The construction industry uses a variety of building 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 concrete, steel, wood, masonry, and stone. Each has different strength, weight, and durability, which makes it right for various uses. 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.
Building materials are usually categorized into two sources: natural and manmade. Materials such as stone and wood are natural, and concrete, masonry, and steel are manmade. But both must be prepared or treated before they’re used in building. Here is a list of building materials that are commonly used in construction.
Steel is a metal alloy of iron and carbon and often other alloying material 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 make-up. 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:
Chrome, gold, and silver are generally used for finishes or decoration because they lack the tensile strength of steel.
Concrete is a composite material made of fine and coarse aggregate (think gravel, crushed stone, recycled concrete, and geosynthetic aggregates) bound together by a liquid binder such as cement that hardens or cures over time. Portland cement is the most common type of cement, and is a fine powder, produced by heating limestone and clay materials in a kiln and adding gypsum. So Portland cement concrete consists of the mineral aggregate, bound with Portland cement and water. After mixing, the cement hardens or cures into the stone-like material we think of as concrete.
Choosing building materials is one of the myriad aspects of a construction project. Learn more about the building process in MT Copeland’s online classes, taught by professional builder and craftsman Jordan Smith.
Among the oldest, or perhaps the oldest, of building materials, wood has been used for thousands of years and has properties that make it an ideal building material—even in the days of engineered and synthetic materials.
For construction use, wood pieces are machine-planed and cut into standard dimensions, such as 2”x4” (1.5”x3.5” actual) and 2”x6,” (1.5”x5.5” actual) so that their measurements can be accurately factored into building plans—this is known as dimensional lumber. Wood in larger sizes is usually referred to as timber or beams and is often used to construct the frames of large structures like bridges and multi-story buildings.
Some tree species are better for some uses and for use in some climates than others. Structural engineers and architects can determine which type of wood is ideal for a construction project.
The longest lasting building material available is the one that’s been here for thousands of years: stone. In fact, the most ancient of buildings still in existence in the world are made of stone. It has many advantages, though engineers and architects must make some special considerations when planning a building using stone.
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.
MT Copeland offers video-based online classes that give you a foundation in construction fundamentals with real-world applications. Classes include professionally produced videos taught by practicing craftspeople, and supplementary downloads like quizzes, blueprints, and other materials to help you master the skills.
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