Internachi certified professional inspector
We are all familiar with the story of the Three Little Pigs: the big bad wolf destroyed the straw and stick houses with ease but could not blow down the brick house no matter how much he huffed and puffed. In short, brick is a solid construction material commonly used in chimneys due to its heavy fire resistance although it is not without its drawbacks.
The structure of most modern brick houses is not actually made of brick. Yes, the outer walls are constructed with real bricks and are built by masons, but they are mainly for decorative purposes and for protecting the actual walls of the home. A veneer wall and a solid wall might seem identical on the surface but in actuality they are quite different. The biggest difference is that with solid masonry, the brick walls are supporting the house while in veneer construction, it is the opposite: the house is holding up the brick wall!
Why then did veneer walls become the norm rather than solid brick? It’s easy to say $$$ but it is a little more complicated than that. As our understanding of building science has grown, we realize the importance of good insulation and what makes a good insulator (hint: something that traps air and is usually light) and brick definitely does not meet that definition. With veneer walls, we usually see a wood framed wall with insulation in the cavity.
How Does an Inspector Tell Them Apart?
While the obvious answer is that if brick is visible in the interior, it is a solid masonry wall but it is rarely that simple, as drywall finishes usually cover the exterior walls. There are three main differences as outlined below:
So….. Which Is Better?
Once again, the answer is “it depends”. Solid brick walls are …. drum roll please…. solid and strong while a veneer wall, while still strong provides plenty of space to add insulation. Some might point to the heavy fire resistance as a big plus to brick but that isn’t really a major consideration: most fires start on the inside of the home and any major fire will likely result in a total loss to the home. As with nearly every feature in a home, each has its advantages and disadvantages with much of the decision coming down to personal preference.