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From category archives: Brick Industry Association Blog


New Construction Robot Lays Bricks Three Times as Fast as Human Workers

A new construction worker has been lending high-efficiency help to job sites, laying bricks at almost three times the speed of a human worker. SAM (short for Semi-Automated Mason) is a robotic bricklayer that handles the repetitive tasks of basic brick laying, MIT Technology Review reports. While SAM handles picking up bricks, applying mortar and placing them at designated locations, its human partner handles worksite setup, laying bricks in specific areas (e.g. corners) and improving the aesthetic quality of the masonry.

Despite its role in completing repetitive tasks, SAM can adapt to real jobsite conditions, including differentiating between theoretical drawings and the conditions of the actual building site. It is also capable of minor detailing, such as emblazoning a logo by following a pixel map of the image, and adding texture to the wall face by bumping bricks by half an inch.

“In construction, your design will say that a window is located exactly 30 feet from the corner of a building, and in reality when you get to the building, nothing is ever where it says it’s supposed to be,” said Scott Peters, cofounder of the company that designed SAM - Construction Robotics, in an interview with MIT Technology Review. “Masons know how to adapt to that, so we had to design a robot that knows how to do that, too.”

A human mason can lay between 300 to 500 bricks a day - SAM can lay 800 to 1200. Even so, Peters says that SAM’s purpose is to improve overall efficiency, not replace humans – there will always be jobs that a robot can’t do. One human working with one SAM equals roughly four or more masons on a single job.

Click here to read more about SAM.


What to Do About a Leak in the Wall of a New Condo Building

My wife and I moved into a new condominium building in March 2009. When it rains and there’s heavy wind, we get water leaking through the brick. A gentle rain shower with the rain falling straight down causes no problems. What is causing the problem? There are many older brick buildings on the street that are well over 100 years old and none of them leak. Is there anything that can be done that will stop the leaks, or do the exterior walls have to be completely rebuilt? Stanley P., Brooklyn, N.Y.


It’s a shame you’re experiencing this common problem. Not too many years ago I used to do quite a bit of expert witness work in construction-defect cases. I was the lead witness in a huge case in the Midwest against a very large builder. He built many brick-veneer homes and every one of them had leakage similar to what you describe. My testimony about what was going on and how to fix it carried the day for the homeowners.

Two hundred years ago this leakage issue was known. The builders who experienced leakage solved the problem by modifying how they built solid masonry buildings. They used different brick and they used a lime mortar different from today’s high-strength mortars. The lime mortar has a unique self-healing property where it can grow new crystals when a hairline crack develops. It’s too bad most masons don’t use this lime mortar in modern construction.

Your new condominium building and the older solid masonry buildings in your neighborhood may look similar on the outside, but that’s where it stops. The older brick buildings on your street have exterior walls that contain a minimum of two layers of brick. Some buildings have exterior walls that have three layers of brick.

The builders of old discovered that the brick you see on the outside needs to be a hard brick that resists weathering. The brick they used there was fired in the kilns for a longer time and at a hotter temperature. Some types of brick made in this way are so hard they can resist Mother Nature’s punishment for hundreds of years.

But the brick masons discovered they also needed a softer brick that soaks up water. This was the brick they placed behind the one you see on the outside of the old buildings. The softer brick sucked up the rain water and then allowed it to evaporate back to the exterior of the building just after the rainstorm ended.

This leakage has been well documented by building scientists for decades. The Brick Industry Association (BIA) has technical notes and bulletins that talk about this leakage and how to prevent it when building. Your building’s architect and builder should have followed the advice given by the BIA. These technical bulletins have been available for free for decades and can now be accessed easily from the BIA web site (

- Tim Carter is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. Contact him through his web site at

Read the full article as it appeared in The Washington Post.


Lancaster Central Market Revitalizes with Clay Pavers

Along with spring's arrival comes the start of construction season and with it, resuming work on Lancaster Central Market's streetscape project.

The latest phase of the $2 million-plus project involves replacing hexagonal concrete pavers along North Market Street between West King and North Grant streets with brick. Access to market is closed along that side and Grant is fenced off.


Charlotte Katzenmoyer, city public works director, said the work on this phase should take about seven weeks. The entire project is expected to be completed by the end of the summer. 

Since last spring, new bricks have been put in along Market between Grant and West Orange streets, Grant between Prince and Market and on Penn Way, along the market's eastern side. Next after the current phase will be repaving William Henry Place, along market's southern side.

The pavers the bricks are replacing were installed in the 1970s and weren't meant to handle the weight of automotive traffic.

When complete, the project will feature poetry path in the Heritage Quadrant — the area around the market and in front of the Lancaster City Visitor Center. Barbara Buckman Strasko’s poem, "Bricks and Mortar," an ode to the late Lancaster artist David Brumbach, will be engraved in granite. The winding path will be designed to resemble the Conestoga River in an aerial view of the city.

Other features include green infrastructure improvements, including a rainwater cistern; embedded lights in the sidewalk around market and in Penn Square near the Griest Building; black metal bollards to replace wooden ones and black wrought-iron benches to be placed around market.

Work on the project was expected to begin the summer of 2011. But work was delayed, in part, because walls of an underground vault for the Griest Building that house its electrical and mechanical equipment had deteriorated and needed to be repaired.

The city got more than $2 million in funding for the project through federal and state grants and local donations and is also using capital budget funds.

Read the full article as it first appeared in Lancaster Online.

Building A Collection Brick by Brick

On an unseasonably warm midwinter day, Stephanie LaRose Lewison arrived at Fall Kill Creek in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., with hip waders, a ladder and white ski poles. After descending the ladder into the creek’s swift current, she balanced herself on the poles and began bricking.

“It’s a defining characteristic of myself,” said the 31-year-old geologist, of her passion for collecting the ubiquitous fired-clay blocks almost universally regarded as heavy, dirty and generally worthless. To date, she has amassed more than 400 bricks—not far from the proverbial ton—in her Poughkeepsie basement.

She keeps them neatly displayed on shelves just above her glass-bottle collection, a decision that led one fellow brick aficionado to label her an “optimist.”

Like other collectors, she looks for bricks stamped with words, pictures, symbols or numbers set in a rectangular recess called a frog. Unmarked bricks, called “vanillas,” are usually ignored.

Ms. Lewison is member No. 1,518 of the International Brick Collectors Association. The organization, which frowns on buying or selling, won’t assign bricks a monetary value. It insists that one brick is worth another in trade only.

“When you place a value on something, you attract people who want to make a profit,” said the association’s librarian, Jim Graves. If bricks were worth money, he added, “it would encourage people to go out and liberate them.”

Mr. Graves, 73, has between 3,000 and 4,000 bricks in his yard in Wichita, Kan.

“I don’t mind being called crazy,” he said.

Instead of searching eBay, IBCA members travel to thrice-yearly swaps where collectors trade from truck beds and spread out bricks to give away. A bell rings and attendees race around, filling their arms.

“It’s amazing what people are willing to share,” said Ms. Lewison, who said she once scored a rare New York Central Railroad example. Between swaps she mails bricks to collecting colleagues in flat-rate boxes.

In the early 1900s, the Hudson Valley led the world in brick production. New York City building codes mandated fireproof materials, and vast deposits of clay lay within a short boat ride of the growing metropolis. But regulations changed, the Depression hit, and construction firms turned to concrete and steel. Of the 100-plus brick manufacturers that operated along the river in 1910, none remain today.

Now collectors scavenge river banks, former brickyards, constructions sites and landfills for the industry’s remains.

Much of that history is preserved in the 3,000-strong New Netherland/New York Brick Archive at Fordham University, maintained by Allan S. Gilbert. The anthropology professor uses chemical analysis to compare bricks from dig sites with ones in the archive.

Calling the humble brick a crucial artifact in the history of urbanism, Mr. Gilbert said he is “awed” by its significance.

The gurus of Hudson River brick collecting are Andy van der Poel, 50, and Fred Rieck, 74. They met recently to “talk brick” in Mr. Van der Poel’s garage in Kingston, N.Y., where the high-school physics teacher keeps his finely curated collection on floor-to-ceiling pine shelves. His passion is such, he said, that if he isn’t careful, “I’d have no family and a whole lot of bricks.”

The amateur scholarship of these two brick buffs has exceeded the published literature on bricks. Now they are correcting the texts and advising other collectors on forums like

“Some of the stuff I’m looking for is rare—it is 100 years old, but it wasn’t a fine art. It was crude and industrial,” said Mr. Rieck, a retired electronics equipment inspector for New York’s Office of General Services, who has at least 1,000. “Who gave a hoot about bricks?”

The two friends pore over old maps, obituaries and industrial records to find out what company made what brands, where the brickyard was and who owned it. They have solved the mysteries of Shamrock, Dwyer, Roberts and about 400 others. A few brands, such as *DK* and VF, still elude them.

Mr. Van der Poel’s favorite brick is unmarked, except for the tiny footprint of a child who stepped on the clay before it was fired.

“When Fred and I have done lectures, I bring this along,” he said. “You’re only going to find that when you’re out there doing some digging.”

On one brick hunt, they did find a corpse.

“It didn’t look gory,” said Mr. Rieck. “A cowboy boot with a pant leg coming out of it. A skull like it was just planted in the sand.” They took their bricks home, then called the sheriff. It turned out to be someone who had been reported missing months before from a nearby beach.

Mr. Van der Poel said he once knew a collector who tried to pry a desirable brick out of a stranger’s front steps. “I’m not going to take a brick out of somebody’s house,” Mr. Van der Poel said. He and Mr. Rieck do have their strategies, but the duo are careful to ask permission, when there is someone around to ask.

The best time for bricking comes after the snow melts because ice shifting along the Hudson’s shoreline can uncover fresh examples. Another choice time, said Mr. Rieck, is right after a fire.

When people inevitably ask what they are doing, casing a freshly burned building or mucking about on the river, Mr. Van der Poel hands them a business card reading “Hudson River Brick Collector.”

“It legitimizes us,” he said. 

Read the full article as it first appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

Top 6 Reasons to Choose Clay Brick

Whether your building a new home or remodeling your current one, there are many reasons to choose clay brick.  Both in the wall and on the ground. Here are our Top 6 reasons that make brick your best solution!

  1. Genuine clay brick is made from natural materials
    Brick made from clay and shale – some of the most abundant, natural materials on earth – and then fired through a kiln at up to 2000 degrees. The reason the brick turns into such a durable material is that the clay/shale unit actually goes through a vitrification process in the kiln, which enables the clay particles to fuse together.

    Many people may confuse clay brick with "brick" made from other materials. For example, concrete units rely on a cement paste to bond the materials together. Moreover, concrete units are inherently a grayish color, which means that users must inject color pigments before the setting process and use color sealant afterwards to have a color affect. On the other hand, clay brick has thousands of color and shade options that will not fade. Contrary to some people's perceptions, clay brick is actually significantly stronger than concrete brick as well. Another brick-like material, made from fly ash, claims to meet the same performance standards as clay brick. Since fly ash has no ASTM standards of its own, don't make the mistake of assuming that brick-resembling products automatically perform as well as genuine clay brick.

  2. Brick has been proven for centuries
    What began as a building essential in the Near East and India more than 5,000 years ago, wound its way through the ancient Egyptians, the Indus Valley civilization and the Romans and today has amazingly become the all-American building product throughout our country’s history. Just look at the structures and roadways in your community. Chancesare, at least some of them are built with brick. 

    At the same time, bricks today are subject to much more stringent manufacturing processes than used in the past, which results in a more consistently performing end-product.  While it is still possible to purchase hand-made brick, it is also possible to buy the type of architectural brick that meets extremely strict product specifications.

  3. Brick offers superior protection over other wall cladding materials
    The story of the Three Little Pigs is just as true today as it was when it was first told to children long ago.  Research confirms that genuine clay brick provides superior shelter in three major categories.

    • Fire Protection. Since the primary ingredient in brick is clay which is fired to around 2000 F, it is a non-combustible material. As such, it is an excellent cladding choice to resist or confine fires. In fact, both the National Institute of Standards and Technology and BIA conducted separate fire tests that conclusively demonstrate that nothing outperforms good old-fashioned brick in a one hour fire test and that today’s “advanced” materials, such as vinyl, are engulfed by flames within minutes.  See for yourself.
      • High wind protection. A Shelter from the Storm study conducted in September 2004 shows that homes built with brick offer dramatically more protection from wind-blown debris than homes built with vinyl or fiber-cement siding. Conducted at the Wind Science and Engineering Research Center at Texas Tech University, the study demonstrated that a medium-sized wind-blown object, such as a 7.5-foot long 2 x 4, would penetrate homes built with vinyl or fiber-cement siding at a speed of 25 mph. By comparison, the same object would need to travel at a speed exceeding 80 mph in order to penetrate the wall of a brick home. The tests found that homes made with brick exceed the 34 mph impact resistance requirement for high velocity hurricane zones in the Florida building code. Brick also exceeds Florida’s impact resistance requirements for essential facilities in hurricane areas. Brick is such a strong and durable building material that your insurance companies may even offer you a discount on your home insurance costs.
      • Superior moisture control. According to a nationally - renowned, independent building products research laboratory, brick veneer wall assemblies control moisture better than wall systems clad with other exterior materials.  Therefore, brick veneer wall systems help minimize mold growth, wood rot and infestation by insects, and corrosion of fasteners embedded in wood better than other wall assemblies.  Read the full report.
    • Brick looks better, for far longer and with less maintenance, than other building materials
      Brick offers lasting value. It doesn't rot, dent, or need to be painted, and it will never tear or be eaten by termites. Its modular units and variety of shapes have resulted in beautiful structures in just about every architectural style, ranging from colonial to Victorian to post-modernist.  It is one of the few materials that can actually look better with age. Brick also absorbs noise, giving it an acoustic advantage over other materials - especially helpful in densely populated areas. Maybe this is why readers see ads for “all-brick” houses much more often than ads for “all-vinyl” or “all-EIFS" neighborhoods.

    • Brick is naturally energy-efficient
      Brick is a building material that has exceptional "thermal mass” properties. Thermal mass is the ability of a heavy, dense material to store heat and then slowly release it. For you, this means that during the summer months your brick home stays cool during the hottest part of the day. During the winter, brick walls store your home's heat and radiate it back to you. Vinyl, aluminum, wood, or EIFS (artificial stucco) are all thin, light building materials that do not have good thermal mass properties. The superior thermal mass qualities of brick have been known for centuries.

    • Brick is the most sustainable green building material made.
      Given the significance buildings have on energy consumption, brick should be part of a comprehensive green strategy because today’s brick includes:
    • Inherently Natural Ingredients. Brick is predominantly made from clay and shale, which are among the most abundant materials available on earth.
    • Countless Recycling Options. Brick can be salvaged, crushed brick for sub-base materials, and chipped brick for permanent landscaping mulch.
    • Minimal Waste. Virtually all of the mined clay is used in the manufacturing process making the recycling and waste containment unequalled by any other building material.  In fact, over 80% of our manufacturers re-use their own fired waste material or convert it into other products.  And if you decide to pitch it, there is no special handling required because brick is simply earth, so it’s inert.
    • Brick is the first masonry material that can attain a “Certificate of Environmental Claims” from a third party source. The National Brick Research Center, an organization of the College of Engineering andcScience at Clemson University, has developed a standard to verify the amount of recycled content in brick, the utilization of renewable energy in the firing process, and the reduction in the amount of resources used to manufacture brick.
    • Environmentally Friendly Manufacturing Processes. More than 80% of brick kilns are fired with natural gas, and numerous plants use fuels of bio-based materials from other industrial applications and waste products.  Energy sources include methane gas from landfills and sawdust from furniture manufacturers.
    • Low Embodied Energy to Manufacture Brick. With clay brick’s renowned longevity, no additional energy will be needed to make a replacement brick for many decades – if not centuries. The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) gives brick masonry a 100-year life, and many brick buildings older than a century are still in use today. In fact, brick is one of the few materials that building codes allow to be reused in a building application when it meets the ASTM standard for clay brick. Consequently, salvaged bricks are in high demand and represent a vibrant market.
    • According to recent statistics, the impact of residential and commercial buildings account for:
      • 65.2% of electricity consumption
      • >36% of the country’s “primary energy use”
      • 30% of total US greenhouse gas emissions
      • 136 million tons of demolition and construction waste in the U.S.  That equates approximately 2.8 lbs per person per day
    Talk with your local brick distributor to see all the colors and styles available in your area.

    BIA's Most In-Demand Information


    The Brick Industry Association (BIA) has published many resources for architects, builders, and designers over the years, but by far, our most popular and relied-upon information has to be our Technical Notes.

    The Technical Notes on Brick Construction series contains design, detailing, and construction information based on the latest technical developments in brick masonry. Drawings, photographs, tables, and charts illustrate appropriate topics.

    • There are currently a total of 92 different Technical Notes available
    • Technical Notes receive more than 80,000 views on our website each month
    • Technical Notes have been relied upon for sound technical advice since they began in the early 1960s
    All the current editions of the Technical Notes can be downloaded for free as individual PDFs, or they can be ordered as a hard copy set in a three-ring binder through our bookstore.

    Spread of Fire is Influenced by Exterior Materials

    A home is a family's safe haven, and if a fire breaks out you want to have the best protection possible.  Do you know how your home would fare?  While brick is officially rated as a non-combustible product by many building codes and will not burn during a severe fire test, many homes are made of other materials.

    As a retired fire chief, Gary Bowker has seen his share of home fires and knows just how fast they can spread.  He recently showed a test that demonstrates the speed at which a fire can move from ground level up into the attic of homes. 

    Check out this article and video that he put together and see for yourself what he has to say.  The results may be surprising!

    fire races to eaves with vinyl siding