Standing the test of time

Richard Brown, category marketing manager at Wienerberger, explains how the versatility of clay combined with its inherent properties makes it an extremely viable and attractive choice for self-builders.

Most know of the inherent solidity and security associated with the material, and of the rich architectural history of clay brick in the UK. However, some of clay’s other benefits are still too often overlooked. Clay has the potential to be an unsung material hero, meeting most structural requirements while giving self-builders a variety of options in terms of product, application and design.

Clay’s sustainability credentials are invariably strong, while it also provides a winning combination of being low maintenance, extremely durable and thermally efficient.

Furthermore, it can be argued that the material most able to meet the criteria of sustainable new build housing is clay. It may be traditionally associated with heritage building, and is often overlooked for more modern developments, but it boasts the natural properties and design versatility to make it a genuinely sustainable option.

Unlike timber, a material widely considered to be sustainable, clay offers a lifespan of at least 150 years with virtually no required maintenance, employing techniques that have been honed by centuries of usage and methodology. Even when a clay building’s lifespan is up, the brick can still be recycled or reused. Essentially, this is a material that will deliver homes that span generations.

Not only are clay bricks entirely compatible with the higher level requirements of the Code for Sustainable Homes, but typical clay masonry walls are rated A+ in the Building Research Establishment (BRE) Green Guide. The majority of clay bricks available in the UK are certified to BES 6001 – the BRE Environmental and Sustainability Standard for the Responsible Sourcing of Construction Products.

Though still the ideal choice for traditional bricks, new technologies and construction product developments mean that this is now just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how well clay can function in modern architecture. Much of this progress and development stems from the adaptability and compatibility of the materials: clay works beautifully with other common materials such as wood and glass, both in terms of practical efficiency and curb appeal. Such is the durability of the product that it can be easily recycled even at the end of its building life, while clay is also one of the easiest materials for modifying a building in the future. Not only that, it’s comparatively cost effective against many other facade materials both in terms of total installed cost and whole life costs.

Developments in clay mean that self-builders are no longer limited by colour. The ‘heritage’ tag that brick is traditionally associated with is challenged by the fact that new colouration options give clay bricks more contemporary and dynamic applications. By applying glaze to high specification facing bricks, the choice of facade shades is virtually limitless. The high gloss finish on these bricks not only bolsters the aesthetic value, but actually offers protection to the depth and hue of the brick, keeping the finished structure vibrant and true to the original design for the lifetime of the building.

Furthermore, clay can also be used to meet the modern trend to vary the material dimensions of external wall finishes in order to generate

different visual effects. Likewise, the structural longevity that clay products naturally possess is a real advantage and an attractive property to architects and consumers alike. However, new systems are able to offer the versatility and delicacy of design that, in the past, would have been out of reach. Facade solutions not only offer benefits in terms of the ease and speed of installation, but can also offer textural and colour combinations, perfect for decorative flourishes that can bring something different to a project.

Clay can be so much more than simply traditional brick. The material is one that should be in the thoughts of self-builders across the country as a leading option. It’s easy to peg a material as only capable of delivering a single aesthetic, but with the imagination, range and innovation currently on the market, it’s important to think of clay walling in a new, contemporary light.