Bricks have long been a staple of construction throughout ancient times, with a long history of usage that spans various cultures and architectural styles. While bricks have always been made from clay that has been heated or baked in order to solidify, what most folks don’t know is that there are different types of bricks, each with specific qualities that make them unique for specific structural uses.
The most common brick types available today are typical kiln fired bricks, although in the past, a greater selection of other bricks were readily available. With the revival of interest in period architecture and aesthetics, more and more homeowners are becoming interested in different varieties of bricks. There are, to date, a near-dizzying array of bricks to choose from, each with their own specific aesthetic and inherent qualities, and each with a set purpose.
In a nutshell however, there are basically only five different brick types and their qualities differ largely from each other, although they are united by a singular industrial purpose. Here is a look at the five standard brick types every potential home owner or architect should know about:
Burnt or Kiln-fired Bricks – These are generally called ‘common’ bricks. They are made of clay which is pressed into moulds and then fired in a kiln or otherwise sun-dried. Clay bricks are a staple of construction as they are not only durable but remarkably affordable.
Engineering Bricks – These are industrial-grade bricks produced using the same materials as kiln-fired bricks, although these are fired at extremely higher temperatures. This results in a degree of partial vitrification that makes bricks extremely durable and resistant to moisture, making these ideal for walls and walkways.
Sand lime bricks – Sand lime bricks are somewhat of a modern innovation made from a combination of sand and lime with something called fly ash – a fine powder derived from coal-fires sourced from electric power plants. Sand lime bricks offer an aesthetic variation away from the typical red brick in that it is grey in hue.
Sand lime bricks also flaunt a more uniform shape and a smooth finish, unlike common red bricks which are more rustic in appearance and porous. Because of the addition of fly ash, sand-lime bricks are also marginally stronger than common bricks, making them excellent for load-bearing structures.
Concrete Bricks – This is a modern brick made from solid concrete. Typically rustic, some examples can also sport smooth finishes. Concrete bricks are ideal for foundations as they are remarkably durable and excellent for load-bearing, although they do not fare well on the aesthetics and so are rarely used for facades except in industrial applications.
Firebrick / refractory brick – A firebrick is a specially made partially vitrified, glazed brick often employed in the creation of furnaces, fireboxes, fireplaces, traditional ovens and kilns. They are very durable and resistant to extremes of heat. These possess remarkably low thermal conductivity, allowing them to store and disperse heat evenly for long periods of time. Not only are they ideal for things like pizza ovens, they also make for excellent building material, especially for walls and pavers.
If you’re a contractor or a homeowner that is considering employing bricks as building materials, these different brick types and their qualities should help you pick what is the right brick for your needs.