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Improve Performance With Fired-clay Brick

Fired-clay brick provides enhanced performance, aesthetics, durability and sustainability compared to other common materials.
By Charles “Chip” Clark, Jr.
September 5, 2018
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Fired-clay brick offers sustainable value through its proven durability, performance and aesthetics. It also offers many colors and custom blends, textures and special shapes, color retention without sealing, partnering with complementary materials and the ability to seamlessly merge with historic neighborhoods. Interior applications are also trending for commercial spaces.

Performance, Aesthetics, Durability

Unlike other materials, fired-clay brick has tested to provide a minimum one-hour fire resistance rating by itself, regardless of backing material, as recognized by ASTM E119, Standard Test Methods for Fire Tests of Building Construction and Materials and the International Building Code (IBC).

While the latest imitators often sell on cost, fired-clay brick provides 100-year warranties with tested superior durability, moisture/mold control, termite resistance and superior performance to battle extreme weather, especially wind-blown debris. Brick’s low to no maintenance provides a lower total cost of ownership since it doesn’t need sealing, painting or replacing every 10 years, which is often the case with other claddings.

Brick also helps save on energy bills. Unlike light, thin building materials, fired-clay brick is a dense material with thermal mass that absorbs and stores heat during the day, then slowly releases it to help keep buildings warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Recent research of common wall assemblies shows that clay brick veneer on a wood stud wall reduces the amount of heat transfer through the wall up to 50 percent—better than fiber cement, vinyl or even one inch of EIFS.

Additionally, R-value is an incomplete measure of brick’s energy performance. Brick wall assemblies possess two unique characteristics, thermal mass and air space, which are usually not accounted for in R-value measurements but significantly contribute to energy performance and reduce energy costs.

Cost Comparisons, Availability

The latest independent RSMeans study on the installed cost of non-residential wall systems shows that brick with CMU costs less than precast concrete, metal panel curtain wall and glass panel curtain wall systems.

The latest study on the installed cost of siding in 17 major metropolitan areas shows clay brick costs less than commonly assumed. Nationally, total construction of a brick veneer sided building costs 1 percent to 3 percent more than stucco and wood siding, 4 percent to 6 percent more than wood shingle and fiber cement siding and 8 percent more than vinyl siding.

Environmental Benefits

Made in America from abundant natural resources, fired clay brick is an authentic, earth-friendly and noncombustible material free of volatile compounds that will not burn, melt or combust. It is available in many permanent colors and shades do not fade. Additionally, brick does not off-gas volatile organic compounds or other toxic materials.

Brick also helps buildings achieve certification through green building rating programs including LEED® (from the US Green Building Council), ASHRAE 189.1 (Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings) and more. However, these initiatives do not encapsulate the entire picture because most rating systems do not account for products that perform more than one function, are durable and long-lasting.

Performance Studies

A 2010 study by the NAHB Research Center evaluated clay brick veneer as the highest in moisture resistance and dryness out of eight wall systems tested. Of the eight wall systems tested, brick veneer wall assemblies performed the best overall in controlling moisture.

A 2009 brick seismic study funded in large part by the National Science Foundation showed that low-rise masonry buildings built with genuine clay brick veneer and reinforced concrete masonry back-up designed and constructed according to the requirements of the IBC for Seismic Design Category E could resist earthquakes above the Maximum Considered Earthquake without collapse.

Videos of a wind-blown debris study by Texas Tech University's Wind Science and Engineering Research Center show a medium-sized wind-blown object—such as a 7.5-foot long 2 x 4—would penetrate buildings constructed with vinyl siding or fiber-cement siding at a speed of 25 mph. However, it would not penetrate the wall of a clay brick veneer building, which would need to exceed 80 mph.

Photos of the Fort Mill Welcome Center in Fort Mill, S.C., which won Best in Class in the Commercial category in the 2018 Brick in Architecture Awards. Credit: Paul Warchol Photography.

by Charles “Chip” Clark, Jr.
Mr. Clark, AIA, PE, LEED AP, manages the Engineering and Research Department of the Brick Industry Association, which is responsible for the technical support of the brick industry. A licensed professional engineer and a registered architect, Mr. Clark has written many articles, papers, and technical publications about the use of brick and has been an advocate for the brick industry at many code and standard forums.

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