Building Materials – Types and Uses in Construction

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Warehouse of building materials

In most of our blogs, we’ve been discussing how effective construction crew management is one of the biggest factors in achieving a project’s success. Indeed, it plays a big role in the overall productivity of workers at the site. However, the quality building takes more than just construction crew management. More than that the right building materials should be properly analyzed depending on the client’s requirements, the site, and more other considerations like weather conditions. 

So today, let’s look into the different types of building materials available in the market today and how they are applied in construction.

What are Building Materials?

Building material is literally any material that can be used for construction purposes. It commonly includes wood, concrete, steel, cement, aggregates, bricks, clay, metal, and so much more. In the olden times, people have been using pure bricks, or wood, or straw. But in this modern age, engineers have learned to mix and match the right materials to come up with higher quality structures. The choice, of course, is always based on the client’s budget and the effectiveness of the materials in building projects.

As we just mentioned, many natural substances were used in construction like wood, sand, clay, rocks, wood, and even twigs and leaves. Some of these are still widely used in the modern construction scene, most especially in America where most houses are still made of wood. 

Many man-made materials came out in the previous years and some are synthetic. Although not natural, some are used in making eco-friendly houses like 3D houses which actually pass the green construction standards. 

It’s also a good thing that lumber is decreasingly used in construction these days, hence, saving Mother Earth. Most building materials today are being manufactured. And the industry is a well-established one in many countries. This only proves that the construction industry is healthy and keeps on growing year after year. 

Other related specialty trades are also benefiting from the building materials manufacturing, such as tiling, plumbing, roofing, carpentry, and insulation works. 

All building materials can be used to create a quality structure. But that depends on how they are used in construction. This is why it’s important for project managers and field engineers to carefully analyze the material they need in their projects. 

Importance of Selecting the Right Building Materials

The answer is simple. The right building materials have a big impact on the quality of the structure. No matter how proficient a construction team is when the materials are cheap and substandard, the building will still see a lot of problems and won’t last long.

Sadly, the selection of right building materials is often overlooked. Many project planners tend to cut corners and push aside the use of the best quality materials. Oftentimes, cost is the reason for choosing alternative materials that aren’t really as good as the original choice. But clients need to consider that by using the most suitable materials can they deliver the highest quality building to their tenants. This also ensures the safety and durability of the building. 

Common Building Materials Used in the U.S.

One of the cornerstones of U.S. culture is their wooden homes. Wooden homes are one of the cornerstones of American culture. From the earliest years up to this day, wood is always the main material used in home construction. Of course, there have been improvements to the design, now including bricks to make houses more durable. But why are Americans so into wooden houses? 

That’s mostly because of wood’s flexibility. The U.S. is a country of convenience, speed, and instant solutions. And this is most definitely reflected in their houses. Working with wood is relatively easier than all other building materials like cement or steel. With wood, many Americans were able to DIY their houses and the idea conceived the industry of DIY house building kits. The package already has everything that an owner would need to assemble a whole house at a very low cost and with only a few people to hire. 

The problem here is the quality. Even building with DIY kits needs special building skills. First, not everyone can design a home properly. Everyone can draw using building software but not everyone knows the right standards in building a durable house. This is why some Americans still prefer hiring a home builder to work on their houses. 

Another reason for patronizing wooden houses is the massive internal migration in the U.S. Most people tend to move from one state to another or city to city, probably because of work, school, or they just want a new environment. Statistics show that roughly 35.5 million Americans are changing homes each year. Wooden houses allow them to build quickly and affordably and leave without suffering from too much loss. 

Finally, wood is malleable. It can be easily shaped, modified, reshaped, and repaired. Expansion can then be easily done without spending too much. But the problem with a wooden house is it can quickly go down with fire. 

So when it comes to commercial and industrial buildings, concrete and steel are still commonly used. 

Other Types of Construction Building Materials

So like we said earlier, there are so many building materials that can be used in any construction project. Here, we’re going to look into each material and its uses in a building project. 

  1. Natural Materials

The materials used in construction can be categorized into two general sources – first is natural and the second one is synthetic. 

Natural construction materials refer to those that are not or minimally processed like lumber or glass. On the other hand, synthetic construction materials are those that are manufactured and go through a lot of human manipulations. Some examples are plastics and petroleum-based paints.

Apart from lumber, mud, stone, and fibrous plants are three of the most used materials in building homes. Builders usually combine these three together, apart from tents and skin to create houses that can withstand local weather conditions.

Generally, it is the stone that is used as the basic building component while mud is used to fill in the gap between them. In modern construction, the stone serves as the natural counterpart of hollow blocks or bricks while mud as cement’s alternative. Furthermore, mud acts as natural insulation to a structure.

An example of a structure built with natural construction materials is the wattle and daub where wet soil, sand, clay, straw, and animal dung are used as building components.

  1. Fabric

Tents were very popular in the olden times for shade and home of nomads. We often see historical accounts of Native Americans living in conical or circular turf tents made of fabric. The use of fabric in construction has been in a long hiatus before it was revived as a part of the modern construction technique. With the development of tensile architecture and synthetic fabrics, modern canopies in big buildings are now installed with flexible fabrics supported by steel cable systems. 

  1. Mud and clay

Like we mentioned earlier, mud and clay are natural construction materials that are still used up to these days. The amount of mud or clay used in construction creates different styles of buildings so if you want flexibility in your design, mud and clay should be used.

The deciding factor on the amount of each material to be used lies in the quality of soil used. Larger amounts of clay can build adobe style houses. On the other hand, a lower amount of clay soil can be used in sod building. 

Apart from the soil, the amount of sand/gravel and straw/grass can influence the style of clay structure you create. Rammed earth used in creating walls used to be made by compacting clay between planks by hand. But in this modern age, a mechanical pneumatic compressor is used in processing clay to create more intact rammed earth. 

One reason why mid and clay are still used today is because of its good thermal mass. Structures made of clay soil tend to be cool during the summer and warm during the colder seasons. Clay is known to hold heat or cold, acting as a natural HVAC system. 

Cob, sod, and adobe houses are very common in the southwest or the western and northern parts of Europe. While most of the countries there have wet weather all throughout the year, these house styles surprisingly remain habitable even after hundreds of years. For that reason, some modern sustainable buildings are adapting sod styles.

  1. Rock

The use of rock can be traced back to ancient times. In fact, the entire Egyptian civilization, specifically the pyramids, was made of rock. It’s one of the longest-lasting materials available so even if you won’t see cave-style rock houses these days, rocks are still used as components or other construction materials. The fact that it is also readily available makes it less expensive material to procure. 

But there are many types of rock and each of them differs in properties. So before using rocks in your building, you have to see to it that you are getting the good quality rock.

Generally, rock is a very dense material, making it a good protective material. Its weight and energy-density are considered its biggest draw-backs since it can be difficult to keep stones warm. 

In the olden times, a mortar was used to hold stones together whereas, in this era, cement is what’s commonly used.

In the United States, rock structures are not a common scene but in Europe, they have the UK’s granite-strewn uplands of Dartmoor National Park. Loose granites were used to construct circular huts, which were used until the early Bronze Age. Today, only the remains of 5,000 granite homes can be seen. Roofing using slate is more common in the UK these days. 

  1. Thatch

Thatch or grass is another ancient building material as it is readily available and easily harvested. It doesn’t even need any special collecting and transport instrument. Its biggest advantage, though, is its good insulation capability.

African tribes have been living in homes completely made of grasses. In Europe and some Asian countries, thatch roofs were once prevalent until industrialization brought in better roofing materials that can be suitable even during the rainy season. 

Although thatch roofs are being revived in the Netherlands, in the United States, they are still not a thing in any construction or architectural project.

  1. Brush

Native Americans used to build brush structures for resting and living. These structures are built entirely from parts of plants like leaves, twigs, branches, and bark. 

There are not so many brush houses these days because of durability issues. But you can imagine one to be similar to a beaver’s lodge.

  1. Ice

You may have heard about ice hotels in the northern region where the few tourists who are able to go there are extremely fascinated by it. Well, in the past, ice was really used in making igloos and there were no other agents for keeping them together. A constant below 0 temperature was the only thing igloos needed for the ice blocks to stay intact.

  1. Wood

Wood or lumber is still widely used today, most especially in the United States. Both are products of big trees where the trunk is usually broken down into portions. Back in the days, wood was used almost unprocessed as logs and then tied or notched in place. But since architecture and new construction techniques came to play, wood has been cut and pressed into timber boards or planks and are now used on floors, ceilings, and cabinetry. 

Wood remains to be a generic material and used in making buildings in about any climates. It’s flexible and can bend while keeping its strength. 

The quality and durability of wood depend on the species it came from. Some species are stronger than the others but of course, they are more expensive too. This also means that some species are perfect for certain applications in construction. For example, oak and maple are good for flooring and cabinets while pine and teak are best for walls. 

These days, modern western houses still use wood as it is quicker to put up. It’s also classic. Some people design their wooden homes with modern furniture to make the space look more elegant and up to date. 

  1. Brick and Block

Bricks are made from kiln-fired material. Typically, clay or shale is used to make bricks. Some others use mud when the funds are insufficient, but of course, the quality isn’t that good. 

Clay bricks are manufactured by molding clay or by extruding it on a die. They are still widely used these days as Americans learn to combine wood and bricks, making their houses fire-resistant. Additionally, clay bricks are cheaper in cost than wood. 

In the late 20th century, clay blocks got an alternative through cinder blocks. It’s made with concrete and, obviously, more durable. Lately, a low-cost variant of brick was introduced. The sandcrete block is now among the options but is generally weaker than clay. 

  1. Concrete

Most commercial and industrial structures are now made of concrete. It’s very popular because of its strength and longevity. It is a composite material produced usually from aggregate and cement. 

Portland is the most widely used concrete these days. It uses mineral aggregates like sand and gravel, portland cement, and water for its mixture, which is later hydrated and hardened. The end-product? A stone-like building material. 

However, concrete has a low tensile strength. It is typically strengthened by enforcing steel rods or rebars, hence we have the reinforced concrete structures. 

Air bubbles are what usually weakens the concrete. This is why concrete pouring in construction should be given extra care. Vibrators are used to eliminate these bubbles formed during the pouring process. 

  1. Metal

Metal is one of the most important materials in making modern buildings like skyscrapers. It is also usually used as a wall covering. 

Different types of metals are employed in construction. Steel, whose major component is iron, is the most common metal used in construction because of its longevity, strength, and flexibility. However, it can be weakened by corrosion. 

To eliminate corrosion, aluminum alloy is sometimes used as an alternative. It’s more costly than steel but when you need your building put up near the shore, it will be more advantageous to use aluminum. 

Other metals used as building materials include brass, titanium, silver, chrome, and gold. Titanium and brass can be used in construction while the more special metals in decorative details. 

  1. Glass

Glass walls or curtain walls are very common in commercial buildings these days. It can be cheaper to put up than concrete for walling but it can never beat concrete in terms of durability. Of course, these modern glasses are processed for thickness and strength and could be easier to maintain. The aesthetics they bring also make them popular choices in building hotels and skyscrapers. 

In the past, clear glass was only used in windows. They allow more light to come in while keeping inclement weather outside.

  1. Ceramics

Ceramics are also common building materials in this era. They are used as tiles for floors, fixtures, counter-tops, walls, and ceilings.

Ceramics used to be made from clay-pottery firing in kilns. In this generation, though, as ceramics are used in more and more applications in construction, they are now made using more technical processes to improve their strength. 

  1. Plastic

Plastic is generally used in HVAC, plumbing, and electrical as plastic pipes covering wires and metal pipes. It’s typically made of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic materials that can be molded or extruded. into objects or films or fibers.

Plastics used as building materials vary in heat tolerance, resilience, and hardness. This is why plastics find their place in most construction projects these days, depending on the application they may be needed for.

  1. Foam

Foamed plastic was generally used as an insulator in construction. Some homes use it in between wooden or cement walls or on top of their ceiling to maintain warmth or coolness inside the structure.

However, these days, the use of polyurethane in construction has been limited.

  1. Cement composites

Cement composites have found a new use in 3D construction wherein the previous years they have only been used as binders for wood or fibers. 

Cement composites are made of hydrated cement paste. How they bind wood together can be challenging, though, as wood-cement compatibility ratio should be identified first to be able to create the right cement paste mixture. 

Various methods are used to determine wood-cement compatibility. That includes measuring hydration of cement and wood, identifying their strength, morphology, and interfacial bond. 

Modern Building Materials

The construction industry in modern times has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry. Construction projects are done left and right and with the employment rate growing in different industries until 2026, more constructions are expected to happen. 

Following this, the building material harvesting industry is also growing and evolving. To meet the standards of modern buildings, new types of construction materials are being invented. 

Since environmental concerns are becoming a worldwide concern, the use of natural building materials like wood is being limited. If not, they come with the special condition of the industry planting its own trees to harvest.

This led the industry to come up with modern alternatives where the production and use of these new materials won’t hurt the environment. 3D printing, for instance, uses construction scraps as raw material. 

Building Products

Building products are pre-fabricated structures used in construction. They are already manufactured and assembled in warehouses so the project team only needs to fit them in the building. They may include walls, cabinets, windows, and doors. 

The biggest advantage of using building products can make the job of the project team faster and easier while minimizing waste on the construction site. 

Final Words

The choice of building materials greatly affects the success of a construction project. They can make or break your project so, during the planning stage, it is important for the planners to analyze which materials will work best for the project. 

Of course, choosing the right supplier plays an important role in acquiring the right building materials too. So scout the best suppliers and work closely with them to have your materials delivered at the right time.

It’s also important to manage your building materials well and you can track delivery schedules with project management software like Pro Crew Schedule. 

 

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