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Antique Bricks on the Home
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

While crews demolish homes in Highland Park, University Park, and Preston Hollow, contractors try to salvage reusable material, particularly brick. Brick made before 1960 is referred to as antique, and brick from a ten-year house is reclaimed, according to Brett Packer, third generation owner of Packer Brick Company.

?When they?re knocking down these houses, they?re saving maybe half the brick at the most because some of the brick will break and, at times, half bricks are used in the wall,? said Packer. Then comes cleaning the brick, a process of manually knocking off old mortar; but sometimes the brick breaks before the mortar does. Hence, most houses don?t contain enough salvageable brick to cover a new home much less today?s larger structures. As a result, bricks from several houses are required. In some cases, the brick is second-generation brick?off houses built out of antique brick sold in the 1950?s by Packer?s grandfather.

So the story goes for brick, a man-made material outlasting granite, limestone, and iron and as old as civilization, itself?so good an investment is brick that investor, Warren Buffett, added Acme brick to his portfolio, in part, because the brick on his home maintained its beauty and color for 30 years without him ever touching it. But not all brick of clay or shale, and water behaves the same way.

?The difference is primarily in the firing process,? said Glen Duncan with Southwest Brick Institute. Properly made bricks go through a kiln, where they are heated to approximately 2000-degree temperature and held that way for many hours before becoming a ceramic material. Too low a temperature or too little baking results in the material staying (what is called) adobe, which means the mixture never changed its chemical structure. Such brick tends to wash out of the wall or be too soft, lacking the strength of properly made brick.

Key to getting strong brick is meeting national ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) standards in absorption, strength, and elasticity. Many U.S. companies exceed these standards and offer homeowners whopping 100-year plus warranties on new brick.

?The problem is when you?re importing brick, as far as from Mexico (and that?s generally the brick that they have the most problem with) you?re not assured the quality every time,? Parker said.

?Some of the Mexican brick are now as good as American brick,? Duncan said. ?I say some, not all. The real problem with Mexican brick is part of them are well made and part of them are ?old fashioned? made and still adobe. ?If I were buying Mexican brick, I would want somebody to certify to me that they were going to last for a certain period of time.? Also, Duncan does not recommend antique Mexican brick.

Antique brick made in the U.S. has a better reputation although it still doesn?t carry the warranty of new brick.

?A lot of antique brick comes from Chicago,? Duncan said. ? I wouldn?t say most, but a lot. Chicago was a big brick town after the big fire (the Great Fire of 1871). They had a mandatory masonry requirement? Later, when they would tear down those old neighborhoods, there would be millions of bricks in a block. ?They?re good bricks. And after being used, they?ve got a certain character to them. Of course, I have seen bricks come out of Chicago that are not good.?

Historically, brick was made to serve several purposes, one being fire protection?to break and keep fire from spreading through interior walls, according to Duncan.

?At the beginning of the century, brick was used structurally?the outside walls could be three or four bricks thick,? said Parker. ?The brick on the outside would be a matte face brick and the brick on the inside would be called a common brick, like the pink commons. These were not seen because they were considered plain terra cotta brick. Now it?s reversed. No on wants to use the matte face brick on their house. But they love the pink commons that were in the middle of the wall.?

?People looking for antique brick have a picture in their minds of what their house is to look like,? said Parker. ?And they are after a specific look that reflects their own personal tastes.? Some like the brick from Oklahoma?dark red brick. And because a bricklayer can lay brick with different techniques, for instance mortar on the face of the brick or a clean-face brick, each antique brick home looks unique.

Antique bricks were very popular in Dallas homebuilding during the 1970?s, according to Packer, who worked exclusively with antique bricks at that time. By the 1980?s, homeowners discovered the Chicago antique brick with tremendous zeal. Realizing that people liked the antique look, manufactures in the 1990?s created products with texture and dye colored facing that looked antique. As homes got larger, the supply of antique bricks shrunk and the price differential widened between antique and new bricks. Today, Packer Brick Co provides 70% simulated antique brick and 30 % antique brick going primarily on larger homes.

?I?ve seen an increase in demand (Chicago brick), say over the last two years?still nothing approaching the 80?s,? Parker said. Locally, the demolition of the old warehouses in the West End, which will make room for parking space near the new American Airlines Center, will add to the supply of Dallas antique brick.

Where brick comes out of old warehouses (maybe ones with meat packing or other unknown processing) some bricks are so saturated with salts or acids that they start to ooze a white coating once exposed to water, which can become a problem, according to Duncan. Other old bricks may show soot stains, charring, or paint, says Packer. Yet, these features, oft times, add uniqueness and appeal to the brick.

In fact, Gavin Historical Bricks ( is digging up ?clinker bricks,? thrown out with sand after each firing because the bricks were discolored and warped from being too close to the heat. These bricks were made around the early 1900?s as paver bricks?a brick subjected to hard firing in order to withstand water and moisture exposure in the ground. Today, these antique pavers not only make beautiful walkways and patios, homeowners are putting them on their homes because they make a beautiful and durable brick.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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