Brick, Stucco, and Siding, Oh My!

Exterior finishes provide clues to the architectural style of your listings.

August 1, 2005

Some buyers have their heart set on charming red brick while others love the look of Spanish-style stucco. But a home's exterior is more than just appearance; it also can determine resale value and even energy efficiency.

Once you know what the outside finish of a house says about its architectural style, potential for appreciation, and history, you can do a better job guiding buyers to the home they're looking for.

A home's cladding could be elaborate or exceedingly simple, timeless or state of the art. There's no limit to the style or type of materials used in home construction. Brick, stone, wood, stucco, adobe, logs, and half-timbering have been staples since the settlement of the United States. Meanwhile, materials such as concrete, metal panels, and glass-and-steel surfaces are considered the hallmark of modern homes.

Dominant building materials and preferences vary by region, but wood and masonry (brick, stone, and concrete) tend to be the most common across the country.

What's Best for Resale?

The value of a home and its rate of appreciation is tied in part to its exterior finish. For example, natural materials like stone or wood are generally prized over synthetics, such as vinyl siding. Even within a material category, there can be a value pecking order.

Masonry tends to add more value to a home than wood because it's energy efficient, easy to maintain, fire-resistant, and permanent. According to the Brick Industry Association in Reston, Va., a brick exterior adds 6 percent to the resale value of a home. Of all masonry options, however, stone trumps brick, being quarried vs. manmade. And brick that has an unusual finish, color, or shape is valued higher than a brick facade with more routine characteristics. In the wood category, cedar and redwood siding—which are highly resistant to damage from insects and rotting—typically add more value than fir, spruce, or pine siding.

What Materials Say About Style

In the earliest days of residential construction in the United States, builders were mostly confined to their local resources. In the East, log homes and houses built of heavy timber frames covered with boards or shingles predominated. In the West, sod dugouts and houses made of adobe or stone were most common, with log houses scattered in isolated forest areas.

When cross-country railroads united the nation and industrialized techniques emerged, builders were able to use materials from other regions and create more varied styles. Lumber yards, motorized saws, and mass-produced nails changed the face of home construction.

Today, it's possible to build a home out of practically any material from anywhere in the world.

Here's a roundup of popular building materials and the style of home most often associated with it:

  • Adobe Brick. A mixture of sun-dried earth (usually clay) and straw. Surfaced with stucco, and very energy efficient—which is why you'll often find this material in the Southwest. Found in Pueblo and Spanish Colonial architectural styles.
  • Stucco. A mixture of cement, sand, and lime smoothed over adobe brick or frame construction. Found in buildings with Spanish or Mediterranean influences, as well as Tudor, Prairie, Mission, and Modern/International homes.
  • Half-Timbering. This cladding features stucco, brick, or stone to fill the spaces between exterior timbers. Found in Tudor, Craftsman, and Queen Anne styles.
  • Wood. Wood is usually overlapped in horizontal boards to create siding. A special application featuring vertical boards whose joints are finished by thin vertical strips is called "board and batten." Wood is found in a wide array of styles, including Dutch Colonial, Gothic Revival (vertical board and batten), Stick, Queen Anne, Italianate, Colonial Revival, Craftsman, Bungalow, and Ranch.
  • Shingles. Wood shingles are commonly used as a decorative counterpoint in combination with wood siding. Shapes can vary from a plain rectangular form to fish scale, saw tooth, diamond, hexagon, octagon, and chisel patterns. Found in these styles: Shingle (plain or patterned; the entire house is often covered top to bottom with shingles), Queen Anne (patterned), and Craftsman (plain).
  • Stone. Large blocks are laid in a load-bearing configuration. Found in these styles: Richardsonian Romanesque (rough-faced), Beaux Arts (smooth), Chateauesque (smooth), and Italian Renaissance (smooth).
  • Brick. Differences in color, coursing and bonding, dimension, and mortar joints contribute seemingly endless variety to this basic material. Found in a range of styles, including Georgian, Federal, Colonial Revival, Victorian Gothic, Victorian Romanesque, Italianate, Craftsman, Bungalow, Prairie, and Ranch.

Pinpointing the Style

With very few exceptions, architectural styles can't be rigidly described by a single surface material. Take ranch and bungalow homes; both can feature brick or wood siding. Or there's Prairie, which can sport stucco or brick.

To narrow down a style, add what you now know about cladding to what you see elsewhere in the house. Notice the shape of the roof, the windows and doors, decorative touches. It's like a game of connect-the-dots; when you're done, you will have information that will help market your listing.

Learn More


Architecture Guide
Want more information about the residential styles and home features mentioned in this column? REALTOR® Magazine Online provides this guide for definitions and illustrations of architectural terms.

About Architecture
In this Web site's architecture section, learn about various home styles and exterior sidings, including board-and-batten, stucco, and stone.

Brick Industry Association
This Web site includes historical information on the brick industry, project ideas, and resources for builders, designers, and homeowners.


Identifying American Architecture by John J.G. Blumenson (AltaMira Press, 1995)

A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia and Lee McAlester (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003)

What Style Is It? by John C. Poppeliers (Preservation Press, 1984).

freelance writer

Linda Legner is a freelance writer in Burr Ridge, Ill., who covers design, engineering, construction, and real estate topics for newspapers, magazines, and businesses. She can be reached at


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