Sustainability Moves Forward With Bricks

Words: Dan Kamys


While the construction industry hunts for the newest sustainable building materials, an ancient product offers substantial sustainability benefits. Bricks, the oldest building material in existence, can improve a building’s energy efficiency, reduce the environmental impact of building maintenance, and easily reach populations around the world.

Many of us have, as children and adults, spent time exploring different building environments. Playing in a barn in the summer, exploring a vacant building, or visiting a church recalls not only visual memories, but also sensory ones. Recall for a moment, the cool relief of a church interior on a hot day, or the warmth and humidity of the greenhouse on a crisp fall afternoon.

Many of us have, as children and adults, spent time exploring different building environments. Playing in a barn in the summer, exploring a vacant building, or visiting a church recalls not only visual memories, but also sensory ones. Recall for a moment, the cool relief of a church interior on a hot day, or the warmth and humidity of the greenhouse on a crisp fall afternoon.

The construction materials used to build these buildings contribute to their behavior in different climates and add to one’s sense of comfort, whether thermal, acoustical or aesthetic. Buildings that provide the most stable thermal environments are, typically, masonry buildings.

Humans have a 3,000-year history with bricks. It has been in regular use since the ancient empires of Mesopotamia, Rome and China to today’s global societies. Here is why: Many of the ancient structures still visited and studied worldwide today have one thing in common – construction mass. Whether the product used was stone, concrete or bricks, the design and construction of the structure had substantial mass to withstand the erosion of time and remain habitable for centuries.

Product Watch
Trikeenan Tileworks’ Boneyard Brick Trikeenan Tileworks’ Boneyard Brick is a glazed thin brick product that combines reclaimed materials from two factories: post-industrial waste from Trikeenan and Metropolitan Ceramics. Trikeenan uses salvaged thin brick from Metropolitan’s METROBRICK “boneyard,” and then glazes it with their recycled glazes. Trikeenan uses a closed-loop system, meaning no glaze or clay waste leaves the factory. Clean water in, clean water out. One-hundred percent of any glaze waste is reused in this process. The resulting products have 95 percent recycled content, and are 100 percent VOC free. Boneyard Brick can be specified in the most demanding of interior and exterior wall cladding environments. Glazed thin brick has the added advantage of being suitable for wet areas, especially those needing sanitary surfaces such as commercial kitchens, bathrooms, pools and spas. The reduced absorption of glazed brick also reduces or eliminates spalling and efflorescence. Boneyard Brick is offered in 15 colors and three sizes. Edge cap and corner pieces are also available, as are custom colors. All of the bricks are 5/8-inch thick, including a dovetail back that locks into mortar. It can be used in all interior and exterior applications, where either thin brick or tile is traditionally used. Thin brick installations include, among others, cast in concrete, field applied systems, tilt-up panels, insulated concrete formed walls, prefabricated insulated panels, direct applied systems, precast concrete, prefabricated light gauge metal framing, and modular component construction. LEED points may be available under the categories of recycled content; no VOC emission; regional procurement from local resources and local materials usage; and innovation in design. For more information, visit Trikeenan Tileworks’ Boneyard Brick

In addition to surviving the ages, ancient structures and pre-mechanical temperature control buildings used masonry construction as “thermal mass” to control interior living temperatures. Even today, most residential and smaller commercial buildings in Italy, for example, do not have air conditioning. Instead, they combine the use of bricks and other masonry products, with shading, orientation of windows and shutters to keep the structures temperate.

As architects and contractors now look for ways to reduce energy consumption and construct long-lasting, low-maintenance structures, bricks should be considered an essential building material. Thanks to features such as thermal mass, durability and flexibility, bricks can play a major role in achieving society’s current sustainability goals.

Passive solar energy systems, thermal mass Passive solar energy systems do not require mechanical equipment to create temperate interior living conditions. Instead, the systems use the exterior surface of a building fa??ade to regulate the temperature indoors.

Masonry buildings absorb the heat of the sun into the mass of its walls during the day. This helps to stabilize the interior temperature, whether it is hot or cold outside. At night, the stored heat radiates to the interior and exterior of the building, once again helping to maintain a stable thermal environment within. While clay bricks are a feasible option in many locations, hot and humid environments are more complex, requiring greater consideration of all design strategies.

This reduction in the reliance on mechanical heating and cooling systems saves energy throughout the life of the building. Tests conducted by the Oak Ridge National Laboratories of this benefit have shown energy savings as high as 13 percent.

Durability Clay bricks can last hundreds or even thousands of years. Other than stone, no other construction product lasts as long as bricks. This construction durability adds value to any property when considering life-cycle costs. Masonry durability reduces both the monetary and environmental costs of maintenance as fewer new resources are needed to repair the structure over time. In addition, the durability of homes and buildings built with bricks add a generational sense of community to towns, cities, village and neighborhoods all over the world.

Revolutionizing the Environmental Impact of Masonry
CalStar Products is addressing the need for a high-performing brick that achieves a traditional look and feel, while offering significantly improved environmental credentials, by changing brick manufacturing. The traditional brick-making process, during which clay is mined, dried and fired in a kiln powered by fossil fuels, releases about 0.9 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, meaning nearly a full pound of greenhouse gas is generated for each brick. CalStar’s propriety technology does not require firing and produces only 0.1 pound of carbon dioxide per unit, representing an 85-percent reduction from traditional bricks. CalStar achieves this by using fly ash as the binder in the bricks. Each CalStar brick contains about 40 percent fly ash, a byproduct of electricity generation that would otherwise go into a landfill. This recycled content allows CalStar bricks to contribute to projects seeking LEED certification. CalStar’s bricks also contribute to regional materials credits, for projects within 500 miles of CalStar’s plant in Wisconsin. CalStar bricks meet or exceed ASTM standard performance requirements, and provide reliable performance and usability. CalStar bricks are easy to cut and lay. The bricks are freeze-thaw resistant, demonstrate exceptional dimensional consistency, and have the one-hour fire rating required of bricks of that size. They are available in modular and utility sizes. CalStar bricks can be used in any design in which bricks are specified. They contribute to the sustainability goals of individual projects, while reducing the environmental impact of the building industry as a whole. Take, for example, the average elementary school with 30,000 square feet of modular brick. Replacing conventional brick with CalStar brick saves over 1 billion BTUs of energy; avoids nearly 81 tons of CO2 emissions; and recycles nearly 160 tons of material otherwise headed for a landfill. For projects that seek to achieve the traditional look of masonry, while simultaneously reducing the environmental footprint, bricks from CalStar Products provide a solution that is comparable to clay in performance and price. To learn more, visit Editor’s Note: The preceding showcases an available alternative to the traditional brick.

Flexibility, ease of use Bricks can be used to achieve sustainability goals in every type of building, from single-family homes, hi-rise condominiums and office buildings to public institutions. Within a location, it can be used as an interior wall, floor, ceiling, fireplace profile and as a passive solar energy collector.

Additionally, bricks are used across the world in every economic region. The abundance of clay – the natural, predominant material in bricks – contributes to its universal manufacturing and application.

Humans have always used, and still use, clay bricks’ thermal mass capabilities as an asset to construct long-lasting livable, attractive structures and can be used to effectively achieve today’s sustainability goals, creating a stronger environment for tomorrow.

BrickStainable Design Competition The Net Zero Challenge: The BrickStainable International Design Competition raises the bar for integrative design in all areas of the built environment, while promoting standards and practices that encourage the use of clay bricks as a sustainable material. More than 200 teams of architects, designers, contractors, engineers, material scientists, educators, students and environmentalists from 50 countries submitted designs using clay bricks as the primary building material for a hypothetical net-zero energy corporate headquarters office in Baltimore. All are welcome to attend the Awards Ceremony at the National Building Museum on March 31, 2011. For ticket formation, visit

Alan Richardson is president of Potomac Valley Brick. Peter Doo, AIA, LEED AP is president of Doo Consulting. Together, they operate the BrickStainable Design Competition. Email Alan at and Peter at
Return to Table of Content
Masonry Safety Inspections

The look of confusion and utter loss on people’s faces when I tell them that I’m a safety inspector for a masonry company is often hilarious.

About: Safety
Dave Jollay Announced as Third Inductee for MCAA 2024 Hall of Fame

Following in the footsteps of his father, O.L. Jollay, the founder of Jollay Masonry, Inc., Dave Jollay has carved out a remarkable career in the masonry industry.

What AI Can Do For the Masonry Industry

If your pension fund doesn’t hold NVIDIA stock, your fund manager has some questions to answer. This week, NVIDIA became the most valuable company in the world, with a market cap exceeding $3.4 trillion. They have been at the forefront of AI mania that ha

About: Featured
Brick: A Resilient Product That Will Make You Proud

Originating as the very dirt beneath our feet, brick has proven to be a sustainable, enduring solution that has been trusted for hundreds of years. While modern consumerism tends to focus on providing fast, cheap merchandise that is not intended to last,