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By Frank Buck

Chalk it up to the fact that brick structures have existed for thousands of years; there is something comforting about a brick home. They are perceived as solid and sophisticated, evoking a sense of warmth and security. This may help explain why homes built with brick command a higher resale price than homes with other types of cladding?an average of six per cent higher, according to the Brick Industry Association (BIA).

We all grew up with the story of the three little pigs, understanding brick's strength from a young age. However, today's brick homes appeal to buyers as much for their aesthetic value as for their sense of stability. In a 2004 survey of Ontario and Quebec residents, 79 per cent of recent or future homebuyers agreed that the exterior of their home reflects their sense of personal style.

When I talk to people who are building a new brick home, I find most want to create an exterior that expresses who they are and sets them apart from the crowd. The versatility of brick is its greatest benefit. There is very little you can't do with it.

In recent years, the number of available brick styles has exploded into the thousands, as manufacturers are paying more attention to region specific home design trends. Brick is now used to achieve a range of architectural styles, from cottage and colonial to contemporary.

While red is the first colour that comes to mind, some of today's most popular brick colours are soft pastels and rich earth tones, including shades of yellow, brown, and grey. Colouring is achieved naturally during the manufacturing process and varies depending on the raw material used, the firing temperature of the clay, and the order in which the bricks are stacked in the kiln.

In the spirit of feng shui, brick is made by combining clay, fire, and water, and takes on the characteristics of the earth from which it is produced. Because brick production is regionalized, homebuyers who want a natural looking exterior will find many brick homes are a reflection of the landscape that surrounds them.

Bricks are also offered in an increasing number of textures. Currently there is a strong demand for brick that looks used or antique-ish, specifically among those who want an "old-world" feel for their home. Brick is now manufactured to mimic the handmade product of the past?tumbled, distressed, and weathered, featuring soft edges and various imperfections. Brick that simulates stone is also gaining in popularity, as it is easier to install and less expensive than actual stone.

With the large number of available colours, textures, and shapes, designing with brick is less science and more art. Having been in the building products industry for over 25 years, I've seen the cyclical nature of home design. When there is a strong market, like we have today, there is a resurgence of art, with more money spent on the details.

Brick allows builders and architects to embrace their creativity. Design applications are endless, including mixing more than one brick colour, using unusual coursing patterns, or adding non-rectangular bricks to form archways and designs over windows and doors. Unlike one-dimensional siding materials, the design possibilities with brick are much greater.

While brick is no longer just red, mortar is no longer just grey. Another new trend is the use of coloured mortar. Mortar, which accounts for 20 per cent of any brick project, has a significant impact on design. For example, matching a light coloured mortar with white brick creates a contemporary look, whereas dark brown mortar with a light coloured brick creates a rustic appearance.

For the practical homeowner, the appeal of brick goes beyond its beauty. Brick will not rot, corrode, warp, dent, or fade, even under the harshest weather conditions. In a recent study that simulated wind speeds between 160 and 225 kilometres per hour, brick offered significantly more protection from windblown debris than homes built with vinyl or fiber cement siding.

Furthermore, brick is pest resistant and highly fire resistant, leading some insurance companies to offer lower premiums to brick homeowners.

With minimal attention, brick homes will last for generations. They don't require painting or washing, unlike other siding materials. The most typical form of maintenance required for a brick home is tuck-pointing or repacking new mortar into the joints around the bricks. Over time, some mortar joints can soften and show signs of cracking. Mortar joints typically last 25 to 35 years, so tuck-pointing is rarely needed.

The high thermal mass of clay brick inhibits the transmission of outside temperature extremes to a home's interior, meaning brick homes are slow to absorb or lose heat. This helps them stay warmer in winter and cooler in summer, providing energy cost savings.

That brick has been around for ages, yet continues to be a popular cladding for new homes, is a testament to its performance. Today's brick homes can make a bold statement in the neighbourhood or blend in with their surroundings; it's up to the homeowner to decide the style that best fits their personality.

Frank Buck is Hanson Brick's regional vice-president Hanson Brick is the largest brick manufacturer in North America with a total capacity of more than 1.7 billion bricks from 25 plants in Canada and the United States.

What does your brick colour say about you?

These days, the fashion runway influences more than just clothing design. What the models wear on the catwalk translates into trends for home design. Like with the colours you wear, the colour of your home's exterior can also be a window into your personality.

Dark Red: You are high-energy and tend to make a good first impression. You prefer traditional and classic designs, and have an appreciation for history.

Pastels: You are nurturing and still believe in romance. You don't like to follow the crowd, but also don't want to be the centre of attention.

Greys: You are confident, with a strong sense of self. You care less about what people think and aren't afraid to take risks.

White: You are organized and subscribe to the idea that "less is more." You prefer more contemporary designs and keep a tidy home.

Earth Tones: You are easy going and mellow. You prefer nature-inspired interior and exterior designs that are in harmony with one another.

Read More Articles in Home Décor.