The age of brick

Andrew Halstead-Smith takes a look at brick – still the most popular product for the building market

Brick has never been more popular. It remains the preferred building product for the construction sector, which is currently experiencing increased building activity levels, according to recent reports from Markit and the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply (CIPS).

Brick’s proven long-term performance and its undoubted wide-ranging aesthetic appeal, are the foundations of its continued attraction. Such characteristics, as well as superior sustainability credentials, underpin the role of brick as the anchor construction product for many of the nation’s most visually impactful and award-winning commercial buildings and homes.

However, to keep pace with a fast changing construction environment and increased market demands, the brick industry must continue to innovate in all areas. This includes ensuring production and supply levels are maintained, product options are enhanced and sustainability credentials remain an important consideration when specifying a product.

Meeting demand
Statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) demonstrate that brick production has risen by seven per cent and brick manufacturers have created one billion bricks over the past six months. While demand for brick hit the headlines last year, updated production figures released by the industry, as well as ongoing investment in operationally-efficient brick production sites such as Ibstock’s £22 million redeveloped Chesterton factory, has seen an impressive response from the sector to meet the welcome signs of increasing market demand. Brick availability is not an issue.

Changing tastes and speedier construction
Like all building products, taste in brick colours changes over time. While timeless classics will always remain popular, there has been noticeable increased market demand for more vibrant colours, design options and alternative finishes.

The growth in interest for glazed finished products indicates a market demand for exploring alternative solutions to deliver highly attractive building façades. Portfolios of real ceramic glazed finishes in a huge variety of colours, sizes and finishes – including frosted, gloss and satin – are being developed to satisfy demand for brick solutions offering striking designs.

In addition, as the name suggests, the Everyday Specials range is a portfolio of unique shapes you might commonly use all the time – or every day – to help create effortless brickwork design. The range is supported by an innovative quotation and ordering system, the ‘Everyday Easy Order System’ that enables immediate and instantaneous quotations and the ability to order with despatch in 48 hours so you can keep products can be kept in stock. The secure online system provides access to full product information, while quote generation and ordering take just a few easy steps. This modern process helps speed-up the procurement process for busy contractors looking to keep on track of build timescales.

As well as support services designed to speed-up construction, the sector is also seeking faster and more efficient methods to incorporate brick into projects. This has led to the development of a number of technical solutions at a time when construction projects are experiencing sustained pressure to complete on time and in budget. These include:

Arches – A traditional feature of brickwork over openings, varying from simple flat arch details to highly decorative solutions. The availability of traditionally built arches or large scale precast arches or drive throughs can reduce complexity on site and quicken construction. The selection of fully structural one-piece arch systems with stainless steel bearing plates to aid simple installation is proving popular.

Underslung soffits – Deep reveals and soffits are an increasingly popular design feature. To create the effects, the surrounding brickwork bond is carried over the openings while still maintaining an exposed brick soffit without the need for unsightly exposed supporting steelwork. An effective solution in the form of underslung soffits can be a great answer for instances where unusually shaped and long openings need to be overcome, or where there is restricted access or little or no bearing surfaces available.

Faststack – An ideal answer as a pre-fabricated real brick slip chimney. With changes in planning criteria reintroducing a number of requirements for chimneystacks, the fact that Faststack has gained British Board of Agrement (BBA) accreditation ensures builders can be satisfied the product will deliver in terms of quality, performance and regulatory scrutiny. It enables the easy installation of both working and decorative chimneys and offers cost effectiveness benefits. From a choice perspective, its wide range of designs and flue options for all roof locations, and the fact it is clad in real brick slips, means it can be matched with new or existing buildings without issue.

Fastwall – Similarly to Faststack, Fastwall is an innovative and extremely quick method to clad, infill or build a wall with real brick slips. A precision-engineered composite of 20mm brick slips bonded to patented backing and featuring a unique interlocking system, it can shave significant time from build projects. It is constructed off site and can replicate the aesthetics of traditional brickwork with ease. Fixing is straightforward.

Adopting some of the methods outlined here can help reduce construction timescales.

Demand for sustainable answers
When Ibstock questioned stakeholders in the construction industry about attitudes to sustainability, just over a third (36 per cent) said that clients or customers had requested sustainable solutions on projects. While this percentage is fairly low at the moment, architects told us that the issue is going to become more important in the future.

Ibstock takes sustainability extremely seriously and supports the view that it is a vitally important issue for the future of construction. That is why we were delighted to see brick become the first construction product to gain verification under the BRE Global’s Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) scheme. This ensures its environmental impact can be effectively measured in comparison to other materials.

Brick is a natural product that has very little added to its mixture. Unlike many other building materials, it has low toxicity and does not use preservatives. It also lacks the volatile organic compounds commonly found in the formulation of plastic and synthetic materials. As well as longevity, once used, brick also produces very little in terms of wastage through the manufacturing process and has excellent energy efficiency credentials.

Planning is key
With production meeting demand, ever-increasing design options and a continued focus on delivering sustainable credentials, brick is set to remain as vital to the UK’s construction industry as it has always been.

As demand for brick products is predicted to continue as the construction sector hits an 11-year activity high, all stakeholders must ensure they plan ahead on construction projects. This will ensure brick production and supply continues to meet demand for this ever-popular construction material.

Andrew Halstead-Smith is Group Marketing Manager at Ibstock, the UK’s largest brick maker. Ibstock invests heavily in ensuring a more sustainable future through its manufacturing, its communities and its products – over £100 million since 2003. The company offers an unrivalled choice of over 500 different bricks in its extensive range, which includes prefabricated brickwork components, rainscreens and a diverse selection of special shaped bricks and pavers.

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