Using old bricks for construction projects, home decor, and garden features is a resourceful way you can keep them out of landfills and save some money at the same time.
Weathered old brick offers a unique aesthetic and gives your home a timeless style that cannot be replicated by using new bricks. Learn how to evaluate the integrity of your old bricks, so that you can best assess how to use them.
Old bricks that are still structurally sound can be used for architecture, but even bricks that are past their building prime can be used for decorative projects.
Evaluating the Condition of Old Bricks
People have produced all types of bricks for centuries, so there are a wide variety of old bricks in a range of ages and conditions. You must evaluate the condition of any old bricks that you come across to decide the type of project for which they are suitable.
The bar of structural integrity is the highest for bricks that you want to use in building projects. You can still repurpose old bricks not suitable for construction in various decor and design projects.
Examine the brick to look for any visible signs of brick deterioration. These include cracks, chips, spalling (flaking or peeling), or excessive wear. Look for any signs that the brick has eroded around the edges or deteriorated in size. Bricks that display any of these issues are not suitable for use for large structures but can still work for decorative purposes.
Some old bricks may have developed an aged or worn look due to surface discoloration, fading, or patina. These do not necessarily mean that they are not structurally sound but should be checked for any other signs of structural disintegration.
Check for Strength
Check the integral strength of an old brick by gently tapping it with a tool or your hand. Listen for any hollow sounds. A solid brick will produce a clear, solid sound, while a damaged brick will sound hollow or produce a dull thud.
Another way to test the strength of a brick is to drop it from a height of about 4.5 feet or 1.5 meters. A brick with adequate strength will not break from this height.
Test for Moisture Absorption
Bricks with good structural integrity should not absorb more than 20% of their body weight. To easily check for moisture absorption, place a few drops of water on the surface of a brick. A brick with good structural integrity will not absorb the water quickly. If a brick does absorb the water quickly, this may indicate high porosity or damage in the brick. Test further to determine how much moisture the brick will hold by weighing a dry brick. Soak it in water for 24 hours and then weigh the brick again to determine how much water has been absorbed.
Assess the Brick’s Weight
A modern standard brick weighs between 3.5-4.5lbs. Old bricks will vary in weight and size but most range between 3-4 lbs per brick. While this is not always true, you must consider the weight of any old bricks that you want to use. Old bricks that feel significantly lighter may be lacking in sufficient strength.
Check for Efflorescence
Efflorescence on the bricks indicates the presence of salt in the soil that was used to make the brick. This manifests in white patches on the surface of the brick. The salt in the brick gets dissolved when the brick comes into contact with water but can cause long-term deterioration in the brick.
Place several of the old bricks vertically in a tray with an inch of water. Let the water absorb and then add another inch of water and let it absorb. Allow the brick to dry and then look for white patches that develop on the brick’s surface. If the bricks have more than 50% of their surface area covered in white, it is not suitable for construction.
Uses for Old Bricks with Structural Integrity
Old bricks that have been tested for their strength and structural integrity can be used in construction projects, including restoration or renovation projects where you desire a historical aesthetic.
Historic Building Restoration
Using old bricks for historic building renovation and restoration will preserve the aesthetic character, authenticity, and historic value of the building. Matching salvaged brick with existing brickwork will ensure continuity and the original character.
Period Style Construction
In certain architectural styles, such as colonial or Victorian, old bricks are the best option for achieving an authentic style. You can source old bricks of a certain size, color, and texture to help you get as close to the exact look and feel of the period you want to replicate.
Feature Walls or Architectural Accents
Old bricks create stunning walls or architectural accents like arches, columns, and pillars. Depending on the structural support that these features provide, you will not always need to use old bricks that are structurally sound for these features. Yet it is always best to evaluate the condition of old bricks before you use them in features that you want to last for many years.
Other Creative Ideas With Bricks
These ideas for using old bricks don’t rely on their structural integrity but rather on the unique character of reclaimed bricks to add interest to these ideas.
Old Bricks for Walkways
Use old bricks to create a meandering path around your garden or a walkway up to your house. You can lay bricks to create striking patterns like herringbone or lay them end to end for a more conventional style. If you don’t have enough bricks for a complete path, line the edges of the path with brick or mix bricks with other materials like stone for an eclectic style pathway.
Line Garden Beds
Old bricks create an attractive and secure edge for garden beds. Stack bricks on top of each other for garden beds with some height, or just use single bricks lined up end to end. The bricks are not just useful in keeping mulch or soil in the right place, the terracotta coloring of the bricks helps to add vibrancy and texture to your garden area.
Create a Bookcase
Incorporate old bricks as supports or bases for bookcases or shelves. Old bricks can provide support to shelves while adding a dash of vintage charm to create a visually pleasing bookcase design.
Use Old Bricks for Outdoor Containers
Create outdoor containers using bricks or create a layered look with large pots. Depending on what you want to put in your planters, it may work best to use mortar to secure the seams of the planter. This will give you a more secure border to keep in soil and water.
To create a more interesting design for your standard clay pots, use bricks to give your pots different heights. This will give your pots a more custom and expensive look.
Use old bricks to create garden seating either just using bricks or incorporating wood pieces. A simple bench with brick footings and a wood seat is the easiest garden seating option. More decorative brick seating is possible using mortar but may require some expertise.
Create a unique and interesting kitchen backsplash using old bricks. The contrasting look of a modern kitchen with rustic old bricks creates a space with timeless character.
Use old bricks to line a fire pit area in your backyard. Use bricks and mortar to create the most secure fire pit, or you can create a more simple style by digging a hole and stacking bricks around the edge.
Use Single Bricks Inside Your Home
Single bricks are endlessly useful throughout your home. Use single bricks as paperweights, bookends, and doorstops. Incorporate some old bricks in shelf arrangements to provide some rustic color and texture. Lay bricks along the center of the table and use them to give candles and flowers different heights in table arrangements.