Q&A / 

Brick and Rock House

DEAR TIM: My husband and I are in a small skirmish about our new brick veneer home. I want it to be somewhat distinctive where you incorporate random pieces of rock in the brick. Among other claims, he says this will weaken the brick and cause leaks. Is this true? He’s also worried that it will cause our home to be worth less money when we go to resell it. Help we win the battle. Can you offer up any advice that will allow me to have the home I want and satisfy my husband at the same time? Have you seen houses like this and what would you do? Saraj C., Santa Rosa, CA

DEAR SARAJ: I really hate being put in the middle of these spouse wars, but then again I’ll always jump in to help a damsel in distress! The good news is I feel you’ll be able to have the house you want and we’ll calm down your husband at the same time. I feel what he needs is some inspirational help to get him over a few of his mental barriers.

Let’s answer the structural concern first. First and foremost, the brick on your new home is not structural in nature. It’s just an outer skin that has nothing to do with holding up the roof. The brick rest on the poured concrete foundation and they’re supposed to be connected to the wood-frame walls using heavy-duty galvanized corrugated pieces of metal that are securely fastened to the wood wall studs. This is done so the brick doesn’t tip over and fall to the ground.

Here’s a very unique and tasteful use of brick and rock on the exterior of a house. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

Here’s a very unique and tasteful use of brick and rock on the exterior of a house. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

The pieces of stone or rock will not weaken the brick. In fact, depending on the type of rock you choose to use, the actual pieces of rock may be stronger than the brick. Granite is a good example of this. Pieces of granite may have far greater compressive and tensile strength than the brick you’re using.

Incorporating the rock or stone will not cause leaks. Water seeps through the mortar joints in between each brick and runs down the back of the brick veneer. Your builder needs to know how to keep this water from contacting the wood framing and redirect this water back to the outside of the wall.

I was lucky and grew up in a distinctive older suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio called Clifton. The northern parts of this suburb had a few houses that several houses where brick and stone were blended together in a random pattern. The look was stunning. As a young boy riding his bicycle up and down the sidewalks of this area, these houses would catch my eye because they were so distinctive.

I’ll never forget my first time walking past the majestic Tribune Tower in downtown Chicago. This stately skyscraper has 149 pieces of rock, brick and stone embedded in the oolitic limestone that was used to build the structure. These pieces of stone come from all over the world, some from very historic sites such as the Great Wall of China, the Alamo, the Berlin Wall and many others.

Imagine what you could do! You live in one of the most geologically diverse states in the United States. You could have a boatload of fun going out and collecting different rocks from around the state of California and using these to mimic what was done at the Tribune Tower, albeit on a smaller scale.

Mixing different colors and rock textures could create a gorgeous look. What’s more, collecting the rocks would make for great trips and memories. Being a college-trained geologist myself, I think this could be a great way to do something that helps you discover more about all the wonders that surround you.

As for hurting the value of your home, I may have to concede a point to your husband. Not all people would like the look you’re going for. A seasoned realtor or appraiser would no doubt tell you the same.

But there’s a way around this and it’s very easy to do. All you need to do is order a few hundred extra brick that are being used to build your home. These would be easy to store in your garage or in your yard. You’ll also want to save about twenty or more five-gallon buckets of the exact sand that’s used by the bricklayers building your home.

Saving the sand could be a little more problematic, but there has to be a way you can do this. Having the brick and sand on hand will allow you to tell a future buyer they can remove the pieces of stone and install the matching brick in their place should they have the desire. To ensure the patches look perfect, you need to use the exact same sand as was used when the brick were first installed.

Be sure to save at least one of the empty bags of mortar so a future mason knows what to buy. I always coach people to save things like this down by the electrical circuit panel. Put the bag in a resealable plastic bag and mark on the outside of the bag what it is and also put in big letters: DO NOT DISCARD. Tape this bag above the electrical panel for a future homeowner.

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