Bricks have been around for thousands of years. While it’s crazy to think that your home may have a building material in common with the walls of ancient Jericho, it makes a lot of sense. Brick is strong, durable, and can be made of readily available components. It’s definitely withstood the test of time. Unsurprisingly, there are many types of brick, and the different attributes of each give them the ability to shine in different areas. As a matter of fact, you may have multiple types of brick in your home right now.

Two of particular interest to those with a heating appliance such as a stove, fireplace, or insert are common brick and firebrick. But what’s the difference between the two, and how can they be utilized for maximum efficiency?

Understanding the difference between bricks is crucial for selecting the appropriate material for various projects. Ultimately, seeking guidance from an industry expert will help ensure you choose, install, and maintain the most suitable systems and materials – helping ensure safety and optimal performance that lasts.

Common Brick: The Construction Staple

a stack of red bricksCommon brick is known by other monikers, such as clay brick, building brick, and red brick. These are all apt names, as they’re descriptive of what common brick is like and is useful for. Common brick is manufactured from clay that’s molded, dried, and fired in a kiln, and has wide use for general construction purposes.

The reason common brick is so prevalent is because it has excellent compressive strength, or resistance to breaking under pressure. It’s also widely available in various sizes and colors, providing versatile aesthetic appeal to fit the project at hand when left exposed.

Where will you see common brick? All over – load bearing walls, exteriors, chimneys, patios, columns, landscaping… the list goes on!

Firebrick: The Thermal Workhorse

While common brick has broad, non-specialized applications, firebrick is engineered to withstand high temperatures and resist thermal shock. This is achieved through the use of fireclay, which contains refractory materials such as silica and alumina. Fireclay is a ceramic that, when fired, is incredibly strong, smooth, and dense.

Common brick is relatively lighter weight than firebrick because it has greater porosity, and while it has some moderate heat-resistant qualities, it will deteriorate under high heat and is susceptible to damage from thermal shock.

Firebrick’s ability to withstand intense heat makes it an ideal choice for building your firebox or home heating furnaces, kilns, and other areas exposed to temperature extremes. It is also a good insulator. Used in these projects, it will effectively retain heat, preventing heat transfer to surrounding structures and thereby increasing the safety and efficiency of the heating appliance it’s part of.

Why Not Use Firebrick for the Chimney?

If firebrick is such an excellent building material to use in fireboxes and stoves, why not extend its use home-wide – or at least for the chimney itself? Firebrick’s ability to withstand high temperatures does make it indispensable in applications requiring heat resistance. That explains why it’s the preferred material for building fireboxes, lining industrial furnaces, pizza ovens, and kilns.

But common brick’s lower density and lower price-point make it the strong and sensible choice in many traditional masonry construction projects. This explains why different components of a chimney system are nearly always composed of more than one type of brick. The firebox, which is where the fire is contained, will be constructed from fireclay. The chimney, which is exposed to heat less directly, is most often constructed of common brick or cement block lined with flue tiles.

Building the Best Fireplace & Chimney

When evaluating a heating appliance for your home, it’s important to consider materials used and ensure proper installation. Additionally, maintaining your fireplace or stove is critical to its ongoing safety and usefulness.

a masonry chimney built in a spiral designSelecting the appropriate system involves considering various factors, such as the type of fuel used, local building codes, efficiency, placement, and the requirements of the structure. If it seems overwhelming, be assured that there are chimney industry professionals who have dedicated their careers to understanding these systems and how they intersect with your needs and lifestyle.

When looking for a contractor, ensuring that they’re certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) should give you an extra measure of confidence. This outside accrediting agency requires rigorous demonstration of knowledge and expertise, and also requires adherence to a high ethical code. Look also for on-the-job experience and satisfied customers.

A good installation is important, but it doesn’t replace a consistent inspection and sweeping schedule as well as routine maintenance to help you stay ahead of any issues, masonry or otherwise.

Questions? Let Us Help

If you’re ready to have a professional weigh in, don’t hesitate to reach out and see how we can help. We offer a broad range of services and experiences, and have a high level of masonry expertise. Let us show you what’s possible for your home – call or request an appointment online today.

Northeastern Masonry & Chimney
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