A brick is a block of ceramic material used in masonry construction, usually laid using various kinds of mortar. It has been regarded as one of the longest lasting and strongest building materials used throughout history. Bricks are usually held together by mortar, though some bricks such as CEBs can be dry stacked. Mortar consists of sand, a binding agent (traditionally lime but these days more often cement) and water, which is then mixed to a thick paste. It is applied to a brick, which is then placed onto another brick and allowed to dry. Pointing refers to the visible edge of the mortar between the bricks, which is finished with a special trowel to provide a decorative look to the brickwork.
Raw surface clay and shale materials are taken from the ground in a process that is called winning. Materials are then carefully blended to control the quality, color and consistency of the desired finished product. The material is then formed by adding water and mixing materials in a pug mill. After mixing, the pugged clay is forced through a die creating a long extruded column of clay which is then wirecut to size. The material is then carried by conveyor systems into the firing kiln where it is first predried, and then carried through the firing stage of the kiln where temperatures can reach nearly 2000 degrees Farenheit. The brick can then be cubed and stored for shipping.
Bricks formed from concrete are usually termed blocks, and are typically pale grey in colour. They are made from a dry, small aggregate concrete which is formed in steel moulds by vibration and compaction in either an “egglayer” or static machine. The finished blocks are cured rather than fired using low-pressure steam. Concrete blocks are manufactured in a much wider range of shapes and sizes than clay bricks and are also available with a wider range of face treatments – a number of which are to simulate the appearance of clay bricks.
Modern methods of brick manufacture are highly mechanised and automated procedures whereby clay is extruded in a continuous column, wirecut into bricks, and hydraulically pressed to ensure resistance to weathering. The bricks are then dried and slow fired at around 1000 – 1200 C. In more recent times, recycled glass and other waste materials have been introduced into this process. These materials have been found to reduce firing times, temperatures and toxic emissions, improve brick strength and durability, and reduce waste going to landfill.
A masonry veneer wall consists of masonry units, usually clay-based bricks, installed on one or both sides of a structurally independent wall usually constructed of wood or masonry. In this context the brick masonry is primarily decorative, not structural. The brick veneer is generally connected to the structural wall by brick ties (metal strips that are attached to the structural wall, as well as the mortar joints of the brick veneer). There is typically an air gap between the brick veneer and the structural wall. As clay-based brick is usually not completely waterproof, the structural wall will often have a water-resistant surface (usually tar paper) and weep holes can be left at the base of the brick veneer to drain moisture that accumulates inside the air gap. Concrete blocks, real and cultured stones, and veneer adobe are sometimes used in a very similar veneer fashion.
Bricks are a versatile and durable building and construction material, with good load-bearing properties, high thermal mass and potential low energy impact. In the case of simple earth bricks such as adobe and CEBs, they measure high on the sustainability index, being made from locally available (and abundant) materials of clay, sand, and water, using low technology compression equipment, solar energy or kilns. While modern methods of brick construction have a much lower sustainability index, the UK brick industry has developed a strategy to minimise its environmental impact and increase its energy efficiency and use of renewable energies. Overall, bricks are a good example of a sustainable building practice and are currently gaining in popularity around the world.
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