Types of Building Materials
Building material is any material which is used for a construction purpose. Just about every type of available material has been used at one time or another for creating various human and animal homes, structures, and technologies. This reference deals with habitats and structures including homes.Living spaces and their related structures have been created using myriad materials, from mud to metal, and from plastic to grass. Today the production and assembly of various building materials is a multi billion dollar industry, and environmental concern has recently surfaced about the effects of such a massive resource extraction on a global scale.
Mud and Clay
The amount of each material used leads to different styles of buildings. The deciding factor is usually connected with the quality of the soil being used. Larger amounts of clay usually mean using the cob/adobe style, while low clay soil is usually associated with sod building. The other main ingredients include more or less sand/gravel and straw/grasses.
Soil and especially clay is good thermal mass; it is very good at keeping temperatures at a constant level. Homes built with earth tend to be naturally cool in the summer heat and warm in cold weather.
Rock structures have existed for as long as history can recall. It is the longest lasting building material available, and is usually readily available. There are many types of rock through out the world all with differing attributes that make them better or worse for particular uses. Rock is a very dense material so it gives a lot of protection too, its main draw-back as a material is its weight and awkwardness. Its energy density is also considered a big draw-back, as stone is hard to keep warm with out using large amounts of heating resources.
Thatch is one of the oldest of building materials known; grass is a good insulator and easily harvested. Many African tribes have lived in homes made completely of grasses year round. In Europe, thatch roofs on homes were once prevalent but the material fell out of favour as industrialisation and improved transport improved the availabilty of other materials. Today, though, the practice is undergoing a revival. In Holland, for instance, two-thirds of new builds have thatched roofs.
Brush structures are built entirely from plant parts and are generally found in tropical areas, such as rainforests, where very large leaves can be used in the building. Native Americans often built brush structures for resting and living in, too. These are built mostly with branches, twigs and leaves, and bark, similar to a beaver's lodge. These were variously named wikiups, lean-tos, and so forth.
Ice was used by the Inuit for igloos, but has also been used for ice hotels as a tourist attraction in northern areas that might not otherwise see many winter tourists.
Wood is a product of trees, and sometimes other fiberous plants, used for construction purposes when cut or pressed into lumber and timber, such as boards, planks and similar materials. It is a generic building material and is used in building just about any type of structure in most climates. Wood can be very flexible under loads, keeping strength while bending, and is incredibly strong when compressed vertically. There are many differing qualities to the different types of wood, even among same tree species. This means specific species are better for various uses than others. And growing conditions are important for deciding quality.
Brick and Block
A brick is a block made of kiln-fired material, usually clay or shale, but also may be of lower quality mud, etc. Clay bricks are formed in a moulding (the soft mud method), or in commercial manufacture more frequently by extruding clay through a die and then wire-cutting them to the proper size (the stiff mud process).
Another type of block replaced clay bricks in the late 20th century. It was the Cinder block. Made mostly with concrete.
Concrete is a composite building material made from the combination of aggregate (composite) and a binder such as cement. The most common form of concrete is portland cement concrete, which consists of mineral aggregate (generally gravel and sand), portland cement and water. After mixing, the cement hydrates and eventually hardens into a stone-like material. When used in the generic sense, this is the material referred to by the term concrete.
Metal is used as structural framework for larger buildings such as skyscrapers, or as an external surface covering. There are many types of metals used for building. Steel is a metal alloy whose major component is iron, and is the usual choice for metal structural building materials. It is strong, flexible, and if refined well and/or treated lasts a long time.
The lower density and better corrosion resistance of aluminium alloys and tin sometimes overcome their greater cost. Brass was more common in the past, but is usually restricted to specific uses or specialty items today. Other metals used include titanium, chrome, gold, silver. These are used as decoration because they are too soft to provide any structural support. Corrosion is metal's prime enemy when it comes to longevity.
Glass is generally made from mixtures of sand and silicates, and is very brittle.Modern glass "curtain walls" can be used to cover the entire facade of a building. Glass can also be used to span over a wide roof structure in a "space frame".
Ceramics are such things as tiles, fixtures, etc. Ceramics are mostly used as fixtures or coverings in buildings. Ceramic floors, walls, counter-tops, even ceilings. Many countries use ceramic roofing tiles to cover many buildings.Ceramics used to be just a specialized form of clay-pottery firing in kilns, but it has evolved into more technical areas.
The term plastics covers a range of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic condensation or polymerization products that can be molded or extruded into objects or films or fibers. Their name is derived from the fact that in their semi-liquid state they are malleable, or have the property of plasticity. Plastics vary immensely in heat tolerance, hardness, and resiliency. Combined with this adaptability, the general uniformity of composition and lightness of plastics ensures their use in almost all industrial applications today.
The tent used to be the home of choice among nomadic groups. Two well known types include the conical teepee and the circular yurt. It has been revived as a major construction technique with the development of tensile architecture. Modern buildings can be made of flexible material such as fabric membranes, and supported by a system of steel cables or internal air pressure. Buckminster Fuller was the creator of the geodesic dome design, often used as a sub-structure for a tent.
More recently synthetic polystyrene or polyurethane foam has been used on a limited scale. It is light weight, easily shaped and an excellent insulator. It is usually used as part of a structural insulated panel where the foam is sandwiched between wood or cement.