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Masonry—bricks and blocks—can be structural or a cladding veneer. They provide a durable wall system at the hands of skilled local labor, and a time-honored, traditional look.


Manufacturing causes high energy use, pollution

The bricks and blocks that comprise masonry are typically either cement-based, or fired, as with brick or terra cotta products. Mortar is also usually cement-based. Whether it’s the blocks themselves or the cement used to make them that come out of a kiln, they are relatively energy-intensive and polluting to produce.

Lower-impact bricks, blocks, and even faux stone veneers are available made from pozzolans or alternative cementitious materials, such as coal fly ash or ground-granulated blast furnace slag.

Thermal and moisture protection

Most masonry products don’t offer much thermal insulation value, so we need to look to other parts of the assembly for that. Some products are designed to accommodate those insulating layers and provide for thermal breaks between the masonry elements. Integrated appropriately into an assembly, many masonry assemblies can serve as rain screens, with an air cavity behind. That type of assembly works well to prevent rain penetration into wall cavities, as long as joints and opening are detailed appropriately.

Concrete masonry units (CMUs) made from autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC) are lighter than conventional CMUs, generally have no cores, and provide higher insulation levels. They have R-values of up to 1.25 per inch, which are an order of magnitude higher than standard concrete, but still not sufficient to meet some energy goes without resorting to extremely thick walls.

Traditional alternatives to brick and block

Made from soil that has suitable sand and clay content and then air-dried in the sun, adobe bricks typically have extremely low greenhouse gas emissions and embodied energy.

Stone remnants from quarries are typically discarded but they can be used to provide a durable masonry cladding, sometimes called “sculpings,” that substitutes for more energy-intensive materials.

Heating with wood, in a masonry fireplace

When wood is locally available and can be harvested sustainably, it has no net impact on global warming—because the carbon emissions from combustion are more than compensated for by growing trees. Masonry fireplaces are designed to hold quick-burning, hot fires that minimize pollutant emissions, while holding and distributing heat over a long period of time.

Masonry—bricks and blocks—can be structural or a cladding veneer. They provide a durable wall system at the hands of skilled local labor, and a time-honored, traditional look.


  • CarbonCure Technologies
  • CarbonCure Technologies
  • CarbonCure Technologies
  • CarbonCure Technologies
    CarbonCure Technologies
    CarbonCure Technologies uses carbon dioxide from local industrial sources and injects it directly into concrete masonry units (CMUs) during production using a specially designed mold. The process converts the CO2 into calcium carbonate, reducing the carbon footprint of the block. The process speeds curing, improves early strength gain, and reduces the amount of portland cement required for the mix. The company is working on using its technology in precast applications. CarbonCure is available through various CMU manufacturers.
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  • Earth Dwell Rammed Earth
  • Earth Dwell Rammed Earth
  • Earth Dwell, Ltd
  • Earth Dwell Rammed Earth
    Earth Dwell, Ltd
    Earth Dwell is a stabilized rammed earth (SRE) wall system that uses traditional rammed earth technology but is bolstered by rigid insulation and structural supports to form a wall with higher R-value and compressive strength. Appropriate for residential or light commercial applications, Earth Dwell is made from local soils and varying percentages of portland cement or other pozzolans (8%–10%) that are tamped down on either side of rigid insulation and reinforced with rebar. The company typically uses rigid foam insulation such as XPS, but can work with mineral wool, cellular glass, and other less-toxic insulation types. The walls provide a minimum R-value of 25, according to the company, and the insulation sandwiched in the wall allows the thermal mass of the interior portion to gain and release heat, helping to moderate interior temperatures. Walls have the color of local soils, though iron oxide can be added to vary the tint.
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  • Sirewall Insulated Rammed Earth System
  • Sirewall Insulated Rammed Earth System
  • Sirewall Inc.
  • Sirewall Insulated Rammed Earth System
    Sirewall Inc.
    Sirewall is a stabilized, insulated rammed earth wall system that can be used for residential or light commercial construction. The walls use a custom-engineered mix of local soils and portland cement that is tamped down and reinforced with rebar. Inner and outer earthen wall sandwich a 4" interior core of polyisocyanurate insulation to create 18"– 24" thick walls with a minimum R-value of 29. Sirewall buildings are engineered for Zone 5 earthquakes and can have compressive strengths as great as 6,000 psi using 10% portland cement, but 6% portland cement (creating 1,450––4,500 psi walls) is enough for most structures, according to the company. Benefits of Sirewall touted by the company include airtightness of the assembly, thermal mass (which can aid thermal performance, but only in some climates), quiet interiors, and no need for interior or exterior finish coatings.
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  • Centurion Cultured Stone Products
  • Centurion Cultured Stone Products
  • Centurion Products, Inc.
  • Centurion Cultured Stone Products
    Centurion Products, Inc.
    Appropriate for residential and commercial buildings, Centurion cultured stone uses patterns taken from natural stone and is available in more than 25 patterns and 200 colors. These cementitious products contain 60% recycled content, primarily fly ash as well as mineral pigments, aggregate from the Tennessee region, and come with a 50-year warranty.
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  • Boral Cultured Stone Products
  • Boral Cultured Stone Products
  • Boral Material Technologies Inc.
  • Boral Cultured Stone Products
    Boral Material Technologies Inc.
    Boral Stone Products offers cultured stone veneers for residential and commercial buildings. These cementitious products are designed to mimic the look of limestone, sandstone, and other dimension stone and contain 54% pre-consumer recycled content (primarily fly ash). Though primarily an exterior product, this cultured stone has earned UL Greenguard Gold certification for low emissions. Boral cultured stone comes with a 50-year warranty.
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  • Ventgrid12 Panels
  • Ventgrid12 Panels
  • Ventgrid
  • Ventgrid12 Panels
    Ventgrid
    VentGrid12 is an open-grid panel made of 100% post-consumer recycled polyolefin plastic. The plastic is lightweight and highly resistant to deterioration or mold growth, making it useful where drainage or ventilation space is required such as in subfloors over concrete slabs, in exterior rainscreen assemblies, under cedar roof shakes and shingles, and beneath pavers on flat roofs. VentGrid12 comes in 4' x 8' x ½" sheets with ¼" long stand-off dimples. Each sheet weighs 8 lbs. and comes with pre-formed fastener holes for simple installation. VentGrid12 has a vertical load capacity of 8,000 lbs/ft², according to the company. The plastic can be easily snipped with standard hand sheers, or scored and snapped.
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  • Earth Measure Dimension Stone
  • Earth Measure Dimension Stone
  • Coldspring
  • Earth Measure Dimension Stone
    Coldspring
    Earth Measure, a collaboration between Coldspring and Jason F. McLennan, is a dimension stone product that takes waste from stone manufacturing and cuts it into specific patterns that mimic the natural world. The Fibonacci series is based on spirals found in seashells and other natural elements; the Linear series is closest to standard dimension stone; the MUD series looks similar to drying mud; and the Reptile series mimics the look of reptile skin. Earth Measures can be used for everything from pavers to walls to flooring, so it can transition from exterior to interior and horizontal to vertical applications. Projects work with Coldspring to ensure a pattern meets the designer’s vision and create a CAD diagram that can be proofed. Once cut, the stone is packaged and delivered to the site laid out in a manner that simplifies installation; Coldspring can supply or consult on any of the necessary mounting systems. Stone can be provided from regional quarries depending on project location.
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  • TexaStone Limestone
  • TexaStone Limestone
  • TexaStone Quarries
  • TexaStone Limestone
    TexaStone Quarries
    TexaStone Quarries produces a variety of architectural limestone products from its quarries and processing center in Big Springs, Texas. The company has adopted the Natural Stone Council's best practice recommendations for quarrying and processing, including filtering and recycling processing water back into its operations. Because the quarry’s limestone sits on the surface, it requires almost no removal of topsoil or vegetation to access the stone. TexaStone limestone is available in shades of beige, including rose and burgundy.
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  • Las Vegas Rock
  • Las Vegas Rock
  • Las Vegas Rock, Inc.
  • Las Vegas Rock
    Las Vegas Rock, Inc.
    Las Vegas Rock quarries meta-quartzite, a unique stone that looks like sandstone but is as hard as quartz. It can be used for flooring, where it can be polished yet still retain slip resistance; interior or exterior cladding; landscaping; or other applications requiring greater compressive strength. The company has undertaken a number of environmental initiatives: it uses no resins during finishing, creates zero waste from production by collecting fines to be sold to concrete or glass manufacturers and crushing larger pieces for use as landscaping, and filters and recycles all water back through its facilities. Las Vegas Rock is certified Silver through Cradle to Cradle.
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  • Coldspring Dimension Stone
  • Coldspring Dimension Stone
  • Coldspring
  • Coldspring Dimension Stone
    Coldspring
    Coldspring Granite offers dimension stone in granite sandstone, limestone, and marble. The company owns a variety of stone quarries and processing facilities across the U.S. and has worked to make its practices more sustainable by recycling all of its industrial water, quarrying stone on demand, using diamond saws instead of explosives to minimize waste, and updating to more energy-efficient equipment. The company also participates in Declare.
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  • The GreenMachine
  • The GreenMachine
  • TerraBuilt Corporation International
  • The GreenMachine
    TerraBuilt Corporation International
    TerraBuilt manufactures the GreenMachine, a compressed earth block (CEB) machine that presses tongue-and-groove bricks. Bricks produced by the GreenMachine have been tested to have a compressive strength of 900–2,240 psi, which exceeds relevant code requirements. The GreenMachine is available in two trailer hitch models, weighing 1 ton and 1.25 tons. The smaller GM3-10 runs on gasoline and produces 4"x8"x10", 20 lb. bricks at a rate of 4 per minute. The larger GM3-12 runs on diesel and produces 4"x8"x12", 24 lb. bricks at a rate of 5 per minute. The dimensional precision on all sides is 1/64". According to the company the blocks can be placed directly in a wall without any advance curing time and the tongue-and-groove design allows for mortarless installation.
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  • EarthTek Compressed Earth Block Machines
  • EarthTek Compressed Earth Block Machines
  • EarthTek, Inc
  • EarthTek Compressed Earth Block Machines
    EarthTek, Inc
    EarthTek manufactures several models of single- or double-press compressed earth block (CEB) machines. The single-press machines create 4"x12" blocks with adjustable widths up to 8" at rates ranging from 3–10 blocks per minute. The double-press machines create 4"x14" with adjustable widths up to 12" at rates of 6 or 8 blocks per minute. The machines are available on one or two axles and run on gasoline or diesel.
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  • EnduraMax
  • EnduraMax
  • Oldcastle Architectural Product Group
  • EnduraMax
    Oldcastle Architectural Product Group
    EnduraMax, offered by Oldcastle Architectural, is a manufactured stone veneer wall system that achieves a steady-state insulating value of R-9. A layer of EPS insulation provides the frame to hold the stone, clay, and concrete bricks, and a type-S mortar holds the bricks in place. Many manufactured stone veneer products fail due to inward solar vapor drive, though this system has some advantages. Vertical channels on the front and back serve as a capillary break for both the stones and the mortar. The EPS layer is a class III vapor retarder, which may not be enough to stop all solar-driven moisture issues, so proper installation, including an appropriate weather-resistive barrier and flashing details, is a must. Oldcastle Architectural offers a 25-year warranty on EnduraMax.
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  • Builderscrete
  • Builderscrete
  • Builderscrete, LLC
  • Builderscrete
    Builderscrete, LLC
    Builderscrete offers pavers, retaining wall blocks, landscape and building blocks, and brick veneer made from cellulose, portland cement, sand, binders, and other ingredients. The cellulose is sawdust from local sawmills, and although Builderscrete uses some portland cement, the company claims it is much less than standard concrete masonry units (CMUs). Builderscrete products do not require any firing or steam curing and are a third the weight of standard CMUs. They also provide an R-value of 4.74 for a 7.67"-thick block, significantly better than the R-value of conventional blocks (R-1.11 for an 8" block). Builderscrete also offers a Super Insulator Block that contains a core of high-density EPS foam and no thermal bridging. It is available in thickness from 4" to 12" and has an R-value up to 23, depending on thickness of the block and foam core. Builderscrete products will hold a nail or screw without drilling pilot holes
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  • Fireclay Glazed Thin Brick
  • Fireclay Glazed Thin Brick
  • Fireclay Tile
  • Fireclay Glazed Thin Brick
    Fireclay Tile
    Fireclay Glazed Thin Brick is 5/8" thin brick masonry using 30%–100% pre-consumer recycled from excavated soils. It is available in nine colors, and the pigments used by Fireclay are mineral-based and do not contain heavy metals. Fireclay Glazed Thin Brick is available in several sizes, including corner pieces, and are appropriate in interior or exterior settings.
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