In the history of professional construction practices, brick is one of the oldest of all building materials. It is also arguably the most durable since there are brick walls, foundations, pillars, and road surfaces constructed thousands of years ago that are still intact. Today, bricks are most often used for wall construction, especially as an ornamental outer wall surface.

Brick Defined

Officially, the term brick is used to denote a building unit made of shaped clay, but in modern times it is used to refer to any stone- or clay-based building unit that is joined with cementitious mortar when used in construction. Typically, bricks are about 4 wide, 8 inches long, with a variety of thicknesses. Larger stone- or clay-based building units of the type used in foundations are usually called blocks.

How Bricks Are Categorized

There are several ways that brick can be categorized. For example, you can divide brick into the types used for facing (exposed and visible on the exterior of a structure) vs. backing bricks (which are used structurally and are hidden from view)Another means of categorizing brick is according to how they are manufactured: unfired (brick that is air-cured) and fired (brick that is baked in ovens to harden it). Bricks can be also categorized according to their typical use: common bricks or engineering bricks. For purposes of residential construction, it is usually common bricks that are of most interest, since engineering bricks are more often used in civil engineering projects, such as road or bridge construction, or sewers construction.

Bricks can also be categorized according to their shape. Some common shapes include:

  • Brick veneers: These bricks are thin and used for surface cladding.
  • Airbricks: These bricks contain large holes to circulate air and lessen weight. They are used on suspended floors and cavity walls.
  • Perforated bricks: These bricks contain many cylindrical holes drilled throughout the brick. They are very light in weight. 
  • Bullnose brick: These are bricks moulded with round angles.
  • Paving bricks: These bricks contain a good amount of iron. They are used in underfoot paving applications.
  • Capping bricks: These bricks are used to cap the tops of freestanding walls. 
  • Hollow bricks: About one-third of the weight of the normal bricks, these are used mostly in partition walls where load-bearing is not required.