When considering what material to use for a floor, few people look beyond a concrete slab, with something like tile or carpet as a finish. For us, however, there were several factors that made a stabilized compressed earth brick (SCEB) floor far more appealing.
- It is cheaper
- It is easier to DIY
- It requires less man power
- It does not have to be done all in one go
- It is beautiful as is – no need for tiles or anything else on top
- It has a better thermal quality
Using mortar in between the bricks increases the price and time a little, but saves effort and varnish when sealing the floor. However, for the beginner, laying your bricks without mortar and sweeping sand into the cracks is easier, and it is this method we will discuss here.
- Compressed Earth Blocks
- Screened sand
- Sealer – acrylic or oil based concrete sealer or varnish
- Circular saw with masonry blade (optional)
- 2 levels, one small, one longer
- Rubber mallet
- 2 boards to stand on. You do not want to stand on the sand as your feet will make large dents. If you stand on a board, your weight is spread out and the smooth surface of the sand is not compromised.
- Surgical tape. The person laying the brick should consider taping their fingertips with surgical tape. This helps protect them without compromising dexterity.
- Roller and brush
Step by Step
- Prepare your sub-floor, adding if you wish any vapor barrier, heating system, and insulation.
- Put a 1 inch layer of fine screened sand over the whole area.
- Compact and level the sand. The easiest way to do this is to bury and level a piece of square tubing in the sand on either side of the room, so that the top of the metal is flush with the level you want the sand to be. You then bridge another piece of metal between the 2 pieces of square tubing, so that it sits on top of them, and drag it backwards and forwards over the area until it is smooth.
- Set up your boards and tools, according to where you wish to begin. It is often best to start along the straightest edge, so that your first row of bricks follows a good line. Also, begin near to where the bricks are coming from, so that the person handing you bricks can use the finished part of the floor to walk on, instead of having to set up boards for him/her.
No matter which pattern you decide to use, you will need some half bricks. Try and work out roughly how many you will need for your starting edge and cut those ahead of time. The ones needed at the other end of your rows, you can do once the rest of the floor is laid. Cut the bricks using a circular saw with masonry blade. A dust mask is a good idea as this kicks up a bunch of very fine dust.
If you are not too particular about the edges of your cut bricks, it is far easier to break them instead of cutting. We do this by turning a piece of angle iron upside down, so that the corner is pointing upwards. We then hit the metal with the brick at the point which you wish it to break. It is a little ragged, but you can clean it up with a chisel or hammer.
Here are three examples of patterns you can use.
Running bond is often the easiest pattern to get your feet wet, but none of them are hard. The Herring bone can be difficult to visualize, but once you get going, it's not nearly at intimidating as it seems.
- Place each brick, one by one, where you want it to go.
- With the long level, check it is level with previous bricks or existing floors that you wish to match. With the short level, make sure the brick itself is level in all directions. You also want to check that it is lined up well with the wall. If the first brick is a little angled, so that one side is closer to the wall than the other side, this will be highly visible by the end of the row of bricks.
- Use the rubber mallet to tap the brick tight against its neighbors. And tap down on it to get the level correct. Add or remove sand if necessary. Bear in mind that the bricks themselves are not always smooth – they may raise slightly at the edges. If you wish, you can sand these edges down by rubbing them with another brick or a trowel.
- When you get to the opposite end of the wall from where you started, and you do not have a brick to fit in the space, leave it. You should do all the edge bricks at the end. Even before the floor is finished, you are able to walk on it. Do not tread near to unfinished edges.
You may have to measure each space and cut or break bricks to fit. Alternatively, you can fill the gaps with concrete when you do the perimeter.
Once you have all the bricks laid, you can fill the perimeter, in between the bricks and walls, with concrete. This does not use much concrete, and can be done in half an hour. Screen your sand and then trowel the concrete smooth and level with the tops of the bricks.
- Once all your bricks, including your edge bricks, are in place, sweep fine sand into the cracks.
- Allow the floor to settle a couple of days, and then sweep more sand into the cracks. Repeat this several times until the sand no longer settles.
To seal the bricks so that you can sweep and mop them, use an acrylic or oil based concrete sealer or varnish, at least two coats. Until this is done, the bricks will be coated in a fine dust (as you gradually wear them down). This is okay for a patio or outside floor, but for inside it's not as acceptable.
The difficulty in sealing arises from the sand in the cracks where the bricks join. As you roll on the varnish, the roller picks up sand and spreads it over the bricks. To avoid this problem, pour some of the sealer over the cracks first, then paint the rest of the brick with a paint brush. Then you can use a roller on the second coat, a few hours later.
The sealer will darken the natural color of the bricks.
Most concrete sealers and varnishes smell strongly. Always provide adequate ventilation, and plan to keep those windows open for a few days.
Our brick floors are one of the first things to be noticed about our house. They are so different and beautiful and they draw the eye. Plus, they never get cold like a concrete or tile floor does in winter. We love them.