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Why are bricks such a sustainable building material?

Bricks have been used for building countless structures over many thousands of years because of they last for so long and are very durable. This and a number of other factors make them a sought after building material and contribute to their inherent sustainability.

Bricks require very little maintenance and create energy efficient buildings and perform many functions, reducing the environmental impacts from other materials.

So why are bricks sustainable?

The number one answer to this question dates back to a long time before anyone had ever thought about the concept of sustainability. When it came to building a structure that needed to last for a very long time, builders were using clay bricks because they lasted almost indefinately and required almost no maintenance over that time. Brick buildings are very strong, durable and can resist the most extreme weather events through there fire resistant properties and resistance to impacts and wind borne debris. Bricks can't burn as they were created in fire, making them the ideal building material for long term building projects.

Brick buildings are energy efficient too

Many forward thinking builders and architects these days are using bricks in conjunction with good solar passive design and insulation. They can now create a house that requires no artificial heating or cooling in virtually all parts of a hot country, this significantly reducing energy use. This clearly makes a lot of sense if you live in such a country, but the same principles would apply even in the United Kingdom.

Building with bricks helps to reduce internal temperature fluctuations, thus ensuring a comfortable living and working condition throughout the day. Bricks have an exceptional thermal mass and this means that the brick will absorb heat and slow down heat transfer. During the summer, bricks gradually absorb heat from the sun and keep buildings cooler during the hottest part of the day. In winter, bricks hold a buildings heat for much longer, this will keep people inside warmer for longer.

The technical analysis bricks and thermal mass

When studied over a 50 year period, the life cycle analysis shows that up to 89% of the energy is used in the operational phase of a house, rather than in the building process. In particular, heating, ventilation and air conditioning represent a much bigger source of green house gas emissions than manufacture and construction of bricks, so it makes sense to focus on building your house to reduce operational energy by using materials with a high thermal mass such as bricks.

Manufacturers striving to reduce the energy required to make bricks

Over the past thirty or so years, the manufacturing process of bricks has really improved, contributing to the sustainability of the product. Manufacturing plants have been re engineered to make use of highly efficient tunnel kilns, fired using natural gas, and all waste heat and clay is recycled within the same plant. Ongoing innovation in manufacturing processes means the energy required to make clay bricks is reduced every single year.

Bricks serve many functions and this reduces their environmental impact

Brick walls do a lot more than just providing structure. They also finish, offer acoustic comfort, thermal comfort, good indoor air quality, fire resistance, impact resistance and durability, all in one product. This reduces the environmental impacts and massively increases energy and resource efficiency.

Bricks can be reused or recycled almost indefinately

Bricks can be reused or recycled in three ways. Firstly because of their long life and durability, brick buildings can often be renovated for different purposes, removing the need to construct a whole new building with all its associated environmental impacts. Secondly bricks can be salvaged, cleaned and reused to build new buildings. Thirdly old bricks can be recycled into new bricks or into other building materials such as aggregate for concrete, for landscaping or as sub base for pavements or roads.

Brick walls also contribute to improved indoor air quality by eliminating the need for paints and the resulting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) they contain and by eliminating a food source for mould.

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