Concrete brick is about to make a resurgence in the residential market. With the import of a European manufacturing process that can create a lighter and more colorful product than units made previously, two concrete brick manufacturers are about to build on market share in a way that may soon affect the entire country. And the good news is that home buyers are wanting more.

Nancy Bandy, manager of interior design for Austin, Texas-based Ryland Homes, has seen the benefits of including concrete brick in her company's new home designs, from starter homes to the most expensive custom homes.

Bandy doesn't think that the home buyer really perceives a material difference between clay brick and concrete brick. Their real concern is with the type of warranty a manufacturer offers. Bandy reports that most area producers offer a 100-year warranty on their products. "So when the question comes up about service life, I say that the concrete brick will outlive the both of us," says Bandy.

In 1999 the Brick Manufacturers Institute reported shipment levels of just under 9 billion bricks, about a 30% increase from 6.1 billion in 1992. These numbers are for clay products only. Since home buyers supplied these figures, the figures probably include concrete brick use.

Tom Perry, the Brick Institute Association (BIA)'s vice president of marketing, agrees with Bandy's view that most new home buyers prefer the look of brick and want to avoid something that goes out of style. But more importantly, Perry says a home built with brick conveys a personal touch, but he feels that home buyers will continue to prefer clay brick for its traditional look. "When on the side of the structure, clay brick offers a random pattern that's not normally found with concrete brick," says Perry.

Bandy's experience in the Texas market suggests an increasing percentage of new home buyers has been selecting light-colored concrete bricks and tumbled concrete bricks. "From my perspective, concrete has the advantage," says Bandy.

Lamar Hutcherson, vice president of production for U.S. Brick Hanson, oversees the operation of several clay brick extruding operations and two concrete brick production plants. The newest plant, in Garden Ridge, Texas, was designed with a twofold purpose. First, it will increase some of the production capacity for U.S. Brick's increasingly popular "Rock Series" brick, which is already produced at the existing plant adjacent to the new production facility. The new equipment also will allow U.S. Brick to compete in the traditionally cored brick market.

This new process is likely to dramatically change the shape of the brick market in Texas.

Although Hutcherson is proud of his quality control efforts in making a high-quality clay brick, he recognizes that greater cored concrete brick production capacity will offer concrete's greater design flexibility with the coloring and textures that new home buyers want.

One key advantage of the cored concrete brick design is that the bricks weigh about 10% less than solid concrete brick units, reducing shipping costs, increasing the potential for market penetration, and helping to justify capital projects.

Bouncer Schiro recently led a dramatic turnabout by his family's 27-year-old cultured stone manufacturing business and building a state-of-the-art concrete-brick-and-paver manufacturing plant. Now his family's new company, Western Brick, located in Rosenberg, Texas, just outside Houston, has twice the sales volume as before but only six people. Schiro already is producing at a rate that will barely keep up with current brick sales.

After being in on the reseller's side of the brick and paver business, Schiro got involved in direct sales also. As many resellers are learning, it's not uncommon for large clay brick companies to decide to direct-sell their products in selected market areas.

Even though he's now on the manufacturing side, Schiro can't forget his family's experience of running one of the Houston area's largest brick retailing yards. "We are going to continue to sell a lot of clay brick, but now I think I can create a unit that will meet our unique market needs," he says.

Schiro has found that, for whatever reason, masons prefer the shape and style of a cored brick. With his new cored product, introduced to the Houston market in November 2000, Schiro has breached the tradition problem. "With concrete's flexibility in mix and color design, we're about to build our new tradition," says Schiro.