Construction Materials and Methods: The Fundamentals

Concrete Building

Property owners and contractors have more construction materials to choose from than ever before. Instead of being limited to construction materials from a certain part of the world (such as wood in North America), global shipping has allowed anyone to build with nearly any material from around the globe. This flexibility has only improved with the development of man-made materials, such as concrete and engineered wood.

However, some materials used in construction are better-suited for certain applications than others—but just what are the most common construction and building materials, and which ones are best-suited for which projects? Read on to find out.

Why Choosing the Right Material Is Important

Choosing the right material is, arguably, the most important part of any construction project. Just as you wouldn’t use wood to build a 50-story skyscraper, you probably wouldn’t use steel plating to pave your driveway.

In most cases, however, a construction project could be built equally well using different materials. For example, while you’re not going to pave your driveway with steel, you’ll probably be choosing between concrete and asphalt—two common paving materials.

The material you choose will ultimately impact almost every factor of the project, mainly budget, durability/longevity, aesthetics, and, above all, practicality. The goal should be to strike a reasonable balance between these factors to get the best value for your money.

For example, you may have the choice to build a house using either wood framing or cinder blocks. Both are good building materials in their own right, but using wood would be preferable in places where, say, lumber is inexpensive and there aren’t many termites. Similarly, cement and cinder blocks would be preferable in places with high humidity and frequent termite infestations (read: many parts of Texas!).

Which materials are best for which projects? The answers may surprise you. Some materials have special properties that make them suited for projects they aren’t always used for.

Common Construction materials

While anything can technically be construction material, the ones we’ve compiled for this section are the most common. In addition to discussing the material itself, we’ll also discuss some of its associated building methods and applications.

Wood

Wood is one of the oldest and most abundant construction materials in the world, with over 93 percent of new homes in the United States being built from wood every year. In areas like the United States and North America, wood is the preferred construction material due to its high availability and resultingly low cost.

Wood also has benefits beyond just availability and price: Wood is also incredibly durable, capable of withstanding high compression forces and, with the right construction, high winds and earthquakes. Many contractors and carpenters also prefer wood due to its pliability and ease to work with.

While the exact properties of wood vary with the type (e.g., pine, oak, etc.) and the cut used, most wood used for construction in the United States is either pine or oak, the former being the most prevalent. In addition to framing buildings, wood is also used for most interior work, as well as roofing, decks, siding, fencing, and decorative elements. Needless to say, wood is an extremely versatile building material!

Manufactured Wood

Wood Home Construction

Sometimes known as “engineered wood,” manufactured wood is a broad category of wood-based products that serve as alternatives to natural wood. Some common examples include plywood and particleboard. By using recycled wood materials, manufactured wood is typically less expensive per unit of area than natural wood.

Manufactured wood presents benefits beyond cost-savings, however; since engineers have full control over its “design,” many manufactured wood products have higher strength and rot-resistance than natural wood. Combined with cost-savings, these benefits have made manufactured wood another preferred material in most home construction projects.

Some manufactured wood products also use veneers to replicate natural wood while maintaining the strength and durability of an engineered product. Such products have become preferred over natural wood but can sometimes cost more as a result.

Steel

Steel is the preferred construction material for many commercial and large-scale construction projects, making up most of America’s skyscrapers, bridges, and other superstructures. Without steel, skyscrapers would have never been possible—or, at least, they wouldn’t have been easy!

While its exact properties depend mostly on carbon and metal content, steel is usually known for having both high compression and tensile strength. These properties make it ideal for large structures or those expected to hold a lot of weight; as a result, it’s the preferred construction material for many commercial projects.

However, steel often finds its way into many residential projects as well. While it’s uncommon to build a private residence out of steel alone, many utilize steel supports and beams to stabilize major load-bearing parts of the house. Steel is even more widely used in the design of many modern homes, where it (literally) supports open concepts and other “daring” architectural feats.

Except for stainless steel, steel can – and does – rust. However, placed internally to a structure and/or treated with certain paints and coatings, steel can last for decades and withstand most elements and natural forces (e.g. hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.).

Drywall

No matter what material you build a house or building out of, there’s one material you’ll always use: drywall. Since its development as an alternative to plaster-on-wood walls in the early 20th century, drywall has quickly become the preferred wall-finishing solution for most construction projects. Whether it’s a ranch house or a high rise, most buildings built in the last century—and into the foreseeable future—utilize drywall.

A major benefit of drywall is its fire-resistance, a property owed to gypsum. Since many new homes are wood- and timber-framed, drywall’s fire-resistance has become an essential safeguard against housefires.

Other benefits of using drywall include easy priming, painting, and finishing, as well as easy cutting, fitting, and fastening. Compared to conventional wall-finishing methods such as plaster, drywall is incredibly easy and versatile to use.

Bricks and Stone

Bricks, stone, and other forms of masonry are probably the oldest and most reliable construction materials in the world. Used correctly, masonry can withstand fire, water, structural damage, and age—a trait proudly displayed by still-standing Roman aqueducts and other surviving examples of ancient architecture.

While you may not be building an aqueduct (or even a pyramid), masonry is still used for many construction projects. However, due to some of the labor and costs involved, many new buildings have begun to use cheaper, easier-to-work-with materials such as wood and metal. As a result, many new masonry projects have become limited to patios, walkways, driveways, and landscaping projects.

However, basic masonry still finds use in some concrete homes, which we’ll cover in the section further below. Many new homes are also finished with brick facades which, while not load-bearing, provide a beautiful old-world aesthetic to any new building project.

Glass

Glass is everywhere in modern construction; where it was once solely for individual windows, glass is now used for walls, railings, and even floors and ceilings. Thanks to modern engineering, glass can take on nearly any shape and size while maintaining high strength and durability.

Some modern glass also has insulative properties, making it suitable for large windows in cold climates. These properties have allowed large buildings and homes with all-glass facades in cold climates to maintain an acceptable level of energy efficiency.

Concrete

While concrete may seem like a modern material, its roots extend back to the ancient Romans. Just like with their masonry structures, most original buildings made from Roman concrete have been standing for over a thousand years!

Today, concrete is used for an extremely wide variety of construction projects: Many homes are built from concrete blocks, foundations are poured and laid with concrete, and many homeowners are embracing concrete driveways as a preferred alternative to asphalt and gravel. In any application, concrete is inexpensive, offers high flexibility in shape and form, and shares similar durability to stone and other types masonry.

Beautiful Home Front

Concrete properties also make it possible to embed objects inside of it, such as steel rods for reinforcement. This ability has made concrete (particularly reinforced concrete) a viable construction material for large projects such as skyscrapers and bridges.

The Most Versatile Construction Material?

While every construction material has its unique applications, few materials match the versatility and cost-effectiveness of concrete. With concrete, it’s possible to build a house, pave a driveway, and landscape using the same material. Plus, with its ability to take on most forms and finishes, concrete looks good in the process.

If you’re interested in learning more about concrete construction and how you can incorporate it into your property, call our concrete driveway construction team at 713-254-1703.

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