When incorporating masonry into architecture, you’ll find two options: stone and brick, each of which boasts their own benefits (along with some trade-offs).
Stone is considerably more durable than brick and will hold its color for much longer than bricks will. Brick generally lasts about 1 century, while stone generally lasts for several (or more.) Note – manufactured stone will not last as long as natural stone, and it will hold a life closer to that of brick.
Hot and cold: Stone will keep you cool, which makes it ideal for warm climates, while brick holds heat, which makes it ideal for cold climates.
Moisture: Bricks are more absorbent in nature (they’re hygroscopic), so brick masonry is not ideal in scenarios prone to wetness, whether it’s the weather, sewage, or waste. They’ll absorb liquid from whatever atmosphere they’re in, and once moisture evaporates, white and gray spots may be left behind, which can spoil the appearance. Stones are less absorbent, and therefore more suitable in these scenarios.
Cleaning: because bricks are more porous, they’re harder to clean and more susceptible to mold growth, whereas stone is smoother, easier to clean, and less susceptible to mold growth.
Bricks are (usually) made up of clay that is pressed into perfectly shaped molds, creating a completely uniform, classic look. They stack easily on top of each other and connected with mortar to form perfectly solid walls. Because of this, brick has much less flexibility regarding shape differences and color variety.
Stone tends to be less uniform in shape and size and boasts considerably more variety than bricks offer. Whether quarried or manufactured, stone offers more options for size, shape, and color than brick – however, if you’re looking for a completely uniform look, brick will evoke the uniformity better than stone will. If you are looking to create a more modern, creative, or artistic aesthetic, stone opens a world of possibilities.
2 types of stone masonry: rubble masonry & ashlar masonry
When you’re looking into stone masonry, you’ll find two main groups which each provide unique looks in the design process. Rubble masonry uses undressed stones – meaning they haven’t been cut or polished, and their sizing and shape are not uniform. Ashlar masonry, on the other hand, requires “dressing” the stone – treating it, smoothing it, and shaping and sizing it so that it’s generally uniform (much like forming a brick) – this form of stone masonry is more expensive than both rubble stone masonry and clay masonry, as it requires skilled labor that takes extensively more time than standard brick shaping (or stone cutting).
Clay is composed of materials that are more readily abundant – clay and shale – and thus are less taxing on the environment in which they’re sourced, whereas natural stone is quarried – meaning it literally chisels away at the earth. However, it’s also possible to repurpose old stone, which is an eco-friendly alternative to quarrying virgin stone. Manufactured stone is an alternative, which uses concrete and marble materials shaped into natural-looking stones.
Installation & Construction
Brick is generally much cheaper because the materials and time that go into making it are low-cost, while the construction cost will vary depending on size and thickness of brick, and the amount of mortar required to construct it. As a general rule, construction cost with brick is cheaper because it requires less skill than laying stones that are of uneven and unequal shapes.
Stone masonry projects usually take longer to complete due to uneven shaping and cuts and may be less or more expensive than brick to build depending on stone sizes and amount of mortar used. If you’re using ashlar (dressed) stone, the cost will be considerably higher than any other option. An alternative to a stone look with a lower cost is manufactured stone or stone siding, which is only about 1-3” thick and provides the same aesthetic as stone, without the environmental footprint, hard hit to the wallet, or extensive labor.
The choice between stone and brick really boils down to what you, as the homeowner or architect, prefer. Though climate may play a role in the decision (if you live in a damp climate, stone may be a better option, or if you live in a very cold climate, brick may be the winter), but the reality is – it’s your home, so choose what will make you happy to come back to it every day!