Brick and Colored Mortar
DEAR TIM: My hubby and I just got back from the brickyard and I don't mean the one in Indianapolis. Anyway, there were many different types, colors, and styles of brick. I was astonished at the price spread between some of the different types. Aren't all bricks basically the same? Is there a vast difference in quality between bricks? Is there anything I can do to modify the appearance of the brick as it is installed?T.E.
DEAR T. E.: Brick is a fascinating building material. It also happens to be one of the oldest manufactured building materials. Brick is manufactured primarily of clay, which happens to be one of the most abundant materials found in most soils. My guess is that a group of individuals had a particularly intense bonfire one night. The next morning, they were astonished to see that the ground below the fire had become very hard indeed.
Manufacturing processes today are more refined than those methods used 5,000 years ago. Bricks can be manufactured from either clay or shale. Shale is simply a soft rock which started out as clay. Not all bricks are the same for the simple reason that not all clays or shales are the same. These two materials often have a high content of silica and alumina, two of the most abundant elements on earth. In addition, clays and shales contain metallic elements such as iron, magnesium, and potassium in varying amounts. These elements help add strength to the clays as they are heated to form bricks.
There are 4 primary factors that affect the cost of brick: raw material cost, energy, labor, and freight. Certain clays or shales may be easy to mine. The raw materials may be close to the brick plant. The cost of fuel for the firing kilns may differ in different parts of the country. Some bricks can be made and packaged entirely by machines. Other bricks use manual labor to blend and grade the bricks. Because bricks are heavy, the cost to ship them any distance can add significantly to their final cost.
Bricks can vary significantly in quality for several reasons. First, the clay or shale used to make the brick must possess certain qualities. Top quality bricks are made using clay or shale which has excellent plasticity and fusibility. Hang in there, I'll explain these terms.
A clay or shale is considered to have excellent plasticity if, after mixing with a small amount of water, it can be shaped or molded into a certain shape. It must be able to maintain this shape during the drying process.
Fusibility relates to a bricks durability. After bricks are formed and dried, they begin to enter a kiln. A kiln is nothing more than a giant oven. The temperatures in brick kilns can reach as high as 2400 degrees F. As the clay and shale particles are heated they begin to soften and fuse together. The more particles that fuse together, the harder and more durable the brick.
You can modify the appearance of your brick job very easily by paying attention to the mortar which is used between the bricks. Most people fail to realize that the mortar joints on a typical brick job make up approximately 15 to 17 percent of the surface area of a wall. Two things can be done to enhance the beauty of mortar: color and texture.
Many mortar manufacturers offer different colored mortars, not unlike colored grout for ceramic tile. The use of colored mortar can actually enhance the appearance of a colored brick. There are nine different textures or shapes that you can use when finishing the mortar joints. Some of these can make a brick job look old fashioned while others may make it look contemporary. Using a little creativity with mortar can make your brick home the most attractive in the subdivision.