Brick still best - the advantages of masonry

Clay Technology magazine
18 Dec 2009
House made from brick

Andrew Halstead-Smith, Marketing Manager at Ibstock, Leicestershire, UK, explains why brick offers a practical, durable and attractive solution for construction.

The current economic downturn is challenging for the building industry and particularly the housing sector, affecting brick makers. Housebuilders, developers and product manufacturers need to adapt to survive.

The UK Government is committed to creating 45,000 homes a year for social housing and has a target of three million new dwellings by 2020. However, recent financial and social crises have distracted the Government’s focus on housing rescue.

Building materials’ manufacturers, including brick makers, are suffering from the slowdown in construction and the higher cost of energy and transport. The short-term effect has already been felt, with most companies reducing production and making redundancies.

Problem solving

However, all levels of the supply chain recognise the need to act and build in a way that protects the environment. Housebuilders and developers, in particular, are not prepared to cut corners in this area, but are looking for cost effective solutions.

Brick is acknowledged as offering the lowest cost cladding solution, excellent durability and high thermal mass. It is recyclable and has a high recycled content.

New products such as CoolVault from Ibstock, launched in 2009, are being developed. This is a flooring system that can add thermal mass to lightweight structures and improve the habitability and comfort of a building, without resorting to air conditioning systems.

Going the extra mile

Brick makers have changed the way they work to improve energy efficiency in firing, water recycling and rainwater use. Other evolving practices include using methane gas from landfilled former clay quarries for electricity generation and proposals for site-specific wind turbines.

Reducing transport costs for brick is another priority. Ibstock, Leicestershire, UK, has manufacturing sites across the country that serve local needs. Typical average brick journeys are 62 miles from factory to building site, cutting fuel use and carbon emissions.

Brick has a long lifespan (hundreds of years), with minimal maintenance. As a building material it will not erode or decay and its appearance can improve with age. In contrast to other building materials, wind, rain and snow do not damage brick, but mellow it. As a building changes use, its brickwork can be modified and entire buildings can be recycled or adapted.

Brick is an attractive material, with a wide choice of colour and texture. As external cladding, it needs no paint or preservatives. Even when reused, there is no danger of toxic chemicals entering the ecosystem, unlike other materials that need to be regularly re-treated to increase their lifespan.

New techniques include pre-formed panels faced with mortared brick slips to create façades over timber and steel frame construction and modular pre-constructed features such as bays, chimney stacks and arches.

Novel approaches have been developed to produce decorative features and special shapes, which are manufactured in the factory to avoid the associated expensive laying skills or custom created bricks. This enables builders and developers to control the main costs without sacrificing quality and design.

Combined approach

Ibstock-Kevington is a new arm of Ibstock that is changing how special shapes and brickwork components are provided in the UK. Ibstock acquired brick fabrication company Kevington, in 2001. The combined business offers technical support and design advice.

The product range includes cut and bond special shapes and arches, through to chimneys and cladding systems, as well as precast precision masonry components from brick cutting company, Manchester Brick & Precast Ltd. The business can provide everyday special shapes as well as intricate and precise specification detail.

While the industry as a whole has to deal with challenging times, brick manufacturers are keeping an eye on the longer term to ensure brick continues to offer a viable solution for modern construction.

Further information:
Nikki Poyser