Clay bricks are one of the most popular building materials in the world but do they carry huge environmental damage, or are they a secret sustainable building material?
Why are clay bricks so popular with self builders and developers?
Clay bricks are strong, they last a very long time, durable, easy to manage, flexible in design, waterproof, fireproof and they are a decent insulator. They basically offer all the characteristics you would seek in a home or building; strong, safe, and long lasting.
However clay bricks are an expensive resource and they are often not considered to be a sustainable building material.
Most bricks used today are made out of clay, which is mined out of the earth and transported to a brick making plant.
The clay is then mixed with water in a piece of equipment resembling a large bread mixer and then shaped into bricks.
They are left to dry for a day before being moved into giant kilns,then through the process of adding extremely high temperatures the clay is hardened into usable bricks.
The process of making clay bricks is extremely harmful to the environment. By physically digging into the earth and using the amount of fuel to dry the bricks makes it an expensive and harmful material.
Sustainable Building material
However there is a school of thought that the clay brick is a sustainable building material in its own right.
First of all you must consider the longevity and insulation qualities of the common clay brick. The idea is that the initial high outlay of energy in production is outweighed by the insulation qualities of the material and the fact you will never having to replace the original bricks.
Then you can consider using reclaimed bricks. The longevity of the brick means that it can be re-used and recycled, therefore building your home with recycled bricks will significantly reduce the environmental impact of your build.
Does the longevity of the clay brick and the ability to use recycled brick make it a sustainable building material?
Alternatives to clay bricks
Close but not quite a sustainable building material. This is because the main ingredient of the brick is taken from the earth and then heated using fuels which are not renewable.
There are alternatives to the clay brick however which help argue the cause that the brick is a sustainable building material.
Wool bricks – Interestingly by adding wool to a clay brick you not only increase the strength by over 30% but the brick will also dry hard naturally, meaning there is no need to fire up a giant kiln.
Mud bricks/Adobe – These bricks are still made out of clay, about 70% of clay in fact. The rest of the material comes from sand, gravel or silt.
They are sun-dried, tested for strength before use, they have the same insulation qualities as normal clay bricks but also allow the building to breathe. The adobe brick offers better sound absorption qualities, higher thermal mass, is easily manufactured and uses natural resources.
There are arguments for and against clay bricks being called a sustainable building material. If you use one of the alternatives such as a wool or mud brick, or even reclaimed bricks then you can improve the environmental impact of production.
Also if you consider the longevity and insulation qualities provided by bricks then the environmental impact of using bricks is lessened further.
However the high quantity of clay or the other natural resources used in brick making are not renewable and therefore clay bricks can not be considered a sustainable building material.
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