Brick-built homes vs. timber-frames – pros and cons!

Jul 1, 2022 | Building Issues, New Homes

Since the 1970s, timber-framed homes have become increasingly popular, with many leaning towards it as an option for their next home and forgoing the more common brick-built property. However, it’s difficult to know which house type is right for you, given that there are pros and cons to both structures. And it’s isn’t that simple to determine which kind you’re looking at, as even qualified surveyors need to examine closely to find out the actual construction method.

Brick buildings with cavity walls have been around since before the 1900s and are ever-present on our roads, especially in North Essex, where I have even seen cavity brick-built property dating from the late 1800s, and years ago owned one built in 1897. Some areas did not fully adopt cavity construction until the late 1950s, however. There are two layers of brick, or usually now an inner layer of block, technically called the “inner and outer leaf”, with a gap (the cavity) between them normally filled with insulation.

By contrast, timber-framed main inner units are factory made and erected on-site and then surrounded by a brick skin (or equivalent) to finish off the exterior. Insulation and a damp-resisting membrane is incorporated in the factory. They are typically faster to put up, saving costly working time, however they aren’t necessarily going to last the distance. The “planned life” is commonly around 50 years, though in practice they may last longer.

The pros of a brick built building

Brick homes have been the backbone of the property industry for a long time and that means that our skilled tradesmen are experienced with putting up this kind of property. Although there can be delays when buying any new home under construction, there are a lot of knowledgeable professionals who can make buying and erecting a brick-built property easy.

It’s a great investment! Brick houses are meant to last at least 100 years – with the right maintenance and care. The durability of these properties is unmatched and as a result retain their value over time.

In the long run, brick-built houses can save you money on heating. Brick can retain heat for longer and essentially if your house is cool to begin with, it stays cooler for longer.

Brick homes are also generally low-maintenance. Bricks don’t rot and while drainage needs to be looked after, you can replace or repair loose bricks, as well easily clean them to keep your house looking in tip top condition.

The cons of a brick built building

As we all know too well, brick-built homes are time-consuming to put up and this can lead to higher building costs. You need to plan carefully with your time and expect delays which can range from weeks to months (and if you’re unfortunate, years!)

Bricks have a long lifespan, but the mortar they are built on is susceptible to damage from wind and rain. With the right maintenance, however, you can extend the life of your home and the mortar joints. However, if you need to “re-point” your house, or have the mortar joints redone, it may be an expensive and time-consuming operation to repair. Here, you need to gently scrape out and repack the mortar that is positioned in between each brick. Not a simple task! This will require a professional, which is where it may become pricey.

While you can in theory easily extend your home when it’s brick-built, there are things to consider such as planning permission, matching the brickwork’s colour, and all the electrics and plumbing need to be connected to the main house which is often much harder to do compared to a timber-framed building.

The pros of a timber-framed building

Building a timber-framed home can be quick and in in some instances be erected within a few short weeks. Although this is dependent on the size of the building.

Once considered to be a poor insulator, timber wall frames are now considered one of the best performing materials and are required to greatly reduce the noise passed from room to room.

Timber frames provide virtually the same level of fire protection as brick structures provided the proper fire safety measures are in place, contrary to the earlier belief that brick buildings were more fire-safe. This is because brick homes usually have solid wood interior room divider walls and flooring, much like a structure with a timber frame.

Heating a timber home can be more economical than a brick one as they are designed to be considerably more airtight and therefore its thermal properties are enhanced, if completed fully to the specifications. This doesn’t take into consideration heating the building though, you will still need central heating or air conditioning, and possibly in higher-grade homes there may be a heat recovery system fitted.

The cons of a timber-framed building

The cons to buying a timber-framed home are few and far between in principle, however they are pretty large-scale issues and are important to know.

For example, as the frame is generally factory produced it can take a while to obtain the necessary timber. This is because the costs of timber have sky rocketed which is causing supply delays – if you are looking to buy one, definitely factor in extra time for delivery. Dare we say that a lot of construction timber comes from Russia and Scandinavia?

Timber-frames also have a varying lifespan – some say they can be incredibly durable; however, others can last as little as 30 years. Think of the timber framed period houses that might be up to 600 years old – there’s quite a few about. This will be dependent on the materials that are used and most are guaranteed by the manufacturer for a period of time.

If you’re considering an older timber-framed property, especially if built around 1920 – 1930s, it can be harder (although not impossible) to get a mortgage as it is of non-traditional construction. You will find it best to find an experienced broker to shop around for the best mortgage for you, including specialist providers. You will find that the ages of the property and materials will be considered, and a detailed survey completed to determine the quality of the build.

Whichever property type you opt for, make sure you do your research first and understand the full extent of the pros and cons – there are more but these are the best (and worst!) that you need to be aware of when making your first step.

Les Long FRICS FISVA Principal, Eyesurvey

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