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Bricks: Properties

and Classifications
G.C.J. Lynch

Definition to a brick, including an allowance for a 10

A brick is a walling unit not exceeding nominal 10mm mortar joint. m
Work size is the measurements for a 5m
337.5mm in length, 225mm in width 21
and 112.5mm in height. The form may brick specified for manufacture, to 75mm

be generally defined as a rectangular which its actual size should conform 65mm
prism of a size that can be handled within specified allowable deviations.
conveniently with one hand. It is Most companies will manufacture
various sizes of bricks for repair and 11 5m
normal to find that the length of a brick 2.5 22
is equal to twice its width plus one restoration work to the clients
standard joint and three times the specifications, especially imperial
Co-ordinating size Work size:
height plus two standard joints. These sized bricks met on many older or format: Brick for manufacture
brick + 10mm joint
dimensions have evolved through the buildings.
centuries and provide a unit that is Figure 1. Brick for Manufacture
easily bonded for good appearances. Dimensional Deviations
It is normal to describe the thickness It is essential that there are clearly
defined limits on size variation within size of any individual brick in the
of a brick wall in terms of the number sample must not exceed the co-
of brick lengths. In other words, by a consignment of bricks if the
bricklayers are not to experience ordinating size.
placing a brick stretcher-wise across a In the UK there is a standard size for
problems in working to the architects
given wall one can indicate its thick-
measurements. bricks 215 102.5 65mm. A
ness in multiples of stretcher lengths. manufacturing tolerance is allowed.
Therefore a standard 102.5mm-thick The limits of the sizes are expressed
as limits on the overall measurements The test for limits of size should be
wall would be referred to as a half- carried out by collecting a sample of
brick-thick wall, as it would only be of 24 bricks sampled in accordance
with clause 9 and measured as 24 bricks from the batch in question.
half of the stretcher length. A 215mm BS 3921 Standard for Clay Bricks
wall built, for example, in English described in Appendix A of BS 3921,
1985. They should not fall outside the states three main methods of sampling:
bond would be referred to as a one-
limits given in Table II. In addition, the (1) random sampling;
brick-thick wall. A wall measuring
327.5mm in thickness would be
termed a one-and-a-half brick-thick
Co-ordinating size (mm) Work size (mm)
wall, and so on.
Length Width Height Length Width Height
Sizes 225 112.5 75 215 102.5 65
Bricks are designated in terms of their
co-ordinating sizes and work sizes Table I.
which are as shown in Table I.
Co-ordinating size is also known as
format indicating the space allocated Work size (mm) Overall measurement of 24 bricks (mm)
Maximum Minimum

This article has been taken from Brickwork: 215 5,235 5,085
History, Technology and Practice, Vol. 1 by 102.5 2,505 2,415
G.C.J. Lynch, which was published in June 65 1,605 1,515
1994 by Donhead Publishing, 28
Southdean Gardens, Wimbledon, London. Table II. Limits of Size

Structural Survey, Vol. 12 No. 4, 1993/4, pp. 15-20, MCB University Press, 0263-080X Volume 12 Number 4 1993/4 15
(2) sampling from a stack;
(3) sampling from a consignment of
bonded packs.
This is to ensure as wide a range of
bricks as possible. As the majority of
bricks today are delivered in packs,
many polythene shrink-wrapped, the
method employed would be as Frogged Perforated Solid
Six packs would be selected at Figure 2. BS 3921:1985 Specification for Clay Bricks
random, the band around one slice of
each carefully removed and an equal
number of not more than four bricks required of clay bricks and when used type. A soft rubbing brick will
sampled at random from each of the with the British Standard Code of naturally absorb much more
opened slices. This will give the num- Practice for Use of Masonry, BS 5628: than a dense vitrified
ber required, with no consideration Part 3: 1985 Materials and Components, engineering brick. This
being allowed for condition or quality Design and Workmanship, provides property is not significant in
of the bricks. the basis for correct specification of clay determining frost resistance or
The bricks are dusted clean, remov- bricks and brickwork. resistance of brickwork to rain
ing any blisters, small projections or Clay bricks vary considerably in penetration.
loose clay particles adhering to any of physical properties and appearance.
Compressive strength. Clay
them. All the bricks are then placed in They may generally be said to perform
bricks vary in strength from
well in the following respects:
contact with each other on a level, clean about 7N/mm 2 to well over
surface. The overall measurement of (1) Aesthetic appearance: 100N/mm2. Where brickwork
the dimensions is obtained using a steel durability; is to be structural i.e.
tape to the nearest millimetre and the subjected to the loads of floors
results checked against Table II from resistance to rain penetration; and roofs or other forces,
BS 3921. compressive strength; bricks of adequate strength
fire resistance; must be specified. In many
Sizes of Voids instances, however, bricks are
The difference between solid, perfo- sound insulation; used well below their load-
rated, frogged and cellular is defined low thermal and moisture bearing capacity.
in BS 3921 according to their physical movement;
form: Strength and density (water
economy; absorption). Strong bricks of
Solid bricks do not have holes, low water absorption, with
versatility in application;
cavities or depressions. prescribed limits, are known
low maintenance require- as Engineering bricks. They
Perforated bricks have holes not
ments. are made from clay which,
exceeding 25 per cent of the gross
volume of the brick. The holes are when fired, produces a hard,
(2) Qualities of a good brick: dense brick with a smooth
so disposed that the aggregate
thickness of solid material, Shape. Good bricks will be shiny face. Traditionally they
measured horizontally across the consistent in size and conform are used for civil engineering
width of the unit at right angles to to the standard BS 3921. application.
the face, is nowhere less than 30 Individual bricks in a
Materials. Clays for bricks
per cent of the overall width of the consignment can vary within
should be composed of well-
brick. The area of any one hole allowable tolerance leading to
blended materials that will
does not exceed 10 per cent of the differing joint sizes.
produce a good quality
gross area of the brick. Well-burnt. A well-burnt brick product. If lime, which is
Frogged bricks have depressions will be fired throughout its sometimes added, is not finely
known as frogs in one or more thickness and show a uniform ground it will cause lime
of the bed faces, but their total texture internally when cut blows. This occurs when
volume does not exceed 20 per across. Under-burnt bricks are particles of burnt lime
cent of the gross volume of the not durable and tend to (quicklime) near the surface of
brick. weather quickly and dis- the brick expand when in
integrate. contact with rainwater. The
Cellular bricks may have holes or
cavities not exceeding 20 per cent Ring. Generally a good brick lime expands blowing small
of the gross volume of the brick, a emits a clear ringing sound, unsightly conical holes in the
cavity being a hole closed at one when struck with another face of the wall.
end. brick, or with a trowel. A poor Soluble salts. Some clays
brick gives a dull sound. contain naturally occurring
Specification Water absorption. The water salts that clay treatment does
BS 3921:1985 Specification for Clay absorption of bricks varies not fully remove. When
Bricks gives in detail the properties considerably according to its rainwater soaks into the brick

16 Structural Survey
these salts are dissolved and more brittle. Defective bricks may be They are widely used for
migrate in solution to the face laminated, crazed or cobwebby, or foundations and as a backing for
of the brick as it dries. On full of S cracks. Others may have rendering, plaster or colour wash.
reaching the air these salts patches of burnt lime or stones Until the increase in popularity of
crystallize in a white power showing, or may be deformed by the lightweight blocks over 30
known as efflorescence; over-burning in some way. years ago, they were also popular
although not harmful, it is Distorted bricks, because of lack of for inner leaf of cavity walling.
most unattractive, until it care in drying, poor clay or blend,
weathers away in subsequent (2) Facings specially made or
error in kiln placement, or over- selected to give an attractive
rainy weather. Some soluble burning are known as crozzles.
salt can in persistent wet appearance when used without
Scum is a result of soluble salts in rendering or plaster or other
conditions, cause chemical the clay or a deposit in the kiln by
reactions to change mortar. surface treatment of the wall.
insufficient drying with hot air in the They combine attractive ap-
Blemish-free. From the brick- pre-firing stage. pearance as well as structural
works to the completed wall, In all these instances the bricks
bricks may be handled many strength and good resistance to
should be stacked to one side for exposure. Today, facing bricks are
times. If done so in a careless possible use as hardcore or, if not, to
fashion then a large per- available in a wide range of
be removed as rubbish. They should colours, textures and strengths for
centage can be spoilt, with not be used in any walling of
damaged arrises and chipped use above ground level.
faces meaning that they (3) Engineerings are generally
cannot be used for facing classified as either Class A
work, but only on work which (having a minimum crushing
will not be seen; an expensive Description
The methods by which bricks are strength of 70N/mm 2 and a
waste. maximum water absorption of 4.5
described are numerous:
Colour. Unless the brick is per cent), or Class B (having a
fired or textured for a multi- (1) Method of manufacture extruded, minimum crushing strength of
coloured face, then it should wire-cut, pressed, handmade, etc. 50N/mm2 and a maximum water
be of uniform colour. (2) Uses commons, facings, absorption of 7.0 per cent). They
Different deliveries of the engineerings. are further sub-divided into
same bricks can produce a facings and commons according
variation in tone of colour (3) Place of origin Staffordshire
to their appearance properties.
which must be watched for if Blues, London stocks, Accrington
They are dense, strong, semi-
one is to avoid banding in a Noris, etc.
vitreous bricks possessing both the
wall. If consistency cannot be (4) Surface texture sand-faced, required strength and absorption
guaranteed then all the bricks glazed, rustic, etc. properties. There are numerous
required should be purchased excellent loadbearing commons
nd delivered simultaneously (5) Colour reds, buffs, blues, etc.
and facing bricks which even
and, as an extra precaution, if (6) Raw material marl, gault, shale,
exceed the defined limits for Class
the bricks have come in packs, etc.
A engineering, but are not classi-
when laying mix from at least
three packs to blend any fied as such, because their water
variation of colour. absorption exceeds that required.
Classification of Bricks Their name derives from their
Bricks are generally classified as: use in civil engineering
Defects in Bricks (1) Commons having no special construction of bridges, sewers
With todays high standard of quality claim to appearance and are and aqueducts, etc., particularly
control from the most basic hand defined as suitable for general during the nineteenth and
selection of the small brick producers, building work. Thus the term twentieth centuries. They are still
to the most advanced methods of commons is applied to many in demand today, for civil
computer control and test sampling varieties of clay bricks which fall engineering work and also for
at the big mass producers, the outside the range of engineerings engine pits, power houses and
chances of getting defective bricks
or facings. damp proof courses.
when one has paid for quality should
be small. However, all bricks should
be examined on delivery, although
this is somewhat difficult today Designation Frost resistance Soluble salt content
when so many bricks arrive in
shrink-wrapped packs. It should FL Frost resistant (F) Low (L)
be a standing instruction to the FN Frost resistant (F) Normal (N)
labourer and bricklayer to discard ML Moderately frost resistant (M) Low (L)
inferior bricks if they find them. MN Moderately frost resistant (M) Normal (N)
An under-burnt brick is generally OL Not frost resistant (O) Low (L)
softer than its counterparts, while an ON Not frost resistant (O) Normal (N)
over-burnt brick will be harder, darker
and often smaller. It may also be Table III. Durability Designation

Volume 12 Number 4 1993/4 17

Designations of Durability (L) salts content shall not exceed mortar joints on the surface of the
BS 3921: 1985 Specification for Clay the following: Calcium 0.300 per cent; walling, reacting chemically with the
Bricks assesses bricks for durability. Magnesium 0.030 per cent; Potassium tri-calcium aluminate in the cement.
Clay bricks are separately classified 0.030 per cent; Sodium 0.030 per cent; This results in an expansive reaction
for both frost resistance and soluble Sulphate 0.500 per cent by mass. which will manifest itself initially as a
salt content. This has resulted in six (N) For normal classification there lightening of the colour of the mortar,
designations which are given in Table is no limit on soluble salt content. followed by a horizontal cracking
III of the Standard and defined in This classification has important of the joint. Eventually, the mortar
clauses 5.1 and 5.2. implications for architects and speci- will crack and crumble, and this
fiers for both the durability of finished decomposition may even cause the
Frost Resistance brickwork, because soluble sulphates wall to lean or bulge and become weak
The degrees of frost resistance of a can damage cement mortar if the and unstable. Sulphate attack takes
brick define its ability to withstand the brickwork is subjected to prolonged some time to develop and is not
potentially destructive effects of frost wet conditions. Consideration must evident generally within two or three
attack. This can occur only when the be given to sulphates in the soil years of a new wall being built.
brick is subject to saturation and then and the prevailing ground conditions. To avoid sulphate attack, the
repeated freeze-thaw cycles leading to Although this phenomenon known following points should be observed:
expansive forces as the water freezes. as efflorescence is also due to soluble Use a frost resistant, low salt
The resistance of bricks to frost action salts in the brickwork to L and N content brick conforming to the
varies, therefore bricks should be used classification, it is not related to FL designation.
in accordance with their durability liability to efflorescence on the
qualities. brickwork. However the standard Use a sulphate-resisting cement in
The frost resistance of a clay brick provides a test for, and limit of, a good quality cement-rich mortar
is determined generally by experience efflorescence. which will be more resistant to
of its use. There is no British Standard saturation than will a leaner mix.
Test for measuring frost resistance. This injunction must be read in
However, there is a test developed by conjunction with the need to
British Ceramic Research Limited,
which brick manufacturers can use to
assess their products. The test is
Design the
retain flexibility and to provide a
good finish.
Design, build and maintain the
carried out on a panel of brickwork brickwork brickwork so that it does not
involving 100 freeze-thaw cycles. remain saturated for long periods.
Bricks surviving this severe test are
deemed to be frost resistant. so that it Tests for soluble salts are carried out
The British Standard then goes on to on a random sample of ten bricks at a
laboratory. The test involves crushing
describe three classes into which
manufacturers may place their
does not remain and chemical analysis.
(F) frost resistant bricks durable saturated for Efflorescence
in all building situations including
Efflorescence, formally referred to as
those where they are in a saturated
condition and subject to repeated
freezing and thawing.
long periods
saltpetre, describes the white powdery
deposit of crystallized soluble salts
formed on or near the surface of the
(M) moderately frost resistant brickwork. It is quite common to see
bricks durable except when in a In any event, sulphate attack can only some signs of efflorescence on new
saturated condition and subjected occur in brickwork if three conditions facework after the walling has dried
to repeated freezing and thawing. combine, which are: out for the first time, however, it rarely
(O) not frost resistant bricks (1) Water. Although this will be persists as it is washed away owing to
liable to be damaged by freezing present during construction of the the effects of wind and rain. Where it
and thawing if not protected as brickwork, it will not be the cause. is more persistent or is heavy it can be
recommended in BS 5628: Part 3. Prolonged wet conditions are very unsightly but it is harmless.
These bricks are considered as necessary due to ground water or Although due mainly to the presence
suitable for internal use, or as a the effects of rain on the exposed of soluble salts in the brick, it can also
base for imperforate cladding. brickwork. manifest itself in the joint and imply
(2) Tri calcium aluminate (C3A). that the soluble salts are present in the
Soluble Salt Content Found in Ordinary Portland sand in the mortar which of course they
The clays used for manufacturing Cement (OPC) of amounts may be. It can also be the case,
bricks often contain naturally occurring between 8 to13 per cent. however, that it emphasizes that the
soluble salts of calcium, magnesium, joint is the conduit through which the
potassium, sodium and sulphate. These (3) Soluble sulphates. May be present wall breathes. The salts are generally
salts vary according to the geology of occurring naturally in the bricks chlorates or sulphates of calcium,
the clay. In the durability classification or the ground. magnesium potassium or sodium; all
the soluble salts content categories are If the brickwork remains in a very natural to building clays. They can also
defined as low (L) or normal, (N) for wet state then soluble sulphate salts be present in the subsoil and, through
low classification. will dissolve and migrate to the capillarity, rise up the brickwork.

18 Structural Survey
Bricks which have been poorly stored, Compressive Strength always a simple and consistent
resting on the ground and open to the The compressive strength of bricks relationship.
weather can become contaminated with must be stated. It must not be less than The classification of water absorp-
the minerals in the soil. The use of the stated strength, and in no case less tion is used in calculating the flexural
household detergents as a plasticizer than the strength for the appropriate strength of masonry walls, i.e. their
can also contribute towards efflores- class of brick given in Table IV. resistance to bending, because it is
cence, as they generally contain The compressive strength of a brick related to mortar bonding (obviously
common salt. Only proprietary and is normally assessed by testing a the mortar strength is included in this
properly formulated masonry mortar sample of ten bricks. The average calculation).
plasticizers should be used. crushing strength of the ten bricks is Water absorption is used to
Efflorescence forms as the dissolved quoted as the characteristic crushing classify engineering and DPC bricks.
salts migrate to the surface of the wall strength of the consignment. Any frogs Damp-proof course 1 bricks are
as it dries out. As the moisture content in the brick are filled with mortar recommended for use in buildings,
drops so the concentration increases before testing. while damp-proof course 2 bricks are
until crystallization occurs, either Compressive strength is relevant to recommended for external use (refer to
within the pores of the brick or on the a structural engineer calculating Table B of BS 5628: Part 3: 1985).
face. structural brickwork strengths in Water absorption is further used
Manufacturers are required to state accordance with the recommendations as a method of assessing how a
the efflorescence of their bricks, of the Structural Masonry Codes of particular clay brick may affect the
sampled and tested within the Practice. It is not an indicator of the action of water penetration through a
procedures laid down in BS 3921. bricks frost resistance or durability. wall. A wall of highly porous bricks
Although the test gives an assess- can have what is known as an
ment of a bricks liability to efflores- overcoat effect. In this instance
cence, the result has little relationship Water Absorption some rain runs down the face but more
to the occurrence of efflorescence in Clay brick manufacturers must state is absorbed, and eventually water
brickwork, as the salts causing the the water absorptions of their products penetrates by the action of wind-
condition may come from the bricks, when sampled in accordance with driven or heavy rain. However, a wall
mortar materials, or site contamination, clause 9 and tested as described in of bricks of low porosity will have a
or sea spray in coastal locations! Appendix E of BS 3921. The water raincoat effect more water runs
The liability of bricks to efflores- absorption must in no case be greater down the wall face, but water on the
cence is increased if bricks become than the water absorption for the joint is increased.
saturated in the stack, or unfinished appropriate class of brick given in In both cases, good workmanship
brickwork is left open and becomes Table IV. ensuring solid well finished mortar
saturated. Therefore, although proper Water absorption is a measure of joints (bed joints and cross joints) will
specification of a brick considering available pore space and is expressed resist wind-driven rain effectively.
both frost resistance and soluble salt as a percentage of the dry brick Even so, in heavy, persistent rainfall,
content is vital at the design stage, weight. This varies in clay bricks from water penetrates the outer leaf and
designers should also specify covering 1 per cent to 35 per cent. Many people will drain down in the cavity wall
the brickwork to protect it from hold the mistaken belief that the lower and be conducted out by cavity trays
saturation construction. Wide eaves, the absorption, the higher the degree of and weepholes provided for that
good copings and sills, etc., give a frost resistance, but this relationship is purpose.
good umbrella effect to the wall an unreliable guide to durability.
and also minimize the likelihood of Stocks and certain handmade bricks
efflorescence. Site control over which, by virtue of their pore struc- Calcium Silicate Bricks
workmanship plays a vital part in this ture, are often more frost resistant Calcium silicate bricks are man-
quest, also bricks should be stored off than, for instance, machine-made ufactured to BS 187:1978 in highly
the ground and kept covered and bricks with a similar high water automated factory conditions in
free from contamination; newly-built absorption. Although high strength which many stages of production
work should be protected from wet bricks are generally found to have low are computer-controlled.
weather for at least one week values of water absorption this is not Their advantages are:
after construction; and scaffold
boards should be turned up to prevent
splashes of driving rain causing
Compressive Water
a band of efflorescence at lift
strength absorption
heights. Class N/mm2 percentage by mass

Treatment of Efflorescence Engineering A 70 4.5

It is vital not to use acid or brick Engineering B 50 7.0
cleaners as this may only exacerbate Damp-proof course 1 5 4.5
the problem. The wall can be brushed Damp-proof course 2 5 7.0
clean using a bristle brush (never a All others 5 No limits
wire brush) although light washing Note: Clay bricks are available with compressive strengths ranging from about 7mm2
with clean water may help. to in excess of 100N/mm2
Efflorescence is best left to weather
away naturally. Table IV. Classification of Bricks by Compressive Strength and Water Absorption

Volume 12 Number 4 1993/4 19

Brick Development Association, SP1
Class Minimum mean Minimum predicted Bricks and Brickwork, BDA, Windsor.
compressive strength (wet) lower limit of Brick Development Association, SP13
of ten bricks N/mm2 compressive strength N/mm2 Specification for Clay Bricks, BDA,
7 48.5 40.5
6 41.5 34.5 BS 3921:1985 Specification for Clay
5 34.5 28.0 Bricks, BSI, London.
4 27.5 21.5 BS 187:1978, Specification for Calcium
3 20.5 15.5 Silicate (Sandlime and Flintime)
Bricks, BSI, London.
Table V. Classes of Calcium Silicate Bricks BS 4729: 1990, Specification for Dimen-
sions of Bricks of Special Shapes and
sizes, BSI, London.
Consistent structure of brick with (1) Facing bricks of 20N/mm2 strength BS 6649: 1985, Specification for Clay and
no soluble salts or sulphates to provide attractive appearance Calcium Silicate Modular Bricks, BSI,
within them, therefore mortar for use in all forms of construction, London.
attack and efflorescence can come internal or external. They are BS 6073:Part 1:1981, Precast Concrete
only from external sources such available in a wide range of colours Masonry Units, Parts 1 Specification
as soil contact or sea water spray. including multi-colours, and in for Precast Concrete masonry units,
This combines with the consistent smooth, rustic, split, pitched or BSI, London.
high strength now available to weathered finishes. BS 6073: Part 2:1981, Precast Concrete
give good frost resistance Masonry Units, Part 2 Method for
(2) Engineering bricks of 40N/mm 2 Specifying Precast Concrete Units,
making them ideal for foundation
strength can be used in particularly BSI, London.
aggressive conditions where sul-
The sizes of the bricks are as for BS 6100: Section 5.3:1984, British Stan-
phate resistance and low water dard Glossary of Buildings
clay bricks and with tolerances in absorption are paramount e.g. and Civil Engineering, Terms Part 5,
accordance with BS 187: 1978. retaining walls, special applications Section 5.3 Bricks and Blocks, BSI,
The regularity of dimensions in below DPC, and structural applica- London.
size and shape of the bricks gives tions. Inspection chambers can also BS 5628:Part 3:1985, Code of Practice for
enhanced consistency of laying. be constructed with these bricks. Use of Masonry, BSI, London.
The light-reflective qualities (3) Common bricks are manufactured Building Research Establishment, Digest
added to dimensional accuracy, in a wide range of strengths, 157 Calcium Silicate Brickwork, BRE,
give appeal for decorative internal densities and cementitious Garston.
brickwork, although the majority content to satisfy the structural Building Research Establishment, Digest
of facing bricks are still supplied and durability requirements of 273 Perforated Bricks, on 154 Calcium
to external applications. BS 5628: Part 3. They can be used Silicate Brick, BRE, Garston.
The inherent properties give above or below ground level, Handisyde, C.C. and Haseltine, B.A.
global attributes for use in hot and although if intended for fair-face (1976), Bricks and Brickwork, BDA,
cold climates, being successfully work or painted finish, it is Windsor.
used in the Middle East as well as essential to specify the bricks Lynch, G.C.J. (1990), Gauged Brickwork,
the antarctic region of South before ordering. A Technical Handbook, Gower,
Georgia. Aldershot.
The size of a concrete brick is as for
clay bricks, however owing to the fact Lynch, G.C.J. (1994), Brickwork;
A comprehensive range of colours History, Technology and Practice,
is available which can be adjusted that the bricks can be made to such Vols 1 and 2, Donhead Publishing,
in tone to match any colour shade fine tolerances, it does enhance its use London.
the client requests. on walls fair-faced on both sides.
Products in Practice: Bricks, Architects
Metric modular bricks as well as Journal, 27 January, 1985.
Calcium silicate bricks are designated
imperial sizes are made by some
by BS 187:1978 according to their
manufacturers to specific order.
compressive strength and appearance
into the classes shown in Table V.
Further Reading G.C.J. Lynch, is a master bricklayer, author
Brick Development Association, Design of a number of books on bricklaying and
Concrete Bricks note 3 Brickwork Dimension Tables (A lectures on historic brickwork and
Concrete bricks are available in three Guide to Designing and Building to conservation.
categories: Brick Dimensions), BDA, Windsor.

20 Structural Survey