Building With Clay. Is It Possible?

Want to know whether it is possible to build a house fully made of clay? Let’s find it out!

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You might not be aware of it, but the construction industry is not very good for our climate and environment in general! Every construction project, while being realized, pollutes the air, soil, and water a lot. This is why people started thinking about shifting to safer and more natural materials instead. And clay is one of them. 

Is it possible to build a clay house, some of you may wonder? Well, this is exactly what we will try to find out today. We will talk about the reasons clay is considered a more sustainable material for building houses. Also, we will compare all the benefits and downsides of this natural material. So after you read this, you will have a better understanding of why clay might really be considered a construction material of the future!

Can You Build With Clay?

Nowadays, building clay houses becomes more and more popular around the globe, and the world community is now considering this material as a full substitute for more common brick and cement! However, since clay construction projects are still rather few in number, people still wonder how reliable this material is and what to expect should they decide to build a house from clay for themselves.

The village house is made of clay and a clay roof.
By vista.com

The answer is yes! Clay can be used as a construction material for building houses that can be used for living purposes just like the houses made of brick can! And if you try to remember, you will see that clay is actually not new in the house-building industry.

In fact, clay is one of the oldest and most popular building materials available. It was used not only to make clay bricks and roof tiles that are deeply rooted in European history. Clay buildings can be found in ancient civilizations as well! And the fact that these clay-built structures were transferred through a generational lifecycle means that they are not just a part of our cultural heritage and architectural identity. It also means that clay is a trustworthy material to build from! 

Of course, today’s products are manufactured much more efficiently than in the past, when clay bricks were made only manually, which took much more time. Modern production results in higher quality and lower environmental impact.

Now let’s see what pros and cons a house made of clay has. Like this, you will be able to figure out whether you might want to consider this material suitable for yourself.

What Benefits Do Houses Made Of Clay Have?

When you plan to build a house, you want it to be durable, strong, safe, and last long, preferably for generations. Are houses made out of clay able to be like that? Well, to answer this question, we suggest you read on and find out what strong and weak sides this material has.

First of all, the fact that clay has been used for construction for thousands of years proves it to be a reliable material. As a construction material, it is considered healthy and breathable, and it provides relatively good thermal insulation and soundproofing. In addition, clay is considered particularly sustainable because it can be recycled and does not have to be transported over long distances. 

Finally, you probably know that clay can be relatively easily extracted from the ground, unlike other popular materials. Plus, it is easy to process and augment with straw or sand to increase its strength. As you can see, all the materials are fully natural and easily available. 

And last but not least, clay is a very evenrgy-efficient material. Building with clay requires only about 1% of the energy needed for a comparable house made of concrete or bricks! Now that you have some general impression of this material, we sugggest you learn more details about its pros.

Versatility

Anyone who is skilled in construction will tell you that fired clay is a versatile and robust building material. Besides, clay building products can be used in quite many forms, such as bricks, blocks, façade systems, roof tiles, and pavers. 

It means that clay building products can be used for almost any type of building or renovation project and can suit all architectural styles, from traditional and historic to innovative and avant-garde! This is why architects love to experiment with clay building products. Their compact size, as well as the variety of colors and shapes available along with the earthy and natural texture, provide design options of all kinds when creating contemporary structures.

Clay Is Durable

It may seem to be unusual to some of you since clay seems to be quite a fragile material. However, thanks to its durability as a building material, all the structures built using clay products are an investment for generations to come! A house made of clay usually has a service life exceeding 100 years! Of course, if it was built correctly.

What makes clay so long-lasting is that the bricks, blocks, roof tiles, and pavers made from this material are dimensionally stable. It means that any structural defects during construction are very unlikely, however, only when the products are installed correctly! 

Once constructed, a brick wall made of clay is incredibly robust. Unlike common beliefs, it should not deform, shrink when drying, swell when wet, or crack when under prolonged stress.

The mechanical strength and stability of clay building products make such buildings very strong. They can not only withstand wind, wet weather, hail, frost, storms, and snow; they can also survive extreme conditions such as avalanches, fire, landslides, flooding, and earthquakes!

Thermal Performance

One of the best features that clay has is that clay building materials have a high thermal mass, which provides a comfortable indoor climate in all seasons. On hot summer days, clay block walls will absorb and store heat, which will be released when the outside temperature decreases in the evening. 

Thanks to this feature, clay buildings can avoid overheating during summer, which reduces the need for air conditioning. As for the cold winter days, clay block walls will retain warmth inside a building, even if the heating is interrupted. Now compare it to some of our brick houses that get stiffing hot in summer and almost freezing cold during the winter!

It Is Economic

Unlike cement or bricks, a building structure made of clay blocks can be built very quickly, which saves both time and money during construction. Once in use, maintenance costs are also low thanks to clay products’ resistance to extreme weather conditions, pests, vegetation growth, and chemical pollution. Besides, it will be pretty easy for you to resale such a house since it can last for decades and even more, remaining in the same good condition!

Healthy Living Environments

You probably know that in the modern construction industry, buildings are often treated with chemicals to ensure durability or fire-resistance. But clay building products do not usually require that! They also don’t emit volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, or allergens to the air during their in-use phase. It all makes such buildings much safer for those who live in them.

Clay building materials are also less predisposed to mold. See, they can act as a buffer for indoor air humidity, due to clay’s porous surface. This reduces the requirement for a mechanical ventilation system to regulate humidity, in turn reducing the risk of mold. 

Environmental Responsibility

Building with clay is very environmentally-responsible. When making building decisions, it is essential to consider the full lifecycle impact of materials to imagine how harmful they might be to the environment. 

When the cumulative lifecycle impacts of clay building products (raw material sourcing, manufacturing, in-use maintenance, and end-of-life phases) are considered over the products’ +100-year lifespan, the carbon dioxide emissions from clay building products are relatively low. 

If a building is constructed for a long-time use over many years and constructed with a durable structure and envelope (such as clay products), this will reduce the whole-life carbon impact of the building.

Now that you know how beneficial clay is as a construction material and what perks you might get should you decide to build a clay home, let’s take a look at the less pleasant information. Yes, we suggest you read about some cons that come with clay. It is needed to let you know what downsides might wait for you!

Disadvantages Of Mud And Straw Houses

You might think now that a straw-and-mud house is some kind of miracle, however, it also has certain downsides that you should be aware of in advance. Like this, you can decide whether this material is suitable for you.

It Is Not Waterproof

When you build with loam, it must be protected against rain and frost, especially in its wet state. You can do that with the use of roof overhangs (eaves), damp proof courses, appropriate surface coatings, etc.

However, for mud plaster that is exposed to rain, you might want to opt for stabilizers like cement, lime, animal products, bitumen, soda water glass, plant juices like oil and latex, etc.

It Is Not a Standard Building Material

When you build with cement or bricks, you can be sure that they are standardized because they were manufactured according to general requirements and manufacturing standards.

However, it is not like that with clay! Depending on the site where it is dug out, it will be composed of different amounts and types of components, such as silt, sand, and rocks.

This is why its characteristics may differ from site to site, and the preparation of the correct mix will require some research on site, and the possible need to apply additives to get the mix you need.

Mixtures May Shrink When Drying

It’s not a common issue but still, sometimes it happens. Due to evaporation of the water used to prepare the mixture, shrinkage and even cracks may occur. However, we want to admit that it typically happens when the quality of clay is not very high or when it is prepared for the building in the wrong way.

Luckily, shrinkage can be minimized by reducing the clay or water content, optimizing the grain size distribution, and by using additives (thinning with more sand or larger aggregates, adding fibers as straw) or methods (shrinkage joints, reduce loam components distance/size, enhance drying time).

Now you know more about clay and its use as a construction material. We explained why it can be considered proper material for your home and what benefits it has. Also, now you are aware of certain downsides that may show up, but fortunately, they will most likely appear if the clay is of low quality or was improperly prepared for the construction. Anyway, if you want to build a home that will be eco-friendly, cozy, and last for generations, clay is definitely your choice!

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