- Project plans
- Project activities
- Legislation and standards
- Industry context
Last edited 03 Jul 2018
Use of ceramics in construction
Ceramics are a material often used in construction, made from a mixture of minerals, typically silica sand, with a clay binder and some impurities, and up to 30% water. They are fired at a higher temperature than bricks, so that the silica re-crystallises to form a glassy material that has greater density, strength, hardness, resistance to chemicals and frost and a greater dimensional stability.
During firing, the water is driven off, though this may be reduced from 30% to 2-5% by drying before firing. At this reduced water content products are moulded as powder before being fired at 1,800-2,000 degrees for days or weeks at a time, depending on the ceramic and process details. Ceramics may have an as-fired appearance or be glazed (a glass-like coating).
These materials are environmentally stable - they will not oxidise further in the atmosphere, therefore, they are economical in terms of maintenance costs. Problems are likely to occur when they are combined with other materials, typically fixings which are highly stressed and subject to corrosion. If fixings fail, the result can be dramatic. Unlike metals, ceramics are not capable of ductile behaviour. They fail in a brittle manner, directly after their elastic limit.
This is literally ‘burnt earth’. It is made from yellow to brownish-red clays with a uniformity and fineness between brick and vitrified wall tiles. Terracotta is often used for unglazed chimney pots, air bricks, copings and planters.
For more information, see Terracotta.
This is a glazed form of terra-cotta or stoneware. The base material may be fired to the ‘biscuit’ stage before glazing and re-firing, or a ‘once-fired’ process may be used. The latter improves resistance of the glaze to crazing (the spread of lines or cracks on the glazed surface), but reduces the range of colours available.
This is similar in composition to fireclay, but is fired at a higher temperature than fireclay and contains a higher proportion of glass. As a result it is harder and less absorbent. Modern manufacturing processes mean that stoneware no longer has to be glazed for use in drainage pipes.
The raw materials are blended and may contain a considerable proportion of limestone. It is a finer product than stoneware and is used as the body for glazed wall tiles and table ‘china’. Water absorption may be up to 15%, however, making it less suitable for sanitaryware than vitreous china.
 Vitreous china
These are also called ‘technical’ or ‘engineering’ ceramics. Their purity is far higher than traditional ceramics, not using raw clay mined directly from the ground. Powders are formed which are then cast, pressed, extruded or moulded into shape. The powders may be set in organic binders. The combination of pure materials and exacting production techniques ensures the very high strength of these materials.
 Find out more
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
Featured articles and news
Your chance to comment on the draft BS 851188 - flood resistance products and flood protection products.
Rebuilding could take 20 to 40 years.
RSHP’s high-rise residential towers win a tall buildings award for excellence.
BSRIA study reveals strong growth in 2018.
Dame Judith Hackitt confirmed as keynote speaker – one year on from the Hackitt Report.
Save £100 on tickets.
Modern slavery in the construction sector.
What to bear in mind when claiming damages in construction.
How do we achieve sustainable clean-water infrastructure for all?
What you should know when appointing an architect.
A brief history plus some new developments.
How computational fluid dynamics (CFD) helps building design.
The Hong Kong Harbour Area Treatment Scheme (HATS).