out of the ground & into the light

The humble brick is a pretty great thing – it can be lifted and laid with one hand, chopped with a trowel and support the weight of a house. Oh, and even better when they are a building resource that comes with your block of land.
Much of this build has been influenced by what materials were included in the sale and 5,000 bricks was a perk. Sitting on top of the concrete footings the brick foundation lifts and levels the building – there will be enough of a crawl space for services to run beneath and help elevate us to get the most of those views and light. Alternatives would be more concrete, steel or timber. With the bushfire rating the space beneath the subfloor also needs to be contained or protected from embers blowing under and igniting so using the bricks was a good a method as any.

As soon as the concrete was poured we asked around about bricklayers. It seems that there is pretty much only one guy in the valley – well, one worth recommending. Wes was friendly and relaxed and, as a surprise to us, free and keen to start in a couple of weeks!
We re-checked all our measurements and marked on the footings where the walls were to be built – luckily a 350mm wide footing allows for some movement in where the bricks are placed within it, but even so at some points it was pretty close to the edges of the footing. Well chalk that up to learning on the job and luckily there is still some tolerance at the this level. We also rechecked where the engaged piers will be positioned – these are piers tied into the foundation wall and along with the isolated piers, the ones that stick up within the perimeter of the building, support the timber bearers.
Making a quick template we also marked the curves out: two of the curves are built into the brickwork, the other is hidden with the decking so can be a simple corner. While at the lowest point the brickwork is only 5 bricks high and the overhang of the house means it won’t be seen much, if at all, we felt it was more about keeping honest with the curves, they are not just there for show but rather a considered design feature. The tightest one in the V of the Y shape is more noticeable… anyone down that side of the house will see a sweeping curve from top, to cladding and below will make it more noticeable.

So, for Wes to start laying bricks we needed to buy 25 x 20kg bags of cement, about 40 slimline bushfire approved vents, 60m damp course and 4 m3 of brickies “fat” sand. Fun fact, the “fat” in this sand is from clay, making for a sticky mortar. The cement, damp course and vents are easily available form the hardware and the local quarry delivered the sand.

Bricklayers are a strange breed – each day Wes, and sometimes a helper, rocked up in shorts regardless of the weather; frost, rain or sun! They set to work on our bedroom wing, the lowest point of the land so the highest of the brick wall, 24 bricks high making it just over 2m high. It was a surprise to see a great red wall appear in a day making us a little weary about the building ever ‘fitting in’ with the land. At this end of the building we also have a doorway put in, not for added storage like some are suggesting, but rather for easy access to pipes and cables in case anything ever went wrong, and with this height a door seemed like a better option than a small manhole.

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a couple of days work
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door to under the floor

Things ticked along for the next couple of weeks – Wes would show up sometime in the morning and leave sometime in the afternoon. With a flat rate per brick time isn’t as much of a worry for us, especially in winter when we aren’t planning on the next stage for a while, so we were happy for him to do his thing. Finally the winter rains seem to have started but these don’t seem to have hampered the bricklaying, with only one day forcing an early finish at midday, an a few later starts to let things dry out a bit from overnight rain it was business as usual – sloshing around in mud must be an occupational requisite.

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brick vents – a must for allowing air movement and breathing of the subfloor space, to discourage mould and rot.
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the tightest curve
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the southern side
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to be given a thin render the bricks didn’t need to be mixed for a more uniform colour, but simply picked up and laid – hence the colour difference from one pallet of bricks to another

And just like that it is all finished! The shape and size of the house is clearer giving us a greater sense of what goes were, views and general volume. The bedroom wing doesn’t look so out of place now with more of the structure around it, we hope we can soften it further. As we are planning to do a light render, referred to as ‘bagged’ finish, on the bricks in a darker grey we hope it will give the illusion of a shadow space beneath the timber cladding. This, black filling to below the damp course line (a plastic strip imbedded in the wall to prevent water from wicking up) and planting around the house will further reduce its current imposing appearance.

Next up… getting things ready for the floor framing. Drainage and a bit more earth moving needed and rain water tank location prepped. Oh and deciding what to do with the 1,000 odd left over bricks.

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Trying to keep a time lapse of the entire build…

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