Book: Ceramics - Art or Science? Author: Dr. Stan Jones

13. Domestic Uses of Ceramics

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13.1 Introduction

We have already seen that from the earliest times ceramics have formed an important part in domestic life, from bricks for building to cooking and lighting. Examples of early peaks of achievement are the first cooking pots, Babylonian wall tiles, Chinese and Greek decorative vessels and Roman oil lamps. One amazing feature of ceramics is how widespread their uses are.

As ceramics have become more advanced, the difference between amorphous glass and polycrystalline and single crystal ceramics becomes blurred, so glass is now generally included when discussing ceramics. Glass, of course, is a key material today and accounts for some 45% of all ceramic/glass production. Its uses in the home stretch from window, door and partition glass, glass kitchen and tableware, watch and clock faces to light bulbs and televisions.

So what impact do ceramics have on domestic life today, and what is their relevance in your home? Imagine you have just finished watching your favourite programme on your TV, which you may be surprised to learn is full of ceramic-based electronic components, also the glass protective “screen” or display tube and even the phosphorescent ceramic within it. You check the time on your “quartz” watch, switch on the lights, with their high temperature ceramic supports and glass envelope. You go into the kitchen with its ceramic tiled work surfaces and floor, put on the fast-boil kettle with its ceramic element, put the ceramic enamelled saucepans on the ceramic hobs, or light the gas with the piezoelectric lighter (did you wonder why it never needed batteries?) and look round at all the hard wearing ceramic enamel surfaces on your white goods. Start preparing a meal with oven-to-table casseroles and while it is cooking bring out the cups and saucers for a nice cup of tea - maybe there are more ceramics around than you first think. It becomes obvious that ceramics in their infinite variety are everywhere, and have become indispensable in our lives.

As illustrations, a selection of domestic uses of ceramics, including structural clay products, kitchen and tablewares, lighting and enamel coatings, is described in a little more detail below:

13.2 Structural and Sanitary Ceramics

As mentioned earlier, in low rainfall regions early buildings were made of unfired bricks. Historically, the notable users of fired building bricks were the Romans, who spread the technology round their Empire. The Romans were prominent in the introduction of standardisation, so that designs, erection and replacement were easier. Floor and wall tiles were also popular in Roman times.

Hagia Sophia, Iznik, Roman bricks of 6<sup>th</sup> century AD and watercourse in Ephesus, Turkey

Hagia Sophia, Iznik, Roman bricks of
6th century AD and watercourse
in Ephesus, Turkey

Hagia Sophia, Iznik floor tiles

Hagia Sophia, Iznik floor tiles

Water pipes, in Greece and at Ephesus. Also an Egyptian drainage fitting, New Kingdom, UC59772 - Copyright of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL

Water pipes, in Greece and at Ephesus (circa 500BC).
Also an Egyptian drainage fitting, New
Kingdom, UC59772 - Copyright of the Petrie
Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL

Very early water and sewage schemes have been mentioned previously. The introduction of ceramic sewers into Victorian London, primarily using Doulton products, made a significant impact on the reduction of diseases spread by earlier open sewers along streets.

Inevitably the largest volume of structural ceramics in a modern house is in the fabric itself, the bricks and roof tiles, underground waste pipes and all the internal tiling, such as on bathroom walls and floors, not forgetting the sink, bath and toilet. The worldwide demand for tiles is predicted to be some 93 billion square feet by 2015. In USA alone the brick market in 2014 was estimated to be 8.2 billion units. These ceramics are still made from clay dug from the ground, using trial and error to obtain an acceptable raw material to achieve a good end product.  Complications arise when clay composition changes in a given pit, or the clay runs out and material from alternative pits has to be used.  However the applications are not that challenging and fairly wide clay specifications are acceptable.

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