A guide to house building in South Africa

A guide to house building in South Africa

Build: Superstructure

This is seemingly the quickest and most fun part of the building process. Walls can fly up in a matter of weeks and spaces become alive.

But be aware of the following:

Brick quality

It is important to note that bricks come at different MPa grades. A ‘6’ rating is a relatively poor quality – suitable for indoor/basic building only, while a ’24’MPa brick is very hard, suitable for external, load bearing walls. There are also specific bricks for facebrick structures, although you don’t necessarily have to use them if your MPA is high enough. Your structural engineer should be able to guide you with these choices.

However, best to avoid anything under ten and to only use a supplier that can provide SABS certificates for his bricks.

Cement bricks have a high MPa rating and are more water resistant, but are not as durable as clay bricks. Also, not environmentally friendly.

Brick prices vary from R3 – R20 a brick – it can make a significant difference to a budget if you need thousands, but don’t sacrifice on quality.

Cement, similarly, has different strengths and quality grades. Don’t skimp on this.

Bagged walls

If you like the industrial look of exposed brickwork, make sure you like the brick (even toned, pink bricks are the best), and that you use finer sand in your building ‘daga’ mix. This is not absolutely necessary, but allows for a smoother finish.

The trick is to simply wipe/flatten the residue between the bricks while it’s still wet. How clean you want the wall is up to you. But do a trial run first, that dries completely to see how much ‘washing’ you like.

The building sand in Cape Town is much paler and finer (Phillipi river sand), which makes for a much neater finish. Gauteng building sand is brown and rough, resulting in a rougher finish.

Not necessarily required, but if you prefer, seal the bricks after with a water-based brick sealer.

Bagged walls with Cape building sand

Conduiting and pipes

All electrical points will most likely be cut into the brickwork after it is done. This is very messy and dusty work, so make sure any exposed, final surfaces are protected. Any bagged walls should have minimal pipes as you will see the cut lines and patches, although ’tile’ bricks can be cut to help hide the tracks.


Any external or supporting wall needs to be a double skin, cavity wall with brick force (wire support) every third/fourth row to stabilize.

All windows, doors and openings will have lintels above and at least four courses of bricks above for strength. If you want your windows to go right up to the ceilings a special beam will have to be cast in or below your slab or trusses.

Off shutter concrete

Walls can be created in a day using concrete. Of course, the formwork and steel inner structure is the part that requires expertise and finesse. Best to leave it to the experts.


Plastering can make or break your final house finish. Key to make sure this is done with the right mix, highly recommended tradesmen and with a spirit level! Also, essential to keep glass aluminium and timber sealed to avoid scratches from the mess that comes with application. Even one small splotch on an uncovered plane of glass can result in terrible scratches, especially if it’s washed off with a dirty rag lying around on site while you’re not watching! The scratches only appear when the sun hits the glass.

Make sure any building/electrical changes are done before plaster goes on as cutting and patching after is very hard to disguise once dry and painted.

If you want a very smooth finish, use a steel trowel, while a wooden plaster trowel will give a softer, uneven finish. Popular in contemporary houses is the rough tyrolean finish for external walls. Coloured plaster is sprayed on using a tyrolean gun. Can give a lovely textured, which will eventually help achieve a weathered finish and great for resisting cracks.

If you want a very smooth interior plaster finish, a Cemcrete or RhinoLite finishing layer must be done after the main plaster, but you will pay double as all plastering is calculated per m2, plus material.

These finishing coats can make for a beautiful finish if left unpainted and sealed, as it has a silky and mottled finish. But be warned – once cracked, or chipped, you cannot patch unpainted walls neatly. Any touch ups or alterations will require the entire wall to be replastered. See Painting and Sealing for more information.

Any Rhino or ceiling board will require a plaster skim to finish it off, so remember to add that into your calculations.

For more about roofing, click here.

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