How much water can a clay brick safely absorb?
The acceptable water absorption for clay bricks are between 12% and 20%. If you are using engineering bricks the closer you are to the 12% the better the result will be. When the water absorption is too low, i.e. below 12%, it may be difficult to obtain a proper bond between the mortar and the bricks.
Handmade historic bricks; many of which are often found to have an average porosity value of around 35%.
With highly porous bricks there is a danger that they might rapidly absorb moisture from the bedding mortar (particularly in warm weather) causing it to stiffen quickly. This would result in it losing the all-important characteristic of plasticity that would inhibit correct and accurate positioning to line and face-plane and the provision of a secure bedding, leading to poor adhesion with attendant negative consequences on aspects of compressive and flexural strengths of the overall walling.
It is important not to confuse ‘porosity’ with ‘permeability’, as they are not the same. Porosity is a measure of the available pore space within a brick. Permeability, however, is a measure of the extent to which air, water, or other fluid can pass through a brick, and depends on the pore structure and degree to which these pores constitute a means of transporting from the face to the rear of the brick. A brick can be highly porous, yet impermeable, because if its pores are not interconnected then no water falling on its face can pass through them to the back.