Brick is a very common material on the reclamation market, especially in regions with a rich tradition of brick buildings. Until the first half of the 20th century, each region produced a type of brick whose appearance and colour differed according to the clay and the baking method used. There are therefore numerous varieties – a diversity that is currently reflected in the range offered by suppliers of reclaimed bricks.
Today’s reclaimed bricks are often solid bricks from walls built with a lime-based mortar (or other soft mortars: clay, ashes, etc.). Cement mortar became more widely used from the 1950s. Its increased resistance makes it more difficult to reclaim bricks, notably because they are more complicated to clean. However, most bricks used before this period are suitable for reuse.
Many suppliers specialising in reclaimed bricks are also demolition contractors. They agree to demolish a building if the bricks are worth reclaiming. In some cases, the value of the bricks enables these firms to offer a reduction on the demolition costs. The total proportion of reclaimed bricks depends on the condition of the original brickwork and the method used. It is usually in the region of 50%. The bricks are then sorted, cleaned and packed on pallets.
Today, reclaimed bricks are generally used as cladding rather than as structural components. They are valued for their appearance and particular colour variations. There are also cases of reclaimed bricks being used for load-bearing masonry, but these are rarer. Traditionally, reclaimed bricks have been used for older or listed buildings where accurate matching is particularly important on extensions and repairs and for whole buildings in historic areas where older bricks are more in keeping. This material also has various applications in interior design and landscaping.
There is a wide variety of reusable bricks. They are often characterised by :
- their manufacturing method: hand-moulded bricks, machine-made bricks, extruded bricks…
- their origin: reclaimed bricks are often named after their original production location (for instance Beersesteen and Scheldesteen in Belgique, Jzelsteen in the Netherlands, Accrington in the United Kingdom) or after the type of kiln used to bake them (for instance, Paepesteen, Klampsteen, Veldovensteen, brick-oven bricks, etc.).
- their format, often associated with a manufacturer and/or a location. For instance: rijnformaat (BE) (180 × 85 × 50 mm), derdeling (BE) (160 × 80 × 40 mm), boerkes (BE) (170 × 90 × 65 mm), waalformaat (BE) (210 × 100 × 50 mm), Spaanse Moef (BE) (210 × 50 × 100 mm), imperial bricks (UK) (225 × 110 × 65 mm), etc.
Brick suppliers usually offer the following services:
- sorting (exclusion of bricks unsuitable for reuse)
- removing traces of mortar
- packing on pallet
For a brick to be considered complete, at least one of the two large surfaces must be intact. Given that just one surface of the brick will be visible when it is reused, it does not matter if some of the edges on the other side are slightly cracked.
Some suppliers also prepare half-bricks and three-quarter bricks. These are useful for some applications (e.g. standing upright or crossed for cladding). Approach your supplier for further information.
The price of bricks sold by number varies in accordance with the size, quality and rarity of the brick. Here come a few indicative prices for the Belgian market:
- hand-made bricks: between 0.30 and 0.60 €/brick excl. VAT
- machine-made bricks: between 0.25 and 0.35 €/brick excl. VAT
When designing brickwork using reclaimed bricks, a series of choices have to be made concerning the appearance, as follows:
- choice of system (cut and orientation): standing, cross, free choice, half-brick, etc.
- joints: colour, thickness and type. Traditionally, there are often brushed joints, a sandy/beige colour. But it is also possible to work with a thin, dark joint. In other cases, the project designers can expressly leave the cladding non-repointed to emphasise the rough appearance of the façade.
- finishes: option of sanding the brickwork (the traces of mortar and paint on the façade are removed), lime stains, etc.
The success of reclaimed bricks has led some manufacturers to produce new bricks imitating the appearance of reclaimed bricks, using ’artificial ageing’ techniques: blows on the edges, fake traces of mortar, etc. Confirm the truly reclaimed origin of your bricks with your supplier.
Did you know?
Many Belgian reclaimed bricks dealers have witnessed an interesting development in the reclaimed bricks sector. In the past, ’hand-made’ bricks were the most popular. These are bricks of irregular appearance, sometimes over two hundred years old. Since the 1990s, the demolition of very old buildings has decreased, while the demand for reclaimed bricks has remained constant. This has resulted in reclamation contractors taking an interest in the more modern types of solid brick, machine-made (extruded). These date from the first half of the 20th century and have a much more regular appearance. More recent reclaimed bricks have gradually found a place on the market. Because they are more commonplace during demolitions, they are also cheaper than reclaimed hand-made bricks.