The Self Build Self Help Site wall structure
Sub header photo of a block wall

In these pages we will look at both the load bearing structural element and then the internal wall finish. The local planning office design brief may determine the external appearance, if not then its down to your choice, perhaps guided by your architect or to be in keeping with any surrounding houses.

Previous pages have given information on timber frame versus traditional block/brick construction. The information below focuses on the external appearance which is independent of the build type.

Wall Structure

The first question is whether to have facing brick/stone or a rendered finish. Facing brick (or fair faced) is the term for a brick finish.

Another finish is stone - but this tends to be in the minority - but see the photos attached to this page. It's expensive to buy and to lay (it takes longer) but can look very good on the right type of house.

(Yes one can build walls of straw and other such materials (see our Alternative Materials page), and there are steel framed houses but these pages concentrate on the most usual builds) . A rendered finish will be applied to concrete or thermal blocks.

With regard to render the next decision is smooth or rough render. Smooth render will be painted or you can get render with a colour in it - this tends to be more expensive but obviously does not have to be painted. Other finishes include a scraped texture, roughcast (also referred to as "pebble dashing" or just "dashing") and "stucco" textured - your architect or plasterer will be able to advise on what is possible.

Some considerations as to the type of finish are:

Facing brick

This will be confined to the outer leaf of a cavity wall or a timber frame construction.


Large areas of render will tend to crack after time, although they should be hairline cracks i.e. not indicative of movement in the underlying block/brickwork. For this reason (and for a more pleasing appearance) splitting up large areas with bell beading is a good idea. The bell bead provides a "drip" which tends to run rain water directly to the ground.

An alternate option to bell bead is to embed stop bead - see the photos below.

photo showing bell bead

Bell bead demarcates the plinth and provides a
decorative joint above the ground floor windows

Photo showing stop bead

Stop bead, embedded in the render should prevent
cracking elsewhere

(Click on pictures for a larger view.)