SERP Authority

Common Construction Materials and Their Uses

founder @ SERP Authority

Published on Apr 17, 2023

Since the dawn of civilisation, we have taken advantage of naturally occurring resources to create strong, resilient structures. The earliest evidence of bricks being used for construction purposes dates back to 7000 BC in the ancient city of Jericho, modern-day Turkey. Over the centuries, how we use construction materials has changed vastly, from relying on nature for solutions to the development of innovative technology, enabling the construction of world-famous, record-breaking buildings like the 2,717 ft tall Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Here are some of the most commonly used construction materials. 

Wood

Timber has been used for construction purposes for over 10,000 years. Naturally occurring and readily available worldwide, wood is still a widely used material. Hardwood varieties such as mahogany, beech, oak, walnut and maple are predominantly used to craft flooring and wall panels, whereas light, flexible softwood like pine and cedar are used for manufacturing door and window frames. Due to deforestation concerns, many construction companies now choose to source wood using sustainable methods. 

Stone

Stone is also one of the world’s longest-standing construction materials. Evidence of dry stone construction dates back to the Bronze Age and can still be found scattered throughout the UK, from the Orkney Isles to Cornwall. In today’s modern world, stone is still favoured for its remarkable durability and weather resistance. Additionally, attractive stone varieties such as granite, travertine, slate and marble are widely used for decorative purposes in the form of flooring and work surfaces. 

Sand

Sand is an incredibly useful construction material, providing bulk, strength and stability when added to other materials. All-purpose mason sand is the most common type of sand used in construction - fine-graded, smooth and clean; mason sand is used as an infill material, and to make mortar for brickwork. Plastering sand is another significant fine-textured variety that is washed to remove all traces of silt, salt, and clay, making it ideal for ensuring a smooth, consistent finish and protection from atmospheric moisture. 

Fibreglass

The material we now recognise as fibreglass was invented in 1938 by Russell Games Slayter of Owens-Corning, for use as an insulation material. Fibreglass is now widely used for insulation, cladding, surface coating and roofing. Made by heating glass until molten before forcing it through superfine holes, these thin glass filaments can be woven into a naturally fire-resistant material. Although fibreglass is initially expensive, it is highly durable and lasts around 25 years before it requires replacing. 

Metals

Metal was first introduced to the world of construction in the late 1700s. Today, metals such as structural steel, titanium, iron and copper are favoured for their thermal resistance, strength and durability. Used for everything from portal framed buildings to plumbing and heating equipment, steel is highly malleable and infinitely recyclable, making it the metal of choice for the construction of long-lasting residential and commercial buildings. World-famous steel-framed buildings include New York’s Empire State Building and the Shun Hing Square Tower in Shenzen, China. 

Plastic

Although plastic isn’t the most environmentally-sustainable material, it is cost-effective and readily available. Used for pipes, cables, seals, windows, doors and more, plastic is highly versatile, low-maintenance and resistant to corrosion. That said, many plastics are flammable unless treated by adding hydrated magnesium oxide. Furthermore, plastic has a low modulus of elasticity compared to metals, ceramics, and glasses and is not as strong and durable as wood, metal, or brick. 

Asphalt

Asphalt is a composite material made from aggregates and bitumen. The earliest recorded evidence of asphalt being used in road construction dates back to 625 BC; however, modern asphalt started appearing in the UK during the beginning of the Victorian era, replacing bumpy, weather-damaged cobblestone roads. Not only is asphalt highly robust and durable, but it is an economical, sustainable paving material - 100% reusable and one of the most frequently recycled materials in the construction industry.

Clay

Clay is a naturally occurring fine-grained material with a lot of potential. The earliest recorded evidence of ceramic production dates back to the late Palaeolithic period in central and western Europe, in the form of clay shards, which once comprised pots used for storing and cooking food. Over the centuries, clay has been widely used worldwide for construction and artistic purposes. In the modern construction industry, clay is used to form bricks, roof tiles, façade systems and much more.