Concrete is a popular construction material that can be found everywhere – from homes to highways.
It is an integral part of all communities, incorporated into many forms of construction and infrastructure. To get any confusion out of the way, cement (though used by many interchangeably) is not concrete. Cement is a component of concrete, the latter being the hardy building material that is made by binding cement and mineral aggregates with water.
What is concrete used for? The important role it plays in construction is undeniable. It is considered one of the most utilized man-made constructed materials. Some of the many uses of concrete include:
- Structural foundations for buildings and homes
- Pavements and Parking Spaces
- Roads, Highways
- Poles and Fences
- Overpasses and Landmarks
- Decorative Reliefs and Facades
Concrete is a widely used component because of its standout benefits compared to other building materials. Here are the reasons for concrete’s popularity in construction.
Any project designer or homeowner always has the budget at the forefront. Concrete, being widely available and inexpensive, is the wise choice for areas applicable in structures compared to polymers or steel.
Ease of Use
Concrete can be used in a variety of weather conditions because it sets easily at ambient or room temperature. A characteristic that comes from it being a low-temp bonded material.
Durability and Strength
Similarly, concrete is very resilient when exposed to the elements. It can withstand the battering of frost, rain, and other climate and weather factors in a locality because of its impressive strength. It is the best option for parts of your structure that are exposed to outside conditions.
While known as a material for strength and durability in construction, concrete also has its place in contributing to the appearance of the landscape. In its initial liquid state, it can be poured and shaped for various functions from a highway that takes on a load of daily traffic to decorative steps in a garden. It is also a popular medium added to mixed-media art and is a great base for paint to adhere to for that additional aesthetic which takes concrete beyond being just functional.
More for Your Structure or Infrastructure
Concrete is porous and dense, can serve as a protective barrier from flames. Aside from being fire resistant, it also has a high level of impact resistance. This is important in areas that are prone to hail and bursts of high winds.
For parts of your property that may be exposed to pure water, concrete has high water resistance. This would be a factor for cisterns and wells or pipelines and dams on an infrastructural level.
Concrete also has reflective properties which help cool down buildings and reduce heat on roads. This had been the material of choice of builders in hotter climates since it contributes significantly to mitigating heat in buildings.
Raw materials for concrete are readily available in most localities. It is costs less to produce it compared to other construction materials like steel and polymer. Concrete can even be made from industrial waste for aggregates such as slag, fly ash, and waste glass. Its availability results in a lesser need for transport, resulting in lesser use of fuel and lowered transportation costs. Plus, concrete use in demolished structures can be used and recycled, extending its use.
Properties Evolved and Improved Over the Years
How did concrete come to be the reliable construction material of choice by many? It is key that we know, concrete was not an overnight sensation. A quick look at the history of concrete will tell us how it has developed over the centuries. This evolution explains the breadth of benefits that concrete as a construction material contributes to the modern-day building.
A Protective Seal
Back in 6500 BC, Nabatea traders or Bedouins stumbled on the precursor to concrete. They stumbled on the process of hardening hydraulic lime with water. This was a closely guarded secret they used to make rock-solid floors, rubble-walled homes, and most importantly, sealed underground cisterns to store the most essential item in the desert – water. Their invention was rudimentary developed by manual tamping of the lime then adding in aggregates and water.
Middle Eastern builders in 1300BC discovered that they could create a protective hard coating for their structures using a rudimentary technique that burned limestone coating to form a sealing layer for clay-based houses and forts. This was also a pioneering form of concrete.
Another classic example of an exemplary use of concrete is the version of concrete that the Northern Chinese used for the construction of the Great Wall of China sometime 3000BC and the Pantheon built by Emperor Hadian in Rome finished at around 125AD.
A key point in concrete history happened in England. In 1793, John Smeaton began what has become the roots of producing hydraulic lime for cement. His trial material was used in rebuilding the Eddystone Lighthouse in Cornwall which lasted a good 126 years.
The essential component of concrete, Portland cement was invented in 1824 by Joseph Aspdin. He refined the process to produce the glass-like material from silica and alumina which became ground into cement.
Cement in Modern-Day Construction
Since then, builders have improved the addition of cement into construction like the addition of steel reinforcements which came in the late 19th century. Then the concreting process was revolutionized with the construction of the Hoover Dam by stacking large premade and premeasured concrete slabs instead of pouring wet concrete which would take too long (more than 100 years!) to dry.
The evolution of concrete hasn’t ended to this day. Companies continue to invest in research on how to address improving the additions to the concrete mix to achieve certain parameters of porosity, durability, strength, and sustainability. Together with this, builders are refining the process when laying concrete – taking into account related construction materials like reinforced steel to the environment it is on.
The longevity of concrete is a testament to its characteristics which contribute a lot to the confidence of it being one of the most popular materials in construction. Now that’s a concrete concept you can trust.