Come See the Greener Side of Brick

As we enter a new millennium, more emphasis is being placed on preserving and protecting the world's environment. In this age of environmental consciousness, consumers are looking for products that are, well, "greener" than ever before. Brick has been a popular building material since ancient times - way before it was cool to be green - and brick is friendlier to the environment than many new convenience materials.

It stands to reason that brick, made from a combination of the distinctly earthly elements of clay, water and fire, is about as back-to-the-basics as building products come. This assumption has been confirmed in recent years by industry and academic research on sustainable buildings and green architecture. In fact, the American Institute of Architect's Environmental Resource Guide (1996) advises architects to "select brick, tile or concrete masonry products when possible." Let's take a look at some of the specific attributes that make brick an environmentally friendly building choice.

Brick as a Building Material

First, brick's mass prevents temperature extremes on the outside of a building from effecting temperature on the inside. Sometimes called "thermal lag," this process translates into year-round comfort and energy savings for occupants. An insulated brick cavity wall resists heat gain more than 50 times better than double-reflective glass and nine times better than an insulated metal sandwich panel wall. Second, brick walls require less insulation than lightweight walls (i.e., synthetic stucco, vinyl, aluminum or wood) for the same energy performance.

Publications are full of articles pertaining to global warming and the effects it is having on weather patterns often proving destructive. Using brick as a building material offers homeowners a sense of safety because brick can withstand severe wind and weather. Following the devastation of Hurricane Floyd, a brick "Hurricane House"- built to withstand 100 to 110 mph winds with little or no damage - made its debut in a Norfolk, Virginia-area Parade of Homes.

Finally, consumers building with brick can rest assured that the brick on their houses will last. Brick stands the test of time. The Ziggurat at Ur, a Mesopotamian temple-tower made of fired clay brick between 2113 - 2095 BC stands today, very well preserved. The famous Great Wall of China, constructed around 210 BC, is made of 3,873,000,000 individual bricks. In this country, one of the more famous historic brick buildings is Independence Hall built in Philadelphia in the 1700s.

Mining & Manufacturing

As brick originates from the earth's clay, it thrives as a nearly inexhaustible natural resource and is manufactured in 38 states. Furthermore, the clay mining process is virtually harmless to the environment, and a small mining site may be used for more than a century. After they have been depleted, clay pits can be converted into wildlife reserves or lakes for sport, recreation or conservation use. Carolina Ceramic, Inc. has concerted its clay pit into a 2,000-acre wildlife refuge for deer, turkey, dove and quail, while Acme Brick has transformed more than a dozen of its depleted pits to wildlife sanctuaries stocked with corn-fed catfish. An outstanding example of the care brick companies take in reclaiming mined land, Cherokee Brick and Tile's 5,000-acre lowland habitat near Macon, Georgia, has been recognized by the local Audobon Society as home to more than 240 species of birds, including several rare and threatened species.

Unlike other building materials, brick creates little waste when it is manufactured. Mining one pound of clay produces nearly one pound of brick with only slight moisture and mineral loss. In comparison, up to 70% of the ore used in making steel amounts to waste. The figure is even higher for aluminum - up to 88% of the ore used is waste. Disposing of these wastes requires additional energy, adding to the environmental impact of manufacturing.

The amount of energy needed to produce brick is lower than most competing building materials. It takes 50 times more energy to produce one pound of aluminum than to produce the same amount of brick. Brick manufacturing conserves energy in another way as well. Virtually all U.S. brick plants are located within a 20-mile radius of their manufacturing facility, minimizing the energy expended in transporting the raw material to manufacturing sites. No raw clay is imported into the U.S., while approximately 90 percent of the ore used for aluminum and about 25 percent used for steel must be imported. Consumers seeking that "Made in the USA" seal can rest assured that virtually all brick used in the U.S. is manufactured domestically.

Recycling Brick

In an effort to recycle - and because of its unique appearance - the popularity of old or antique brick is on the rise. Used brick is becoming a fashionable alternative in residential construction. In some areas of the country, "antique" brick commands a higher price than new brick. Recently, Chicago common brick manufactured in the 1930s was in very high demand. People ordered it from all over the country for its quaint, historical and aged appeal. It is important to take your external environment into account when considering used brick, as some older brick has a poor freeze-thaw resistance that could be a factor in certain areas of the country.

In another innovative form of recycling, new brick that fails to meet the manufacturers' standards can be easily recycled through an inexpensive crushing process. Crushed brick or "brick chips" may then be used as landscape material or reground to manufacture new, quality brick.

Remember, just because a house or building is being completely renovated, does not mean that all of the existing brick must go. Because of brick's long life, it is typically the last material in a building to require recycling. Many renovation projects renew the building around the original existing brick walls.

The generation now in a position to purchase homes is more environmentally conscious than any generation before it. Like it or not, the trend they have created toward purchasing more natural products has become a factor in the homebuying process. "When polled, most Americans identify themselves as environmentalists," according to Kenneth Hooker, editor of Masonry Construction. Furthermore he states, "The environmental issues surrounding construction are certain to continue growing in importance." Hooker cites brick's "durability, thermal storage capacity, and ability to serve as both structure and finish" as key product benefits for environmentally concerned consumers.