Concrete is one of the oldest building materials available. Concrete has been in use since 6500 BC when Nabataea traders of Syria and Jordan, built concrete floors and houses. Concrete has built some of the important milestones in the history of construction. That is, from the Great pyramids of Giza to the majority of construction in the Roman Empire. It’s no surprise that concrete has a strong foot print in the construction industry. Concrete is a versatile material with desirable properties such as being strong, durable , impermeable and to an extent fire resistant. Concrete as a material is made from a mixture of cement, water and aggregates (stones). The cement binds the aggregates together through a reaction with the water to form the harden rock like mass known as “concrete”.
While concrete has some advantages, it also has shortcomings. Concrete has a low tensile strength which leads to an additional cost of steel reinforcement so as to improve its tensile strength. Concrete is also temperature sensitive. Changes in temperature lead to its expansion and contraction resulting into cracks which can be avoided by providing expansion joints. Concrete also has a low ductility which is disadvantageous when it comes to earthquake resistance. It is also susceptible to efflorescence, alkali and sulphate attack which weaken it.
Whereas most of weaknesses of concrete can be mitigated, in situations where these solutions are inadequate it’s good to know some alternative materials. In the following sections, we are going to look at the different alternatives to concrete.
Hempcrete is a special material which is a composite of hemp hurd or shiv (biofiber) and lime (mineral binder). Hempcrete provides good insulation to buildings with the added benefit of being renewable and environmentally friendly. While hempcrete does not have the structural capacity to carry loads like those from the roof, when the material is placed on conventional wall frames it can prevent studs from buckling under load which improves the ability of the frame members to carry load. In situations where you need zero-carbon print, nontoxic materials, good moisture handling, durability and fire resistance, hempcrete is a good material choice.
Bamboo is another renewable material whose applications in construction are numerous. Bamboo can used for roofing, floors, walls and generally domestic housing. When it comes to construction, bamboo is used through a structural frame approach. While you can find many uses for bamboo, it important to note some of its downsides such as; need for preservation, fungi and insect attack, flammability and lack of design codes.
3. RECYCLED PLASTIC
Today the world is looking for a green approach, and construction projects are required to have an environmentally friendly approach. Using recycled plastic is one of those approaches. Recycled plastic can be put to many uses such as bricks, ceiling and floor tiles and structural lumber. To date, plastic bottles have been used to build aesthetically pleasing walls for houses. As an example, the Eco Ark building below in Taipei was built using plastic bottles.
Wood is one the oldest materials and its use can be traced on almost every continent for many thousands of years. Wood has been used to construct several structures such as temples, towers and even bridges. When you set aside it’s disadvantages such as being combustible, wood is a lightweight material with a high strength to weight ratio as well as good performance in seismic zones.
Mycelium as a material is formed with the help of a fungi (mycelium) which binds organic matter in natural biological process. Mycelium materials offer a number of advantages such as low cost, low density and energy consumption as well as low impact on the environment. There are, however, some factors limiting mycelium use, such as the foam like mechanical properties and water absorption.
Timbercrete is formed from a mix of sawdust,sand, cement and binders as well as non-toxic deflocculating additives. The blend of these materials is cured in direct sunlight and air to form a special building brick which is durable and suitable for light weight construction. Timbercrete products have a higher resilience and breaking load resistance compared to concrete products and unreinforced clay.
7. STRUCTURAL STEEL
Steel as a construction material comes with a number of desirable properties such as good compression and tension strength, ductility and high strength to weight ratio. Steel is versatile and can be used to build wide-spanning structures with a minimal amount of materials. The weaknesses of steel such as corrosion and thermal deformation can be overcome by application of concrete cover which can make steel a material of choice.
Structures made from steel.
8. GREEN CONCRETE
Green concrete relies on being an eco-friendly material which is more sustainable and cheap to produce. Green concrete can constitute a number of waste materials such as fly ash, stone crusher waste ,marble waste as well as recycled concrete and masonry. Green concrete offers a number of benefits such as; good thermal resistance, speed of construction and no environmental pollution. It comes without saying that if your project needs a green approach, a green concrete could be a material of choice.
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