When you add up the cost of building your own home, construction materials are a substantial budget item. Where the property has an existing building, the demolition and removal of structures can add to your bills before you have even laid a foundation.
Clay bricks are ceramic products – fired at high temperatures in a kiln – giving them a lifespan of well over 200 years. That means property owners have the option to recycle clay bricks that were previously used in walls, paving and even infrastructure like retaining walls and bridges.
The appeal of reclaimed bricks is its character - a pleasing weathered appearance and natural patina. Currently, reclaimed bricks have a certain cachet; they are less common, more sustainable and have a distinctive appearance. Whether used for an internal feature wall, extension or paving, recycled clay brick is sure to create an eye-catching, unique finish for those with an appreciation of tradition.
“Many home owners choose to reuse “heritage” clay bricks and timber in their projects due to the sustainability benefits,” advises Mariana Lamont, executive director of the Clay Brick Association of South Africa (CBASA).
“Recycled bricks are an eco-friendly option. They not only eliminate resource use and emissions during production, they also cut down on landfill waste and the environmental and economic cost of transporting heavy materials to dump sites.”
As part of The Switch Africa Green Project funded by the European Union, CBASA is driving sustainability initiatives. These include research on reducing carbon footprint and resource use in production, as well as educating construction professionals on how to design and build resource-efficient buildings.
Where to use recycled bricks
Home owners have many options for reuse. In many cases, load-bearing brick buildings can be repurposed, with just a contemporary frontage added. In other cases, the brick façade is retained while a new structure is built behind it. Sometimes, the existing building is completely demolished, and the individual clay bricks are reused in exposed brick feature walls and elements.
Clay products that damaged or broken can be sold for use in road construction, embankments, tennis courts and landscaping. When reusing broken bricks as site filler, they must be crushed first to limit ground subsidence.
How to recycle bricks safely
Brush the bricks with a stiff bristle brush rather than a wire brush to remove all debris without damaging the texture. After a brick is wetted, efflorescence is always possible even with an older brick, but this is rarely a permanent condition.
Rubbing bricks on an abrasive grit stone may be useful for straightening up surfaces and removing chipped edges on handmade older bricks. The use of power tools is not advised. Grinding discs and wire brushes are hard to control, and scoring or polishing can disfigure the brick’s surface.
Compared to modern bricks which are manufactured to SABS standards, older bricks from coastal properties may have damage from salt especially near ground level. Chemical pollution from an industrial environment can alter the composition and density of the brick. If you are using the brick in load-bearing applications, you are advised to test a few samples to check your batch is free of defects. Please visit the CBA website for contact information on testing laboratories.
Welcome to Truss House
Truss House is a new building, but it uses exposed recycled brick walls and salvaged roof trusses to pay homage to the site’s industrial heritage as a timber mill.
The cube design of Truss House is unmistakably contemporary. But where concrete would have been the stereotypical choice, Truss house makes effective use of reclaimed brick to soften the angles and provide texture, organic colour and historical authenticity.
With a footprint of just 390m2 the house makes creative use of large glass windows, courtyards and an open plan interior to optimise light and space. The minimalist kitchen boasts sleek white furniture with feature walls of reclaimed clay brick with contrasting light mortar.
A unique inverted steel truss roof provides clearstory lighting along the full length of the home, providing glimpses of passing clouds and tree tops. Because the house uses the full site and is close to its neighbours, this creative solution offers diffuse natural light while maintaining privacy.
The bedroom also features exposed brick. Because glass is a poor insulator, the rear windows have automated angled shutters to control light, heat and street noise. The inverted truss becomes an opaque window that lets in natural daylight.
- Architects: Carter Williamson Architects
- Photographs courtesy: Brett Boardman