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A Good Friend to the Environment

Masonry materials have always been recognized as sturdy and attractive, but few realize that they are energy-efficient and earth-friendly, too. In today’s environmentally conscious world, masonry materials are “green” throughout their life cycle.

Brick originates from Colorado’s own clay, which is a nearly inexhaustible natural resource. During the clay mining process, virtually no harm is done to the environment. In fact, a single mining site may be used for more than a century. After a clay mine has been depleted, the pits can be converted into solid waste landfills or lakes for sports, recreation or conservation use.

There is no waste when brick is manufactured. For every pound of clay, nearly one pound of brick is produced with only slight moisture and mineral loss. In contrast, the mining of ore for steel production is 70 percent waste. Higher still is the amount of waste, 88 percent, in the mining for aluminum. The waste from both of these processes must be disposed of, a process that also uses considerable energy.

Most of the energy costs associated with producing brick – drying and firing – are lower than with most other building materials. It can take 90 times more energy to produce one pound of aluminum than to produce the same amount of brick.

Because brick is locally produced, very little energy is used to transport it to the building site. In contrast, most of the lumber used in Colorado home construction comes from somewhere else, adding to its cost and to its impact on our environment.

As a building material, brick saves energy. Brick’s mass prevents extreme outside temperatures from affecting temperatures on the inside. This process is sometimes referred to as “thermal lag.” Compared to other materials, an insulated brick cavity wall resists heat gain more than 50 times better than double-reflective glass, and nine times better than an insulated metal sandwich panel wall.

Also, because it is a natural material, brick does not expel any toxic substances or volatile organic compounds into the air. Nor does it ever require the application of any potentially toxic paints or coatings during its lifetime.

Perhaps brick’s greatest contribution to the environment, however, is its durability. The life span of a brick structure can be over a thousand years if designed and constructed properly. Even the most conservative estimates of a brick’s life expectancy is 100 years or more. Because of its longevity, brick is typically the last material in a building to require recycling.

Resource: Rocky Mountain Masonry Institute: www.rmmi.org