Clay Brick – The Brickies Choice
Dean Degun, Contract manager Swift building contractors.
As a trained bricklayer myself and having worked with numerous brickies over the years, I would always choose clay bricks over concrete.
I have worked with both and have also been a judge in a head-to-head trial between them. Clay bricks are easier and faster to lay, and when you do your sums, this makes it cheaper to use clay since the cost of labour is rising making this the most expensive part of the construction.
I’ve yet to see the results of the recent head-to-head trial between clay and concrete bricks which I judged, but I know that a similar exercise back in 2019 showed that it was up to 30% faster using clay bricks. That’s a big saving when you only have a limited pool of skilled labour to call upon.
There are many reasons for this time saving. Clay bricks have a rougher and more porous surface than concrete ones. This makes it easier to apply mortar since it adheres to the surface a lot better especially if they have a frog. And because the ends are also rough, it’s easier to key them in with the one next to it.
Easier to lay
The porosity is important because it means the mortar will dry more quickly after you have applied it creating a firm bond more quickly. If the mortar does not dry out quickly enough then that can limit the height of the bricks that you can lay before the pressure starts to squeeze out mortar from lower layers that are not fully dried and bonded. Concrete bricks also tend to be heavier which increases this problem.
You can of course compensate for this by using a drier mortar, but this in turn means that it could dry out too quickly while you are laying the bricks.
This increased porosity also means that you can carry on laying clay bricks when it is damp or raining because they will dry out more quickly. Also, their rough surface and lighter weight makes them easier to grip and handle when damp. Not only does this extend the building season, but let’s face it, the British weather is known for its rain and dampness, even in the summer months.
The last thing that you want while on site is for expensive skilled labour to be sitting around unable to work because of a spot of rain, especially if you are paying them on an hourly basis.
And then finally from a practical point of view, clay bricks are normally easier to cut than concrete ones which may need a specialist cutting tool.
Clay bricks also move less than concrete once installed, with the latter tending to shrink in the long term. If there is no allowance for this movement then it can lead to cracking; which means that you need more movement joints in concrete brickwork spacing them at every 6 metres instead of the 12-metre gap that you need for clay brickwork. This makes a big difference adding to the time and complexity of construction.
Overall ask most brickies and they will tell you that they far prefer working with clay bricks than the concrete versions. They are easier to handle and faster to lay.
From my point of view, they also feel nicer when you are handling them and they have a certain character with all sorts of different colours and textures.
‘For me, given a choice, I would choose clay bricks every time.’