The construction industry uses a variety of building and construction materials for different aspects of a home build. Architects consult with structural engineers on the load-bearing capabilities of the materials with which they design, and the most common materials are steel, wood, masonry, and stone.
Each has different strengths, weights, and durability, which makes it right for various uses. Aesthetic-wise, all of them also have a certain touch that can magnify the beauty of your home.
There are national standards and testing methods that govern the use of building materials in the construction industry so that they can be relied on for providing structural integrity. Architects also choose materials based on cost and aesthetics.
Here are some of the common construction materials known for both their looks and function:
Steel is a metal alloy of iron and carbon and often other alloying materials in its composition to make it stronger and more fracture-resistant than iron. Stainless steels resist corrosion and oxidation because of the additional chromium in their makeup.
Because it is so strong compared to its weight and size, structural engineers use it for the structural framework of tall modern buildings and large industrial facilities. Some of its qualities include:
- Steel has high strength-to-weight and strength-to-size ratios.
- It’s high-cost relative to other metals. Structural engineers can consult on choosing the most cost-effective sizes to use in a house to support the actual load on the building.
- Steel is less time-consuming to install than concrete.
- It can be installed in any environment.
- Steel can be susceptible to corrosion if improperly installed or maintained
- Chrome, gold, and silver are generally used for finishes or decoration because they lack the tensile strength of steel.
As a construction material, wood has a lot going for it. It can be used as a primary material, as seen in log cabin construction, or blended with other building materials and used as either a decorative element or support structure. Wood is lightweight compared to stone, and its strength once it’s been seasoned to remove moisture. It can also be cut to length easily.
Wood does have some disadvantages, though. It decays eventually, and it’s vulnerable to moisture damage like dry rot and predation by insects like termites. Fire is a big problem, too.
Even with these vulnerabilities, wood buildings can survive a long time. Just how long may surprise you. The oldest wood building in existence is the Horyu-ji temple in Japan, which dates to the 8th century.
Stone is durable and impressive stuff, but it’s also challenging to the quarry, heavy to move, and it has tension and stress limitations. Where there are resources available to excavate and cut it precisely, stone can be an extremely strong and useful natural material. There are so many extraordinary stone structures that it seems a shame that modern construction uses stone more as decoration than anything else.
Stone is still popular for its esthetic value, and it’s unlikely that it will ever be completely eliminated. Stone has probably been around since the first Stone Age settlers reached for a few rocks to hold down their tent flaps, and as a decorative element in human design, it’s bound to be a part of our structures for a long time.
Today, there are cheaper and more efficient building materials. These have usurped the position of stone in modern building construction. Not the least of which are decorative stone veneers. It seems humbling, but steel, wood, and concrete construction with a thin layer of decorative stone on the outside are more in keeping with modern budgets. This is the same for standards of construction as the impressive, towering stone edifices of historical buildings.
Masonry construction uses individual units (such as bricks) to build structures that are usually bound together by some kind of mortar. Historically, clay bricks were formed in a mold and kiln-fired. The strongest and most commonly used masonry unit now is a concrete block, which may be reinforced with steel. Glass, brick, and stone can all be used in a masonry structure.
Masonry is durable and fire-resistant. This method of construction is able to resist compression loads, which makes it a good material for load-bearing walls. Reinforced with concrete, or in combination with reinforced concrete, masonry can support multi-story buildings and can be an economical choice.
Finally, lasting masonry installation is a strong method to use in many types of construction. It can depend on the quality of mortar and workmanship.
Over time, man has used a variety of materials. They help to paint a picture of our ongoing quest to make long-lasting structures to meet our changing needs. The evolution of architecture meets those challenges and handles the cultural perception of what those buildings should look like and how they should be used.