Brick-faced precast concrete cladding gives a building the appearance of being traditionally built – but the use of factory methods offers advantages in terms of design, quality and speed.
Brick buildings are back in fashion – but not all of them are built using traditional brickwork construction. Increasingly, many use precast cladding panels – with the bricks fitted to the panel in the factory, which is then transported to site and installed on the building.
Once complete, you would be hard-pressed to tell the buildings were not built with traditional brick construction
Aside from the aesthetics, brick-faced precast cladding offers the usual advantages associated with offsite manufacturing, including high product quality, speed of installation and reduction in site labour.
Complicated designs, including perforation, soffits, corbelling or another patterning in the brickwork are much easier with pre-cast construction.
Architects realise that it gives them more scope to play around with the design, and allow them to create intricate brick detailing that would be near impossible to re create on site.
Architects can push the boundaries of what would typically be possible with traditional brickwork or construction methods. The aesthetic of brick construction has developed out of the way it has to be built. For example, you need a lintel because you have to span a window or a door, but you don’t need that with a pre cast panel. So an architect could decide to recreate the traditional appearance or do something completely different.
It is also possible to use a more expensive brick than the budget for a traditional brickwork project might have allowed for, because less brick material is being used due to the nature of the specialist brick cutting required for precast construction panels.
One point to note on Pre cast panels is the element of quality control, this is far superior due to the controlled factory environment than traditional build methods, and any issues in the detailing, brick colouration or pointing can be identified a lot earlier and rectified before they are delivered to site, instead of having to remediate any issues on site slowing down the building program with traditional bricks.
Generally, any type of brick can be used for this method of construction, and great results have been achieved with handmade bricks, pressed or machine moulded bricks, and wirecut brick types.
Typically, We would supply a 50mm-thick brick slip, with a positive key, for use in brick brick-faced cladding. We can also supply purpose made brick slips as thin as 14mm with a positive key. Generally, the most cost effective brick types for use are handmade and machine made stock bricks due to being able to produce two brick slips from one brick which has a huge cost saving over wirecut brick slip types
Joints between bricks on panels are pointed in the factory using conventional mortar, so are indistinguishable from traditional brickwork, but joints between panels are harder to disguise. The standards allow for a maximum of 20mm but the leading pre cast companies can reduce this down to 10mm to match traditional brick work.
On site, the installation benefits come into their own. With a lot of construction taking place in city centres and built up areas logistics can become a big factor, but with pre cast panels this is reduced massively down to not requiring scaffolding, onsite storage of the bricks, mortar silo, and forklifts. There is also a reduction in lost time due to adverse weather conditions which would be encountered on other building methods, there is also no reliance on brick layers which are in high demand at present.
The market for brick-faced cladding is becoming more widespread as architects and clients appreciate its long-term durability. Clay brick has always aged gracefully due to its durability whereas concrete facing panels and concrete bricks will eventually stain due to the effects of weather and pollution.
Eight key benefits of using brick-faced cladding Brick-faced cladding offers many advantages on a construction project;
Warranty Brick-faced cladding panels are fully warranted, with a design life guarantee of 50 years minimum and scope to increase this to 100 years.
Design, manufacture and installation follows the long-established BSI standards BS 7543 (Durability of buildings and building elements, products & components), BS EN 1990 (Basis of structural design), BS 8500 (Guidance for concrete specification) and BS8297 (Design and installation of non-loadbearing precast concrete cladding).
Fire safety The materials and designs used meet the requirements of the Building Regulations, NHBC and other insurance providers. Non-combustible insulation materials applied to the internal face of the panels in buildings over 18m also achieve full compliance. If necessary, firestops can be accessed following panel installation.
Reduced loading The dead loads of brick-faced panels can be up to 60% less than for traditional methods of construction. This offers the potential for using brick facades more widely on high-rise buildings. There is also no requirement for secondary steelwork, for example to support glazing, as precast panels are designed to accept these loads, as well as wind loads.
Time and cost certainty Construction programs can be up to 50% less when using brick-faced cladding instead of traditional brickwork. Without delays caused by shortage of bricklayers or weather, time and cost certainty are guaranteed.
Fewer site trades No external scaffolding is required, unlike for traditional brickwork. Door units, windows and insulation can be installed in the factory. For main contractors, far less supervision and management time is required.
Reduced waste With brick-faced cladding, there is no onsite storage required as panels are lifted off specially adapted delivery vehicles directly onto the building. There is no packaging to dispose of and little site waste, meaning no need for skips and associated hire costs.
Health and safety The working at height risks of traditional brickwork are eliminated. Panels are lifted into position by crane and finishing is carried out using MEWP or cradle access. Once the cladding is installed, the internal trades are protected from the weather. Noise levels are minimised, a benefit both for site workers and neighbours.
Quality The finishing of brick-faced cladding is of high quality as the panels are manufactured in a controlled factory environment. Mortar joints can be pointed in the mould, while panel to panel joints can be kept to a minimum of 10mm, creating the appearance of traditional brickwork on the finished building.
Q&A: Technical considerations when using brick-faced cladding
Are design principles the same as for conventional precast cladding?
Brick-faced cladding uses similar design principles to other forms of architectural precast, but panel sizes should align with brick dimensions. Offcuts should be avoided.
Detailing of reinforcement, thickness and specification of concrete will be determined by structural requirements and performance specification. Panels are typically around 200mm thick, incorporating facing brick which is usually around 50mm thick.
Can brick facing be used for other precast components like balconies?
Brick facing can be used for bespoke applications, including arches, columns, balconies, soffits as well as conventional wall panels.
Can windows be fitted into the panels?
As with all precast cladding, insulation, doors, windows and other facade features can be factory-fitted if required.
Are there any restrictions on the types of brick used?
Virtually any brick material can be used, but not all types are appropriate or can bond into concrete. A positive key at the back of the brick anchors it to the concrete. For brick slips, this profile of well-formed grooves is created when manufactured. For cut bricks the original perforations can provide the anchor once cut, otherwise a dovetailed slot can be cut into the back.
At window reveals, corners, corbelling and other three-dimensional details, bricks will require multiple finished faces, and specials may be required. Significant efficiencies can be made by using bricks with four usable faces.
How are bricks placed into the mould?
Bricks are placed facing-side down in the concrete mould, in the required bonding or pattern. Proprietary templates are used to hold the bricks in position, spaced apart by 10mm for the mortar joints. Non-standard patterns or sizes will require proprietary spacing templates. Three-dimensional elements may need additional means of supporting the bricks until the concrete has cured.
The reinforcement and any lifting eyes and fixing supports – typically located on hiding facings – are then put into position and the concrete placed into the mould.
Once it has reached its required strength, the formwork is struck and the panels turned over. The brickwork is cleaned and, where required, mortar joints pointed. Brick slips offer the time-efficient option of pre-filling the mortar joints before the concrete is poured.
Are there any special requirements for joints?
Joint widths between panels are typically larger than the 10mm mortar joints and are determined by the tolerances necessary for manufacture, natural shrinkage, thermal expansion and installation. They should not exceed 20mm.
The joints are filled with sealant after installation, specified to ensure the appropriate thermal expansion and avoid colour-staining. A “dusted seal”, where the joint is rubbed with mortar dust when newly applied, provides better visual consistency.
We would recommend visiting our brick slip range for a comprehensive selection of cut brick slips suitable for pre cast cladding.
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