Construction Materials and clays

Construction Materials and clays

Construction material is any material used for construction purpose such as materials for house building. Wood, cement, aggregates, metals, bricks, concrete, clay are the most common type of building material used in construction. The choice of these are based on their cost effectiveness for building projects.

Many naturally occurring substances, such as clay, sand, wood and rocks, even twigs and leaves have been used to construct buildings. Apart from naturally occurring materials, many man-made products are in use, some more and some less synthetic.  The manufacture of building materials is an established industry in many countries and the use of these materials is typically segmented into specific specialty trades, such as carpentry, plumbing, roofing and insulation work. This reference deals with habitats and structures including homes.

Natural Construction Materials

Construction materials can be generally categorized into two sources, natural and synthetic. Natural materials are those that are unprocessed or minimally processed by industry, such as lumber or glass.

Synthetic materials are made in industrial settings after much human manipulations, such as plastics and petroleum based paints. Both have their uses.

Mud, stone, and fibrous plants are the most basic materials, aside from tents made of flexible materials such as cloth or skins. People all over the world have used these three materials together to create homes to suit their local weather conditions.

In general stone and/or brush are used as basic structural components in these buildings, while mud is used to fill in the space between, acting as a type of concrete and insulation.  A basic example is wattle and daub mostly used as permanent housing in tropical countries or as summer structures by ancient northern peoples.




The tent used to be the home of choice among nomadic groups the world over. 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 and synthetic fabrics. Modern buildings can be made of flexible material such as fabric membranes, and supported by a system of steel cables or internal (air pressure.)

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. Rammed earth is both an old and newer take on creating walls, once made by compacting clay soils between planks by hand, now forms and mechanical pneumatic compressors are used.

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. Clay holds heat or cold, releasing it over a period of time like stone.

Earthen walls change temperature slowly, so artificially raising or lowering the temperature can use more resources than in say a wood built house, but the heat/coolness stays longer.

Peoples building with mostly dirt and clay, such as cob, sod, and adobe, resulted in homes that have been built for centuries in western and northern Europe as well as the rest of the world, and continue to be built, though on a smaller scale. Some of these buildings have remained habitable for hundreds of years.



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 without using large amounts of heating resources.  Dry-stone walls have been built for as long as humans have put one stone on top of another. Eventually different forms of mortar were used to hold the stones together, cement being the most commonplace now.

The granite-strewn uplands of Dartmoor National Park, United Kingdom, for example, provided ample resources for early settlers. Circular huts were constructed from loose granite rocks throughout the Neolithic and early Bronze Age, and the remains of an estimated 5,000 can still be seen today.

Granite continued to be used throughout the Medieval period (see Dartmoor longhouse) and into modern times. Slate is another stone type, commonly used as roofing material in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world where it is found.  Mostly stone buildings can be seen in most major cities, some civilizations built entirely with stone such as the Pyramids in Egypt, the Aztec pyramids and the remains of the Inca civilization.


Thatch is one of the oldest of 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 industrialization and improved transport increased the availability of other materials.



Brush structures are built entirely from plant parts and are generally found in tropical and subtropical 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 wickiups, lean-tos, and so forth.


Wood is a product of trees, and sometimes other fibrous 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.

Historically, wood for building large structures was used in its unprocessed form as logs. The trees were just cut to the needed length, sometimes stripped of bark, and then notched or lashed into place.


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