Brick simulation is stacking up mainstream opportunities for today’s plastering contractors.

212 East Washington's exterior.
I’m sitting in a truck parked in front of a gray brick building with a glass atrium and a strip of EIFS around the top.

“It’s not what you think,” says Rob Peterson, president of Cubic Wall Systems, in Madison, Wis. “It’s not face brick. This building is entirely EIFS. It features a surface treatment we’ve developed called SystemBrick.”

Not only can one not see the difference, but when one touches the high-end wire-cut brick texture, the effect is complete. Peterson starts to fill in the details of how this applicator-driven innovation is lightweight, yet durable, and offers reduced structural requirements, more design flexibility, shorter lead times and less thermal bridging than face brick.

“We’ve done 30 jobs like this around the Midwest and have more than twice that lined up,” Peterson adds. “In fact, a large national corporation has recently specified SystemBrick for its next 70 new buildings including retrofitting some existing.”

Parex Inc. is taking these successes of Cubic (one of their leading Medallion Applicators) very seriously. The company is collaborating with Peterson to help other Medallion Applicators across the country learn from Cubic’s experiences. Parex’s Advanced Masonry Simulation is only available through its acclaimed Medallion Applicator Network.

Tom Robertson, the product manager of Parex states, “One of our first masonry simulation projects with Cubic—the Business Services Building of the Medical University of South Carolina—is nearly as fresh today as it was upon it’s completion 15 years ago.”

Simulation, in general, is not new to the building industry. After all, drywall evolved as a more affordable form of interior plaster (and had a profound effect on the plastering trade). Cultured stone, for fireplaces and chimneys, is another example. Historically, the masonry wall and its foundation were an extension of the earth. Masonry was a load-bearing, structural component and supported itself. A lintel provided space for a door, window or the space between columns.

Today, the masonry wall is generally not load bearing. Rather, face brick is a weighty outer layer that is tied to a building’s structure. Contrarily, simulated brick finishes are the outer surface of an EIFS installation or one-coat stucco, which is often a component of a lightweight structural steel wall assembly. That’s one reason the evolution of simulated masonry for exterior walls has made considerable leaps recently. Dryvit’s Custom Brick has been used on such notable projects as New York, New York, in Las Vegas, and on the Hershey Building in Hershey, Pa. Sto has concentrated on floor applications (from which the wall finish technology has learned some of its techniques), though its Faux Finish is also used on walls.

Because of existing structural limitations (mainly due to weight), retrofits like the one using Parex at 212 East Washington, in Madison, would not have been possible using conventional brick.

Jay Mullins, of the Mullins Group that owns the building, says, “For many, East Washington Avenue is the gateway to the Capitol. We wanted something that would not only embody the historic significance of this building but also reflect the revitalization of the entire downtown area.”

The building’s award-winning new appearance featuring simulated brick gives it almost landmark status. Architect Mark Derr says, “This look enhances a structure because there is a certain psychological connotation to materials like stone and brick that convey an earthy massiveness. That’s why they’re used for government buildings and Ivy League colleges.”

Equally important is what it does for the applicator doing the work.

“On a building that would normally be half traditional brick and half EIFS—and there are hundreds of thousands of them—we are now doubling the amount of wall surface and, because this is a premium finish, significantly increasing revenues,” Peterson explains. “Then you spread your otherwise existing staging costs over a greater area and things get favorable in a hurry.”

Cubic sees SystemBrick as opening doors to new and retrofit applications where owners want a more formal, distinguished look.

“Many designers and architects prefer the look of mixed materials. And custom coloring makes this a choice for retrofit and additions, as well where there are problems of finding traditional brick that matches what’s already there.”

Not your grandfather’s brick

There are five recent breakthroughs in this type of application: 1) Advanced techniques make the simulated brick indistinguishable in appearance and texture from face brick; 2) This finish is being specified for conventional commercial buildings (as opposed to theme design for only very specialized applications, like vacation resorts); 3) It has opened the door for applicators to the kind of jobs where EIFS would not have been considered in the past; 4) Design/builders and architects are embracing the new design flexibility and related savings it provides them; and 5) Owners and developers now have a means to create the prestigious look of more expensive Class A space, while giving both tenants and themselves a better return on their investment.

When done properly, a simulated brick finish calls for a special (trainable) artistry on the part of the applicator.

1. Self-adhering templates are aligned over an approved surface. A number of patterns are available from various manufacturers.

2. A variety of textural finish coatings are applied, essentially the same as in standard EIFS applications.

3. Randomly staining and texturing with two or more popular colors produce color variation.

4. Templates are then removed to reveal the amazingly authentic masonry-like appearance.

In terms of this finish being specified for conventional commercial buildings (as opposed to theme design for very specialized applications), Dryvit points to a Marriott Residence Inn, in Salt Lake City. The original design called for face brick, but both the budget and construction schedule prompted the use of Custom Brick instead. The owner, Woodbury Associates, described how Dryvit obtained samples of the local brick, which contains black and white flecks, and duplicated this effect by adding colored quartz aggregate to the Custom Brick finish.

According to Garrick Hunsaker, project manager for the applicator, Daw Inc., 24,000 square feet of Custom Brick was applied to the three-story portion of the Marriot. What started as a 21,000 square feet EIFS job grew to 45,000 square feet.

“We’re extremely pleased with the appearance of the Custom Brick,” state the owners of Woodbury Associates. Simulated brick finish saved them more than $200,000 by eliminating the heavier footings and framing needed for traditional brick. There were additional savings and benefits due to the “seamless” transition from the masonry look to EIFS, eliminating the often problematic sealant joints between dissimilar materials.

With current trends, Peterson says they would have to seek 30 regular EIFS bids (and very competitevly) at a 25-percent success rate to gain the equivalent returns of that available on one typical SystemBrick project, such as the one shown. For Cubic, the new fa?e treatment is a means of maintaining volume in a shrinking marketplace; a way to keep crews together, busy learning new skills and be able to obtain work closer to home.

“And this is only the beginning,” he says. “As the word continues to get around there will be significant growth. SystemBrick already represents 21 percent of our jobs.”

But the key for the interested applicator is: 1) Attending the specialized training that manufacturers offer. Because it is as much an applicators’ art as a manufactured product line, most manufacturers only warranty their simulated masonry products with approved, specially trained applicators. “This is not routine production work,” says Parex’s Tom Robertson, “but more like creating a piece of art.”

2) Producing sample panels that show what the techniques can really achieve. Cubic brought an entire mockup wall section (including simulated stone sill and lintels) to the Urban Design Committee approval for the Washington project.

3) Identifying the right first job. “Here your design/build client relationship is really critical,” Peterson states. “It is our experience that design/build firms are open to innovation and its immediate impact on a project with the added value of being able to communicate that to the respective owner. And there are successful projects that are more than a decade old now—offering sound piece of mind. Once you’ve got that first wall under your belt, the rest begins to happen naturally. It nearly sells itself from there on.”

He is quick to add, however, that initially this process requires an applicator’s serious commitment of time and resources.

Any size, shape, color or texture

Gary D. Freeman, AIA, CCS, project manager for Glick/Boehm & Associates Inc., of Charleston, S.C., comments about fa?e restoration pinpoints why there is a surge of interest in brick finishing techniques for new and existing buildings.

“Every building is individual. The combination of specific structural needs, occupancy requirements, budget limitations and ownership goals make each unique. Successful designs and strategies begin by taking such givens into account.”

Tom Roberstson, of Parex, adds, “The goal is to educate contractors and end-users about savings in structural costs and other engineering expenses plus the long-term benefits of an insulated cladding system that eventually pays for itself.”

The building Rob Peterson and I are standing in front of is the new Incubator Center of Technology, Education, Commerce Corridor directly adjoining the Madison Area Technical College. It has already gained statewide attention by being selected as winner of the Associated Builders Projects of Distinction Award.

“The building needed an upscale appearance for it to appeal to the kind of national businesses we wanted to attract,” explains John Lalor, executive dean of out services for M.A.T.C. “We also wanted something complementary to our college campus and that would set a standard for the recent new development taking place on the east side of Madison. The result couldn’t be more impressive. The brick appearance is the same as with conventional brick, and for us who are dedicated to innovation, there’s an extra bonus in that the prestigious brick exterior appearance is achieved through the creative use of evolutionary construction techniques. State government agencies, such as the Department of Commerce, who work a lot with business development, have said that this building is a real gem, and we appreciate how fast this project moved from conception to completion.”

Jeanne Whitish, of MGDC, LLC, Middleton, Wis., concurs, “From a developers point of view this simplifies construction. There is no need to form a ledge on the foundation slab, as you must with traditional brick. It also eliminates one additional contractor, which is important to budgets and timelines, plus giving you one source accountability. Prospective tenants have three priorities: location, price and the building’s appearance. This is a way to address all of these, while giving both the tenant and the owner a good return on costs. I see building completion times improving immensly.”

“There is no doubt simulated masonry will be meaningful to everyone in this industry in the near future,” Peterson adds, “but the immediate impact today is the volume of business it supplements and displaces. On a more personal level, however, the excitement this stirs up within our tradesmen is tremendous. I call it the ‘goose-bump’ factor.

“When an installer is on site and pulls the templates off and, what a minute before looked unremarkable, is instantly transformed into something very special. It elicits a ‘wow’ from anyone nearby. People stop in disbelief. You can feel the pride in craftsmanship and artistry that the installer experiences. Do you know what that does for a person? He is a hero on the job, to himself and to his family when he shows them the results. I tell you, for the installer, and the manufacturer who’s tuned into it, there is nothing more exciting in the industry today.”

Three frequently asked questions about simulated brick:

1. What are the advantages of EIFS with a simulated brick finish?

It has the look and feel of masonry without the weight, the labor, the cracks, the leaks and the efflorescence, and without the need for tuck pointing. With a good sample, architects, contractors and building owners can’t see or feel the difference.

2. Can it be done by anyone with good plastering skills?

Yes, with the proper training, experience, appreciation for detail and organization, plus a desire to be unique and the ability to say no to the wrong project.

3. Can it be used everywhere conventional face brick is used?

Yes, nearly everywhere and more. For example, on projects with poor soil conditions where weight is a factor and for popular design elements, such as raised planes and cantilevers, that can be costly or sometimes physically impossible with conventional brick. Where weight isn’t an issue, as a decorative surface treatment directly over precast or tilt-up.

Supplied by Parex Northern Field Service Manager Jerry Wolff