Bricks are one of the oldest known building materials, having been in use for thousands of years.
They are still one of the most common materials used today for construction purposes.
Whether you’re building a house or have another construction project in mind, you may be wondering whether or not bricks are eco-friendly.
For the most part, bricks are one of the most eco-friendly and sustainable building materials.
Continue reading to learn more about why bricks are considered to be eco-friendly.
1. Are Bricks A Natural Resource?
Bricks are not necessarily a natural resource in themselves. Rather, they are made from natural resources.
The natural resource that they are made from is clay, which is a very abundant material found underneath the Earth’s surface.
2. How Are Bricks Made?
Bricks have been made following the same process for as long as they have been in use.
However, they can now be made more efficiently due to advancements in the technology and equipment used to make them.
Essentially, bricks are made from clay that has certain characteristics. The clay that is used has to be able to be shaped and molded as well as hold that shape after it is formed and fused together when heated.
The three types of clay used to make bricks are:
- Surface clay
- Fire clay
Each of these types of clay has slightly different chemical properties.
But oftentimes, the clays are mixed together to minimize any differences in their composition, which is why there are so many different colors and variations in bricks.
There are six phases of manufacturing bricks:
1. Mining the Materials
First, clay is mined in open pits using heavy equipment and machinery.
The level at which the mining is done determines the type of clay that is obtained. For example, surface clay is found closer to the surface, while fire clay is found at deeper levels.
Once the clay has been mined, it is transported to storage until it is ready to be turned into bricks.
2. Preparing the Materials
During the preparation stage, large lumps of clay are broken up into smaller pieces.
The different types of clay are then mixed together.
3. Forming the Brick
After the clay has been mixed together, it is ready to be formed into bricks.
This is done by first adding water to the clay mixture, which softens it and makes it easier to mold and shape.
The amount of water added depends on the consistency and properties of the clay mixture, and it also determines which process is used to actually form the bricks.
Bricks can be formed in one of three ways. The most common way is the stiff-mud process, in which clay is extruded through a die to form a column of clay, then cut into individual pieces.
The soft-mud or dry-press process is used when clay contains too much or too little water. In these processes, the bricks are formed using a mold.
After forming the clay into bricks, moisture is removed through a drying process which usually takes between 24 and 48 hours.
5. Firing and Cooling
After the bricks have dried out, they are put into a kiln – a process known as hacking – to be fired.
Firing bricks essentially bakes them and hardens them so that they maintain their shape. This process can take anywhere from 10 to 40 hours.
After firing, the bricks are cooled for 5 to 24 hours. The amount of time that the bricks cool for plays a role in their color.
6. De-hacking and Storage
After cooling, the bricks are removed from the kiln – known as de-hacking.
They are sorted based on things such as color and quality, then packaged and stored or shipped out for delivery.
3. Are Bricks Eco-Friendly?
If you look at bricks solely from a manufacturing standpoint, you might not think that they are eco-friendly.
After all, mining contributes to deforestation, and the heavy machinery that is used releases carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.
Not to mention the energy and fuel used for processing and firing the actual bricks themselves, as natural gas and coal are commonly used as fuel sources.
However, if you look at anything from solely a manufacturing standpoint, most of the time it is not going to be eco-friendly.
That’s why it is important to look at the bigger picture when it comes to bricks.
When used as a construction material, bricks are one of the most eco-friendly materials there are. This is due to them being natural, durable, low-maintenance, and energy-efficient.
How are bricks energy-efficient?
They are good insulators. They can help keep your house cool in summer and warm in winter, which can lower your energy bill and your carbon footprint.
Hopefully, you can start to see why bricks are considered to be eco-friendly. But there are still some specific areas that we’ll look at more closely.
4. Are Bricks Sustainable?
Bricks are sustainable for more than one reason. The first reason is due to the fact that they are made from clay.
Clay comes in many different forms and is one of the most abundant natural resources that can be found all over the world, although some places produce specific types of clay.
But, the other reason why bricks are sustainable is due to how long they last. Bricks can last for an indefinite amount of time and can be reused over and over again.
Overall, they are sustainable when used as a building material.
5. Are Bricks a Renewable Resource?
There is one area of sustainability in which bricks lack, and it lies in the clay itself.
It’s important to remember that clay is a type of soil, and soil is being constantly formed.
However, it can take hundreds of years to even form 1 centimeter of soil.
With that being said, clay supplies can eventually run out as long as we keep collecting it at a rate that is faster than the rate at which clay forms.
For all intents and purposes, clay is a nonrenewable resource. However, the good news is that bricks themselves can be reused for an infinite amount of time.
6. Are Bricks Recyclable?
Another point for bricks as far as eco-friendliness is that they can be recycled. Around 30% of bricks that are considered construction waste are recycled each year.
However, they aren’t likely to be accepted at the same facility as household recyclables.
Many places do have brick recycling facilities, however, the recycling process for bricks is a little different than that of other materials.
The end use of recycled bricks depends on the quality of the original bricks. But overall, the recycling process is mostly mechanical.
Most bricks that are recycled are chipped, crushed, or ground down to be used as landscaping materials or mixed into new bricks so that less clay has to be used.
Old bricks can be made into new bricks, but they still have to be combined with some raw materials in order to have the same strength and durability.
It’s also worth noting that recycling bricks is usually reserved only for construction companies. This is because they will have more bricks to get rid of.
7. Are Bricks Durable?
Brick is one of the most durable building materials. This is mostly due to the fact that the clay particles fuse together during the firing process.
Bricks can also last for hundreds of years when used for construction, which is one reason that they have been used for thousands of years and are still so widely used today.
8. Are Bricks Biodegradable?
Bricks aren’t considered biodegradable because neither microorganisms nor elements such as moisture and oxygen cause them to break down.
However, bricks can get broken, cracked, and weathered over time which causes the pieces to end up in the soil.
If that happens, they won’t harm the soil. While they may get smaller over time through weathering, they won’t turn back into clay soil.
9. Are Bricks Compostable?
Since bricks do not biodegrade, they are also not compostable. Even small pieces of brick won’t decompose in your compost bin.
However, if bricks do find their way into your compost bin or garden, they won’t cause any harm to your soil or plants.
10. Are Bricks Toxic?
Bricks are not toxic since they are just made from clay and water and contain no toxic compounds.
11. Are Bricks More Eco-Friendly Than Wood?
From a raw materials and manufacturing standpoint, wood is more eco-friendly than bricks.
Wood is a renewable resource. Trees can regrow a lot faster than new clay soil can form.
Cutting down trees to produce lumber can contribute to some deforestation. But in some countries, the trees used for lumber are grown in managed forests.
The manufacturing process for lumber is also more eco-friendly because the trees are essentially just cut into pieces.
While this does use some energy, it consumes a lot less fossil fuels because wood doesn’t have to be fired the way that bricks do.
Wood also has great insulation properties much like bricks do, so it can also save you money on your energy bill.
From a longevity standpoint in terms of eco-friendliness, bricks are better.
Wood goes through a lot more wear and tear than bricks do. It is often treated when used for construction to make it more durable.
Treated means that it is coated with chemicals to make it resistant to things such as water damage.
Wood isn’t as great at withstanding storms and extreme weather conditions, so it may not be as sustainable in terms of durability.
But, like bricks, wood can also be recycled and repurposed in new ways. Unlike bricks, wood is biodegradable as long as it isn’t treated.
Overall, there are some instances in which wood is better for the environment and some in which bricks are better.
It just depends on if you want to look at the manufacturing or the longevity of the two.
12. Are Recycled Bricks More Expensive?
Sometimes recycled bricks can be less expensive than bricks made from raw materials, but other times they can be equivalent in cost or slightly more expensive than new bricks.
Ultimately, the cost depends on the brick supplier as well as how the recycled bricks were processed and manufactured.
13. Are Bricks Reusable?
One of the great things about bricks is that they can be reused.
However, how they are reused just depends on what condition the bricks are in, as used bricks may not have the same structural integrity that new bricks have.
14. What Can I Do With Old Bricks?
It’s not a good idea to reuse old bricks for new construction projects unless they’ve been checked for structural integrity.
However, there are much smaller projects you can use old bricks for that don’t require them to be structurally sound.
Most of these projects involve landscaping, as you can use them to make garden pathways, planters, and even borders for flower beds.
15. How Do You Dispose of Bricks?
Since recycling bricks is usually reserved for construction companies, you have one option for disposing of them.
The only choice you have is to throw them away, but they will go to a landfill and won’t decompose, which is not eco-friendly.
If you want to be more eco-friendly, don’t dispose of them at all.
Instead, find a way to reuse or repurpose them into something new and creative.
16. Are Bricks Rocks?
Bricks are not natural rocks because they have to be made out of clay.
However, clay does contain some of the same minerals as rocks, including silica, alumina, magnesia, and iron.
Bricks themselves can be considered man-made rocks. They turn into rocks as they harden during the firing process.
17. Are Bricks Concrete?
Traditional clay bricks are considered to be masonry, not concrete, which are two separate building materials.
However, there are some bricks that are made from concrete which can be used as a substitute for traditional clay bricks.
4 Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Bricks
Although bricks are pretty eco-friendly, there are some building materials that can be used as an alternative.
However, some of these materials may not have all of the same qualities that bricks have as far as durability and longevity.
1. Recycled Bricks
If you’re worried about the manufacturing process of bricks not being eco-friendly, opt for recycled bricks.
They’re made with fewer raw materials and generally have the same durability and longevity as new bricks, in addition to being more eco-friendly.
We’ve already mentioned the benefits of wood and how it compares to brick.
It is a great eco-friendly alternative, but you may have to put forth more time and money toward maintaining it.
Bamboo is a very strong building material that is also sustainable.
However, as with wood, you’ll have to maintain it more than you do brick as it is not as resistant to water damage.
4. Recycled Plastic
Recycled plastic can be used to make both bricks and concrete.
It can also be used to make other construction materials such as pipes and flooring.
Using recycled plastic building materials is a great way to help keep plastic out of landfills.
Other than the manufacturing process, bricks are one of the most eco-friendly and sustainable building materials.
That’s why they have been used for thousands of years.
Bricks are durable and can last for hundreds of years when used in construction projects.
They can also be recycled into new bricks, or reused in gardening and landscaping projects.
But if you’re still not convinced that bricks are eco-friendly, there are other sustainable building materials you can use as well.