Characteristics and Uses of 6 Popular Types of Bricks
There are a wide variety of types of bricks and understanding them is crucial if you are an architect, builder or even a DIYer. Bricks have been a vital part of construction for centuries and they are still a fundamental part of building and structure design today.
There are a wide variety of brick types and each possesses strengths and weaknesses in relation to specific considerations and designs.
Whether you are building a foundation, a brick wall, or an outdoor fireplace, understanding brick types is essential to making an informed choice and reaching a successful completion.
Types of Bricks
The popularity of brick types is based on regional preferences, building codes, and architectural styles. Be sure to consult with a professional in your area about their brick preferences. Combine their expertise with your ideas to make an informed choice about the best type of brick for your project.
1. Common Brick
Common bricks, also called burnt clay bricks, are the most popular and abundant type of brick. Builders and DIYers use them regularly in walls, columns, and foundations. These bricks are made primarily of natural clay. Common bricks also contain various additives including sand, concrete, stabilizers, and colorants to improve their performance or aesthetic quality.
Common clay bricks can vary widely in actual composition. Manufacturers can tailor the composition of the bricks to meet particular criteria for performance or style.
- Uses: Versatile for any use
Burnt Clay Brick Key Characteristics:
- Durability – Builders value clay bricks for their longevity and compressive strength.
- Thermal Insulation – Common clay bricks provide excellent thermal insulation. They provide an effective barrier between the indoors and outdoors and reduce energy consumption.
- Fire Resistant – Common bricks are fire resistant rather than fire-proof. They do not burn, emit toxic fumes, or contribute to the spreading of flames.
- Aesthetic Appeal – Clay bricks offer a timeless and classic appearance. They come in many colors and brick sizes to enhance particular architectural styles.
- Sustainability – Clay is a natural and abundant material. Common clay bricks also last which decreases the need for rebuilding.
- Limited Design Flexibility – Even though bricks offer some design flexibility, this is limited in comparison with glass, steel, and wood.
2. Concrete Brick
Concrete bricks, also called concrete masonry units (CMUs) are a popular and inexpensive building brick. Concrete, aggregate, and water are the primary components of concrete bricks. Steel molds form the pale gray bricks through vibration and compaction. Concrete bricks are cured rather than fired and come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and face textures.
- Uses: Foundations, walls, other structural support, internal brickwork
- Strength – Concrete bricks have high compressive strength and provide excellent structural stability. They are resistant to weather, pests, and fire.
- Versatility – Manufacturers produce concrete bricks in a wide range of sizes and styles offering flexibility in construction.
- Availability and Cost – Unlike specialty brick options, concrete bricks are widely available and inexpensive.
- Soundproofing – Concrete blocks improve sound insulation and minimize sound transfer between areas.
- Thermal Insulation – While concrete bricks have some thermal mass properties, they are not as insulating as products built for this purpose.
- Environmental Impact – The production process of CMUs is energy-intensive, so the carbon footprint can be significant.
- Aesthetics – Concrete bricks are not attractive. They are more appropriate for unseen areas, but they need an exterior cladding for visible walls.
- Moisture Absorption – Concrete bricks are porous and will retain moisture unless you seal them.
3. Sand-Lime Brick
Sand-lime bricks, also called calcium silicate bricks are constructed using sand, lime, water, and mineral colorants. This is a type of cured brick, similar to concrete bricks. The ingredients are mixed, pressed, and then allowed to dry. A chemical process occurs to produce a brick with high compressive strength and a smooth finish. These bricks are excellent for load-bearing walls. You can save time and money using sand-lime bricks because they require fewer lines of mortar to retain their structural stability.
- Uses: Acoustic insulation, load-bearing walls
Sand-lime Bricks Key Characteristics:
- Strength – Sand-lime bricks have excellent compressive strength. They are durable and weather-resistant.
- Fire-Resistant – Sand-lime bricks withstand high temperatures and do not emit toxic fumes when they are exposed to fire.
- Sound-Proofing – These bricks offer excellent sound insulation and minimize sound transfer between adjacent rooms.
- Sustainability – The materials in sand-lime bricks are naturally derived and the process to build them is less energy dependent.
- Dimensional Stability – Sand-lime bricks do not expand or contract with changes in weather and temperature.
- Limited Insulation – Sand-lime bricks are not specifically fabricated for thermal insulation, so they have limited thermal capabilities.
- Moisture Retention – Sand-lime bricks should be sealed to keep moisture retention and resulting efflorescence.
- Aesthetics – Sand-lime bricks have a smooth and uniform appearance that creates a utilitarian or industrial look.
4. Fly Ash Brick
Manufacturers make fly ash bricks from ash dust, cement or lime, and water. Fly ash bricks are stronger, denser, and more uniform in appearance than clay bricks. The primary component, ash dust, is a waste product, so it offers many advantages in sustainability and cost-effectiveness.
- Uses: Load-bearing walls, foundation walls, retaining walls, paving
Fly Ash Brick Key Characteristics:
- Environmental Impact – Fly ash bricks utilize a coal waste material as their primary ingredient, so they reduce the impact of the coal industry on landfills.
- Strength – Fly ash bricks have impressive compressive strength, so they are ideal for load-bearing walls and structural support.
- Thermal Insulation – Fly bricks have good thermal insulation properties, so they can help you regulate indoor temperatures and increase energy efficiency.
- Lightweight – Compared to other bricks, fly ash bricks are a lightweight option.
- Cost-effective – Fly ash bricks are more cost-effective than other specialty brick options, and they require less mortar during construction.
- Availability – Fly ash bricks may not be widely available as other brick types, so sourcing these bricks can present difficulties.
- Surface Finish and Aesthetics – Fly bricks are light gray and uniform in appearance. This can give a building an industrial and uniform look that is not attractive to everyone.
5. Fire Brick
Fire bricks, also called refractory bricks or heat-resistant bricks, are a specialized brick type that builders use in high-temperature environments. Clay, silica, and alumina are the primary ingredients in fire bricks. These bricks maintain structural integrity when exposed to rapid changes in temperature and corrosive chemicals.
- Uses: Liners for kilns, furnaces, fireplaces, ovens
Fire Brick Key Characteristics:
- Heat Resistant – Fire bricks can withstand temperatures up to 1500OC
- Heat Insulation – Manufacturers design fire bricks so that they resist the transfer of heat and maintain the heat of furnaces, fireplaces, kilns, and stoves.
- Variable Design – There are a wide variety of fire bricks available, both porous and non-porous varieties depending on the desired need.
- Chemical Resistance – Fire bricks can withstand abrasion from harsh chemicals in waste like slag present in high-temperature settings.
- Cost – Like other specialized brick products, fire bricks are more expensive than common bricks, so they are best reserved for special projects.
- Installation Complexity – Fire bricks require specialized installation techniques and mortar, so these are not always best for a DIY job.
6. Engineering Brick
Engineering brick is a specialized brick variety used mostly in industrial rather than home projects. The primary brick material for engineering brick is clay or shale. There are also additional ingredients to improve the strength and durability of this brick. Engineering bricks are the strongest bricks available and have the highest brick density.
- Uses: Heavy-duty construction projects, foundation walls, load-bearing walls
Engineering Brick Key Characteristics:
- Strength – The high temperature firing process is responsible for creating the impressive compressive strength of engineering bricks. This makes them ideal for places where strength is crucial.
- Dense Composition – The dense structure of engineering bricks makes them strong and resistant to moisture and fire penetration.
- Aesthetics Options – The choices of engineering brick are limited. The most common colors are red, brown, and blue-gray.
- Durability – Fire bricks can withstand harsh weather conditions, chemical exposure, and physical pressure without deteriorating.
- Cost – Due to the high quality of their materials and the complicated nature of manufacturing, engineering bricks are more expensive than common clay bricks. This is one reason that these are most common in industrial rather than home use.
- Weight – In general, the weight of engineering bricks is heavier than of common bricks. The specific weight of the bricks is dependent on the manufacturers and the size of the bricks.