Retaining Walls – Besser Blocks

If  you want a rendered surface on your retaining wall one of the best ways of achieving this is by using ‘Besser Blocks’.

These are hollow concrete blocks which are designed to incorporate steel reinforcement within the block.

A few  issues when building these walls are:

  • Don’t skimp on the foundation. Even a 600mm high wall will need a concrete foundation 600mm wide by 250mm deep.
  • Make sure that the cement grout is well packed around the steel reinforcement.
  • Buy some of the yellow safety caps you see here to put over  the reinforcement bars and ‘Keep Yourself Safe.
  • Don’t backfill behind the wall for at least a week

As well as free standing retaining walls Besser Blocks are also used as basement walls and to provide structural strength for external walls when building against a slope.

This photograph shows a typical example where the Besser Block wall will provide the external wall of a garage. ( You can also see the builders plastic which will form part of the ‘tanking’ to keep damp from passing through the wall)


See Retaining Walls for other  solutions to slopes

Brick ‘Bulldust’

I hear a lot of people agonise over the choice of bricks for their new house.

That’s probably because they are:

  1. Looking Too Closely. At the builders display centre you may be handed individual bricks or see a board with about 8 bricks on it. When you have been in the house a month you probably won’t notice the individual bricks. You only see the overall effect.
  2. Taken In By The ‘Hype’. Brochures use words like Premium, Valued, Crafted and other ‘Bulldust’. (see ‘Brochure Bulldust’ below)


Brochure Bulldust

These premium bricks are derived from the uniquely textured and blended heritage of the original “hand made” English bricks. It is these timeless characteristics that have been applied by highly skilled craftsmen to a range of clay colours.

The palette now includes subtle grey blends, warm, earthy reds & tans, bold coffee browns and deep black tones.

This premium range of genuine clay bricks are unique and highly valued by building professionals. The range is a statement of luxury befitting premium homes, residential developments and commercial applications.


In the old days when all work was done by hand it wasn’t practical to mix clay to get a consistent colour, so you got what came from the raw clay.

These  bricks are machine made with a mix of clay colours, but we think we can charge a lot more for them.



When choosing bricks go to a Brick Suppliers Display Centre and only look at bricks panels from at least 3m away. It much easier to see if a cheaper brick gives the effect you want.


‘Premium Bricks’ will add thousands when ‘Choosing a House’

See Bricks for more posts


Brick – Fail

The other day I saw this garden wall .

It looks like mowing the lawn could be dangerous!

I certainly wouldn’t like to catch my ankle on that sharp piece of brick.

A few years ago a kiln fused brick like this would be called a reject and sent to the tip.

Now its a premium product, which some people are paying top dollar for to get that “Rustic” Look.

For more fails and unusual houses go to What the………………….?

Brickwork – Mortar Joints

During your Selection or Pre-Start meeting It isn’t just Picking a Brick. You also have to pick a mortar colour and a type of mortar joint.

Mortar Colour

If you have been to a Brick Display Centre check what colour mortar they use in the test wall of the brick you like. This will probably be the best colour for your house.

Joint Types

Below are the more common types of brick joints:

  • The ‘Ironed’ or ‘Rounded’ joint is quite common and helps to keep the water out of the brickwork
  • The ‘Weather’ joint, which is not so common in Australia, also helps to keep the wall dry.
  • The ‘Raked’ joint does give an interesting texture to the wall, but is the least moisture resistant joint. Best choice for beveled edge, or tumbled, bricks. It is unsuitable for bricks that only have a surface coating on the sides as the body colour will be exposed at the joints.   Because the mortar is almost always in shade it will look darker than you expect.
  • A flush joint is reasonable weather resistant but can look uneven. It is unsuitable for rustic or rounded edged bricks. Another issue is it is more likely to result in staining of the brick face.

My E book Guide to Selection/Pre-Start includes lots more information and checklists to help you choose the details that will make your new house a home.


Choosing Bricks

If you want brick you really need to go and visit one of the brick manufacturers display centres where they have display walls built with the various bricks.

Make sure you look at the bricks in the builders standard range first. If you are happy with a brick from this range you will save thousands of dollars compared with the ‘premium’ brick.

Looking at a couple of square metres of wall gives you a much better idea than looking at a couple of bricks in the builders office.

Seeing a larger panel may also stop you going for one of the short term trends such as brightly coloured bricks.

When you are at the brick manufacturers check what colour mortar they use in the test wall as this will probably be the best colour for your house.


More about selecting finishes including 28 pages of Check Lists in the‘Selection / Pre-Start Guide’


Brickwork Fail 2

This brick wall is on a house opposite my bedroom window.

To me its wrong on so many levels!

  1. Bricks are meant to be laid with a bond rather than stacked like this as it makes a stronger job.
  2. To be able to get away with this effect you need accurate, even brickwork as stacking really shows every mistake.
  3. The actual bricklaying is poor with uneven joints and inaccurate bricklaying.
  4. The pointing of the brickwork is poor.
  5. There is excessive mortar staining of the brick.

Can you believe this is on the side of a new house, currently for sale, in this state!

Planning some building work in the garden? see Brick Fences

For more Unusual Houses and Fails see What the………………….?


Why Double Brick

Double Brick is the most common method of construction in WA.

Construction consists of two panels (sometimes called leaves) of masonry with a cavity between them. The panels are connected by steel ties at regular intervals.

A better description would be Structural Masonry, Cavity Construction. which also includes using limestone, rendered brick and concrete block for the external face, and brick or concrete block for the internal leaf. (The photo shows a brick external leaf connected to a concrete block inner leaf by a wire tie)

The purpose of the cavity between the outside leaf of brick and the inside leaf is so that moisture doesn’t penetrate into the home. In more sustainable homes this cavity is partially or fully filled with insulation.

Internal walls are usually a single brick thickness and generally use a 2nds brick or concrete block that is plastered or lined using a lining board.


  • It is extremely durable requiring very little maintenance.
  • The mass of the brickwork can help moderate the internal temperature of the dwelling
  • You can place a heavy fixing anywhere on the walls.


  • More expensive than Brick Veneer.
  • Not as well insulated.
  • The house will take a long time to warm up in winter or cool down once it does get hot.
  • Likely to crack if subjected to ground movement.


Also see:  Brick Veneer.

See this link for more posts:  Bricks


Leftover Bricks

Usually builders over order bricks. This is to ensure that all the bricks come from the same batch and there is no problem colour matching. (Each batch of bricks manufactured should be consistent within the batch, but will vary from batch to batch).

Some of the extra bricks may be used by the brickies cutting bricks, but there is usually lots of intact bricks left over that you could use for:

  • Path edging;
  • Brick planter boxes; or
  • Building a barby.

So whats the situation when it comes to getting those bricks?……………

Well for most house contracts you are paying for the completed walls not the actual bricks so the bricks are really owned by the builder.

In practice if there are complete packs/pallets of bricks the builder will probably want to take them off site for reuse. The reuse is typically for houses or fences that are going to be rendered.

For packs that have been opened its normally ‘too hard’ for the builder to load the bricks by hand so they go off to the tip during the clearance.

If you want the bricks the best thing to do is speak to the Site Supervisor. If you have a good relationship the SS may allow you to collect and stack the bricks somewhere on the site and make sure they are left there for you to use once you have moved in.

What did you use any leftover bricks for?


For similar posts see Garden


Brickwork – 45 Degree Corners

One of the things that really annoys me as I walk around is 45 degree bends in brick fences like this photo.

Bricks are meant to be laid so that they fully interlocked and this is a long way short of that.

I have even seen this type of corner on a house, where the joint will lead to penetration of water into the wall.

What this tells me is that someone:

  • Didn’t understand what can be done.
  • Planned the work poorly.
  • Tried to save money.
  • Employed dodgy bricklayers.

The photo on the left is what a proper 45 degree brick corner should look like.

It uses a special brick which is called a squint.

These brick are a special order, so they take time to be delivered, and they are more expensive……………….but they do make a much better job!

See Bricks for more posts on understanding brick work

 Planning some building work in the garden? see Brick Fences


Render or Brick?

Rendering is becoming fairly popular at the moment……………… However I think “Why pay more for a something that is only going to require painting in the future?”

As my old woodworking teacher once told me “There’s nothing wrong with being lazy as long as you are intelligently lazy. That means getting the job done but saving effort, both now and in the future.”

Rendering does have its place:

  • It gives a good finish if you are building using Hebel blocks or Foam Panels (See this link: Rendered Foam Walls), which you may prefer to use as they have a better thermal performance than bricks.
  • The render, particularly if painted a light colour, will improve the thermal performance of the walls.
  • You need to do it for some of the Home Builder techniques such as straw bale housing, or even if your DIY bricklaying is a bit rough.
  • Its handy if you are renovating a house and the previous builder has painted the bricks.

Apart from the exceptions above here’s why I don’t like render as a final finish:

  • Additional cost at time of construction.
  • Is it really hiding the use of leftover bricks from previous jobs and perhaps poor workmanship by the builder.
  • It can look fairly flat and bland in large areas like the house below:

  • Future time cost and effort in repainting.
  • If you get building movement it really shows up, with a crack across a flat plain wall. It’s then very hard to satisfactorily repair and hide the crack.
  • Render really shows dirt, spiders webs,and water stains.

Bricks are making a comeback as people who have rendered 10 years ago now find that the additional cost was only the start.

Having a house painted every 10-15 years is an expense that basically starts at $10K. Personally I’d prefer a holiday to Europe.

Render costs approximately $15K on a 30Sq home, plus painting, plus more for maintenance……Brick veneer requires a wash, at the most, with a low pressure hose.

Some people say the modern Acrylic renders are better than the cement renders but I remain to be convinced.

What do you think?.


Whichever you choose the most appropriate Brick Dimensions will make the walls easier to build.

More about selecting finishes including 24 pages of Check Lists in the ‘Selection / Pre-Start Guide’