made from molds that are already available for the casting machine."

Sizes in cast stone are also becoming somewhat standard. "Generally the cast stone sizes that are most popular are the ones that match up with normal masonry coursing, 7-5/8, 11-5/8, 15-5/8," says Russell. "Those sizes become the standards that we work with and we develop styles based around masonry coursing."

Another approach to stone is found at EuroStone, Los Angeles, Calif. There president George Mousa comments, "Our design team in Europe comes up with new models of stone for us. Right now, rough, matt, honed finishes have become very popular replacing the high gloss polish. Earth tone colors and shades of gray are trendy in those textures and more traditional limestone and concrete are still popular."

Trends in stone seem to follow trends in many other fashions. According to Mousa, "We have found that, when it comes to stone for buildings, fashion changes move from Europe to the East Coast, then West, then to rural areas."

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