For architects and engineers specializing in sustainable construction practices, an exterior façade of conventional solid brick is often a preferred aesthetic. However, concerns over constantly evolving design-build issues, budgetary limitations, and time constraints can often lead designers into another direction. Thanks to remarkable advancements in the precast concrete industry, thin brick veneer is now an affordable and attractive alternative.
Even the design options are nearly unlimited. Precasters can manufacture thin brick panels with those ornately rounded window headers and soldier-brick patterns that architects tend to admire so much. If a design can be achieved with conventional solid brick, then it can likely be achieved in thin brick veneer, as well. In fact, thin brick is often a better solution over conventional brick for use in those hard-to-reach places where masons struggle to provide perfect craftsmanship.
Benefits and advantage of thin brick precast veneer
Conventional solid brick and thin brick precast veneer both use the same “real” bricks. Precast fabricators simply construct the individual panels by placing the thinner brick slices over a thick bed of sturdy concrete which provides the façade’s structural support system. Both design options require an approximate 1” air space and a layer of sheathing between the facade and the interior wall framing.
The most significant difference between the two options is that with conventional brick, the brick is holding up the structure. With thin brick veneer, the structure is holding up the brick.
Thin brick panels have built-in structural steel components that the precasters use to attach to the building’s exterior structural frame. Instead of bricklayers and masons, they use welders. And much like conventional brick, thin brick precasters even provide lifetime warranties on their products and services, in many cases.
The thin brick panels can even be revised quickly post-casting, if needed. If a last-minute design
change occurs after the panel is cast and erected, the precasters can make the necessary adaptations by simply slicing through the veneer with a chainsaw. There are, of course, some limitations, and the work must be performed by the precaster so as not to invalidate the warranty.
Other benefits include:
- Thin brick veneer’s additional layer of precast concrete backing provides increased water resistance.
- Most thin brick also requires small weep holes near the bottom portions of the panels, which also enhances water resistance.
- The choices of brick styles and colors are just as varied as those of conventional brick. In many cases, the selections are even greater simply because conventional brick deliveries are usually dependent on the proximity of regional providers.
- Thin brick precast [panels are even available in “natural thin stone” varieties.
- Thin brick is lighter, which means that delivery is cheaper and faster for the precaster. Architects benefit, too. If a last-minute change occurs and more brick is needed, purchasing another order of conventional brick from a regional provider does not necessarily guarantee that the brick colors and textures will perfectly match.
There are certain limitations on the casting of thin brick veneer panels. All panels must fit onto the back of a flatbed truck, which means that individual panels cannot typically exceed about 12-feet wide or 32-feet tall. The construction site and crew must also be ready to receive approximately twelve or more deliveries of thin brick precast panels per day. For an eco-friendly alternative to conventional solid brick, precast thin brick veneer is a cost-effective solution, especially for projects where the building design is in a constant state of flux.