What is masonry? (Definition, types, pros and cons)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 17 April 2022

Masonry is a popular construction technique that people use around the world. You can use masonry to build a wide range of internal and external structures, from a single wall to an entire home. Masonry-constructed buildings are durable and reliable and often produce beautiful, aesthetically pleasing results. In this article, we define masonry, outline its pros and cons and explore different types of masonry construction.

What is masonry?

The answer to 'What is masonry?' is simply a construction method that uses individual units of building materials, such as brick, stone and concrete and binds them together using mortar. Mortar is a paste made from water, sand and cement that glues the masonry units together. It comes in a variety of types and strengths. Masonry buildings are strong, attractive and long-lasting. Many historic buildings constructed centuries ago using masonry techniques are still standing today.

You can use masonry methods in the construction of many buildings, including domestic homes, multi-storey apartment blocks and public buildings like universities, courthouses, schools and libraries. You could use masonry techniques to build a wall, pathway or patio in your garden. Masonry also has applications inside the home. For example, you can use it to create a 'feature' wall or an eye-catching fireplace. Many masonry jobs involve the use of heavy materials and special tools and equipment. For that reason, skilled and trained professionals usually carry out masonry work.

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Types of masonry

Understanding the difference between the two main types of masonry, which are veneer and solid, can help during construction projects. Here's a look at both:

Veneer masonry

Veneer masonry involves pasting materials, such as bricks or stones, to the outside of another structure. For example, you could paste a variety of thin pieces of brick onto an existing exterior wall to create a brick surface. This looks like solid masonry but is cheaper to construct. You usually use veneer masonry for aesthetic reasons. The underlying structure provides the base support.

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Solid masonry

Solid masonry is self-supporting and free-standing. You don't require any kind of supportive structure beneath it. If you build a wall entirely from stone or brick, it's an example of solid masonry. This kind of masonry is usually stronger and more durable than veneer masonry.

Pros of masonry

Using masonry to construct buildings and structures offers many advantages. These include:

  • Non-flammable: masonry materials are non-flammable, which can result in safer buildings that are more resistant to fire.

  • Resistant: the materials used in masonry are highly resistant to mould and rot and enjoy a longer lifespan.

  • Attractive: masonry offers many design possibilities, with many choices in colour and texture available, and it often results in grand, elegant and spectacular buildings.

  • Durable: masonry structures are strong, long-lasting and tough and can withstand hot sun, strong winds and freezing temperatures.

  • Energy-efficient: masonry materials, like brick and stone, increase the thermal mass of a building, so it's easier to regulate the temperature inside and it's more energy-efficient.

  • Quiet: the interior of masonry buildings is quiet and peaceful, as masonry materials are naturally thick and dense and can block and absorb noise.

  • Easier to sell: masonry homes are popular among buyers and masonry features can improve the resale value of a home.

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Cons of masonry

Masonry also has several disadvantages. These include:

  • Labour intensive: masonry is labour-intensive work, and it usually requires skilled professionals to carry it out.

  • Expensive: masonry can be more expensive than other types of construction, mainly because it's more labour intensive.

  • Heavy: the materials you use in masonry can be heavy and rigid and it's not always possible to transport them using regular vehicles and vans.

  • May crack: masonry materials can crack and chip and it may be necessary to repair them from time to time.

  • Requires stable foundations: if you build a masonry structure on unstable foundations or on a surface that can move, the masonry eventually cracks and requires repairs.

  • Weather-dependant: you can't do masonry activities if it's too wet or too cold, as rain and freezing conditions can affect the mortar.

Common masonry materials

The three most common materials used in masonry are bricks, stones and concrete blocks. The material you choose depends on several factors, including your own tastes and preferences, your budget and whether your masonry structure is indoors or outdoors. Let's examine each of these materials, including their pros and cons:

Brick

Brick is the most popular type of masonry material. Bricks are solid, look good and can last for years. You can use bricks to build walls, buildings, chimneys and many other masonry structures in both modern and traditional styles. Some key benefits of using bricks are that they're lighter, easier to handle and transport and cheaper than other masonry materials. Brick walls are thinner than stone or concrete walls, and it's easy to leave openings for doors and windows when you work with this material. As bricks are a uniform size and shape, they're relatively easy to lay.

Although bricks are strong, they're less durable than stone or concrete blocks. You can increase the strength of a brick structure by laying bricks in a staggered pattern that doesn't follow a straight line, known as a serpentine style. If it's necessary to replace one or two bricks in a structure, it's sometimes difficult to find an exact match, as bricks can contain different ingredients. Many people use bricks to create an internal feature in their home, such as fireplaces.

Stone

Stone is the most durable and weather-resistant masonry material. It's an excellent choice for public buildings that have a high number of people passing through them each day. Stone requires little maintenance and comes in a variety of colours, sizes and textures. There are two types of stone:

  • dressed stone is smooth and comes ready for installation and in the desired shape

  • undressed stone is rougher and looks more authentic and natural.

Stone walls are thick and heavy and can reduce the floor space in a room. Stonemasonry is particularly time-consuming. It's essential to instal it carefully using skilled stonemasons, as you can't alter or move it easily.

Concrete blocks

Concrete blocks are popular and versatile masonry materials. They're available in many sizes, finishes and colours and it's usually possible to manufacture individual blocks to meet specific project specifications. You lay concrete in a similar way to brick. As concrete blocks are larger, they're easier and quicker to assemble. You can use concrete blocks in all kinds of buildings, including homes, schools and commercial premises.

Large concrete blocks are heavy and can be difficult to move. They also make plumbing issues harder to solve. For example, if concrete covers a leaking pipe, it may be necessary to cut open the concrete to reach the pipe. This adds to the cost of the repair. Water can damage and corrode concrete over time, so it's important to have an effective drainage system in place if you use this material.

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Masonry repairs

While masonry structures are strong and durable, they eventually wear down and require repair. Some repairs are minor and easy to carry out. For example, you can fix small chips and cracks within existing masonry using caulk, which is a common filler used in the building trade. If the damage is more severe, it might be necessary to remove a section of masonry and replace it. A common problem is that the mortar holding the masonry units in place can start to crumble. When that happens, it's necessary to remove the old mortar and replace it.

Masonry restoration

Masonry restoration is a more complex process than a simple repair. It often involves older buildings where the masonry reveals damage and requires complete replacement. Masonry restoration is a job for skilled professionals who can ensure the new masonry materials match the original look of the building and are in keeping with its history. For example, if a Georgian building requires restoration, it's necessary to use a Georgian brick and complete the work in the same style used in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

Masonry restoration can involve cleaning, resealing or replacing the masonry or even rebuilding an entire structure. The amount of work involved depends on the age of the building, the extent of the damage and the strength of the original construction. For most masonry buildings, it's necessary to undertake restoration activities every few years to extend the lifespan of the building and keep it looking attractive.

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Masonry training

Masons usually begin their careers as apprentices. Most masonry work requires either skilled brick, stone or concrete masons. During an apprenticeship, you may focus on a specific skill set and spend a significant amount of time with an employer, where you receive on-the-job training from professional masons and gain real-world masonry experience and skills. You also receive formal classroom-based training. Most apprenticeships last for about four years. When you complete an apprenticeship programme, you're qualified to work as a professional mason.