Cost-Effective Ways to Build with Masonry - Pro Masonry Guide
Cost-Effective Ways to Build with Masonry

Cost-Effective Ways to Build with Masonry

Many builders consider brick to be too expensive as an exterior cladding, but this misconception couldn’t be further from the truth. Find here cost-effective ways to build with masonry.

By Jim Bryja

When considering exterior cladding options for a project, too many builders automatically discount brick. It’s a common misconception that construction of a brick wall costs more than building with non-masonry materials. The assumption that brick is specified only for higher end projects, bringing with it a price tag that consumes an overwhelming percentage of the construction budget, is simply not true.

Shown are commercial modular-sized brick on a project.

Shown are commercial modular-sized brick on a project.

Today, a veritable buffet of masonry products is offered to the construction industry. When trying to understand how all of these products are sold, it can be challenging to perceive the actual costs. One reason is that practically every single component that goes into a brick wall is sold on a different basis. For example, brick is sold in lots of one thousand; brick mortar is sold by the bag; masonry ties are sold by the box; sand is sold by the ton; and house wrap and flashing are sold by the roll. To add to this muddle, masonry labor is charged by the hour, by the day, by the thousand, or by the project. With all this confusion, it’s no wonder builders struggle to comprehend how the cost of masonry actually stacks up to other cladding materials.

Project managers, particularly for commercial project specifications, often log the brick cost allowance in cost-per-thousand-unit terms, which actually is meaningless for monitoring costs. Nearly all other building materials, including other types of cladding materials, are priced and sold by the square foot. When all masonry building components are priced by the square foot, the cost for masonry becomes competitive with non-masonry options.



Shown is a bond pattern.

Shown is a bond pattern.

Size is everything

Brick size is another important factor when considering cost-effective ways to  build with masonry. The installed wall cost for a king-sized brick, for example, can be up to 25 percent less than the installed cost for a modular-sized brick. For the most part, larger units are usually more cost-efficient to install. This concept has long been accepted within the commercial construction sector, where utility-sized bricks are commonly perceived as extremely cost-effective units to install. Larger-size units require fewer individual bricks to lay, fewer joints to tool, and fewer movements by the mason per square foot.

When changing from one brick size to another, questions are raised. How does a different size affect the bond pattern? How will corners turn? Will the masons agree to lay the new size? Will the size of the lintel need to change?


One solution is queen-sized brick, which provides an excellent example of how brick size can offer considerable cost savings. A square foot of wall requires only 5.76 queen-sized bricks versus 6.86 modular-sized bricks. And larger faced queen-sized brick requires less mortar, resulting in reduced installation time. The average queen-sized brick weighs about 1/4 pound less than a modular size, which can significantly reduce shipping costs. From an aesthetics standpoint, the larger face area of a queen-sized brick offers a premium oversized look. One of the cost-effective ways to build with masonry is to switch from modular size to queen size, an overall budget can be reduced by at least 15 percent.


As a result of these cost savings, builder demand for queen-sized brick has greatly increased. In addition, the reduced bed depth of a queen-sized unit means the unit does not turn a corner on 1/2 running bond, but this is no cause for concern about the installation.

The most common and accepted method for installing queen-sized brick is “clipping” the corner units (alternating corner units to be cut short by about 3/4 inch) and laying the brick on a 1/2 or standard running bond. “Squeezing” the corners is another option, which involves gradually pulling the brick into a 1/2 bond position by varying the mortar joint thickness. Whereas both options garner good reviews, the “clipped” corner method is the preferred choice.

To deal with the reduced bed depth (2 3/4-inch versus 3 1/2-inch) with respect to air space, lintel size, and framing pocket in residential construction, air space should be maintained at 1 inch. This sets the brick back 3/4 inch from a modular-sized framing pocket. The residential building code calls for a “nominal” 1-inch air space.

This offers a drainage area, allowing water to escape the building envelope. The structural capacity of typical corrugated brick ties is based on an air space of no more than 1 inch. This space should be set as both a minimum and a maximum, and should not be changed. Keep the 1-inch air space and use the corbelling provisions in the code to move the wall out ¾ inch over the top two to three courses to maintain the pocket.

Queen-sized brick courses out differently than modular-size brick when using soldiers. When using this size of brick, be sure to combine a brick cut to 4 1/2 inches together with a rowlock course. With a bed depth of 2 3/4 inches for queen-sized brick versus 3 1/2 inches for modular-sized brick, a steel lintel with a shorter horizontal leg ideally should be used. In addition, queen-sized bricks weigh 20 percent to 25 percent less than modular-sized bricks, so lighter gauge lintels can be used for even greater cost efficiencies.

King-sized brick can help achieve similar cost savings. All of the items related to substituting queen-sized brick for modular-sized brick are also similarly applicable when using king-sized units.

Shown is a bond pattern on Grand Oak Elementary in Huntersville, N.C.

Shown is a bond pattern on Grand Oak Elementary in Huntersville, N.C.

In summary, by pricing brick by the square foot and substituting queen- or king-sized brick for modular-sized brick, it’s easy to see that brick can be one of the cost-effective ways to  build with masonry for many projects that are often viewed as too pricey for incorporating masonry walls, particularly when you consider a building’s lifecycle value.

Jim Bryja is manager of engineering services for General Shale,

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