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The expanded clay comes from the firing of various clays which are then milled into wheels of considerable size and reduced into spherical granular material which is baked at very high temperatures, giving rise to the spheres, to small alveoli that retain moisture. Because of its lightness and its qualities of retaining water, it is used in many buildings as a thermal insulator and with it you can obtain concrete suitable for the purpose. It also carries out other functions in the building sector, such as filling underground passages by injecting the material into the subsoil or filling supporting walls or reinforcing parts that were built with poor material. Behind those spherical balls that we often see, there is enormous work by those who transform the clay. After extraction, it is left for several months in open quarries but after all, it resists even very humid outdoor temperatures and is a material that cannot be attacked by pests. However, it is not fuel, so there is no recycling of energy.
The pros and cons of using expanded clay
As we have seen, this very light material is used for many things. Useful in the attics, under the floors, under any other walkable ground, where it is injected in loose form. It is also injected into concrete blocks, giving them an unusual lightness and thermal transmission. The manufacturers of outdoor furniture, make continuous use to make the furnishings. But even the expanded clay has its pros and cons. First of all, the quarries where the expanded clay is placed are open-air and have a significant environmental impact, a condition contrary to ecological green building. When it is produced it has a large expenditure of energy and gases and lubricants are used which, if not properly filtered, would cause damage to the ecological system. On the other hand, one of the great advantages is that the expanded clay is rot-proof, which means that it cannot be attacked by insects or parasites. Should any element composed of this material catch fire, the expanded clay does not emit toxic fumes that could damage the environment and people. The clay is resistant to atmospheric agents and even if continuously exposed to adverse temperature conditions, its unalterability is highly assured. Furthermore, nature has a lot of clay that can be found peacefully. It is not of volcanic origin, therefore it does not emit elements harmful to the inhabitants of a given area even if placed in a landfill. Its use is considerable in industries that produce garden fountains, outdoor and indoor fireplaces due to the solid material that is durable over time.
The use of expanded clay on plants
The expanded clay is very useful for draining water from planters, fruit plants and even fruit and vegetables. It is widely used by gardening enthusiasts and those who own urban gardens because it retains excess water, thus avoiding water stagnation that is very harmful to the roots of crops that could become moldy or have fungal diseases. It can be used by placing it under the pot in which you intend to plant or even mixing it with the soil along with excellent peat. The earth becomes soft and malleable thanks to it and easily workable. It is also used for mulching the plants to protect them from the cold, frost and ice. It is a sort of cover that is placed at the base of the plant as protection. If we want, it is also decorative and ornamental. The effect it gives to a vase sprinkled with spherical balls of expanded clay is very beautiful indeed. Very used also for apartment plants which unfortunately very often we use only as a component of furniture without thinking that they too suffer from humidity or other factors that could be harmful. Think about it, when the florist brings us a plant, we admire it and then place it in some corner of the house where it seems to us a gift in elegant effect without thinking if it needs light, air or drainage. First of all we should think about its health because the plants "feel", suffer from conditions that are not suitable for their environment. We need to get them at least a decent habitat so they can survive. We must not complain if they do not remain alive for a long time and dry up almost immediately. It's not the plant's fault, it's our little scruple that inexorably leads this creature to death. We use expanded clay at least to protect it from the cold or to offer it better drainage, giving the roots an ideal macroporosity that favors water drainage. For all the plants, however, and not only for the apartment ones, it is good to add expanded clay balls to the soil. If we see our plants slightly dehydrated or with several dry or withered leaves and as if they were hanging on one side, let us arm ourselves with patience and try to make them resume. First we remove the plant from the pot and shake it well. With a brush suitable for cleaning the roots, we gently brush the roots. We change the soil of the pot by mixing it with the expanded clay and then put the plant back in its container, watering it and pressing lightly on the soil. In the following weeks, the plant will go from a period of adaptation to the new habitat to a period of acclimatization and should recover in the best way. We will also use some fertilizer to improve his health. Spherical balls of expanded clay are also excellent for bonsai care. We will put the clay in the saucer of these saplings and the excess water, it will be absorbed and then slowly evaporate giving the plant an ideal microclimate. Depending on its use, the expanded clay can be found in building stores or at the brico center in the gardening sector but also in flower shops. As for the use of this material for crops, the clay is sold in bags that cost about 10 euros. The clay spheroids, are an innovative invention that allow the spheres to be coated with a sort of colored plastic without losing their technical characteristics. It serves more than anything else to decorate the surface of the vase in which the plant is placed but always offers the same useful functionality. It is also waterproof and is not attacked by mold. The purpose is almost always decorative, it is used to embellish urban green areas or plants found in town houses.
Use of expanded clay in construction
We have seen that the manufacturers of garden fireplaces, kitchens and so on, use expanded clay to make light concrete slabs or other elements that give to the objects created, solidity and strength. But expanded clay is also useful for building in general. To form a screed, for example, a substrate must be created that must be light but at the same time it must provide ideal thermal insulation. In the background it is put in addition to the cement mortar, a mixture of expanded clay in granules or embossed. This technique first stretches a layer of clay and then a flow of water and very fluid cement, the grout. Finally a layer of sand and cement is spread and the screed is formed. The clay granules can also be mixed in a cement mixer with water and then the dough is spread out to the desired thickness and left to dry to perfection. After drying, a layer of sand and cement is spread.
Expanded clay: Where to buy it and prices
Have you decided to use expanded clay to create your floral vases or as a construction material? Good choice! But where to buy it? This product can be easily found in gardening stores, building materials, in the vavai and nowadays also in well-stocked supermarkets and brico centers. As for Italy, the largest producer of expanded clay is the Laterlite company known under the Leca brand. As for the price, it is not a very expensive material: a 50lt can be worth approximately 10 euros for gardening use. For construction use, it approximates 80-90 euros per m3. Today on the market it is possible to also buy colored expanded clay usually used to make decorative vases with a better aesthetic appearance.