8 Low-Cost Building Materials: Construction and Application

Architects meet and design for clients with unique needs, and visions for their projects. One aspect that clients are particular about is the cost of the project. 

It is a common understanding amongst the architecture community that delivering a project, with all the design requirements while staying under budget is a mammoth task. 

Low-cost building materials make this task easier, aiding the overall design, and reducing the cost, resulting in client satisfaction.

The building material can be classified into:

Raw, and Natural Material

  • Bamboo
  • Compressed Earth Bricks
  • Reinforced Mud Bricks

Prefabricated Material

  • Concrete Blocks
  • Fly Ash Hollow Bricks
  • Aerated Autoclave Cement
  • Shipment Containers

Low-Cost Raw, and Natural Material

1. Bamboo

  • A green, and sustainable material, bamboo is abundantly available in India.
  • Bamboo can be used for structural, and aesthetic purposes.
  • Its flexibility is advantageous in seismic regions.
  • Bamboo is also fire-proof and can be treated to be termite-proof.
  • Bamboo is also available as corrugated sheets for roofing.
  • Aesthetically, bamboo adds an earthy and soothing touch to the design.
  Bamboo Used as a Structural Member
  Bamboo Used as a Structural Member

2. Compressed Earth Bricks

  • Also known as Adobe bricks, these bricks are made out of the soil of that region and reinforced using lime and cement.
  • Sustainable, fire-proof, and lightweight, they are quite possibly the most efficient low-cost material.
  • They are thick and are used for exterior walls.
  • They are one of the least expensive building materials too.
  • Since it can be made on-site using the soil there, it reduces transportation costs as well.
Dome made of Compressed Earth Bricks
Dome made of Compressed Earth Bricks

3. Reinforced Mud Bricks

  • Mud bricks gain strength even through natural reinforcements such as straw and coconut.
  • Coconut and straw add strength and sturdiness to the unadulterated (untreated) soil.
  • Other fibers such as rice husk, bagasse, oat straw, and corn straw are also added with cement to make them corrosion resistant.
  • A sulphur coating is added to the bricks to make them waterproof.
  • These bricks are used in houses to make them durable and weatherproof.
Mud Brick Construction Underway
Mud Brick Construction Underway

Prefabricated Material

1. Concrete Blocks

  • These blocks are manufactured to specific dimensions as per requirements.
  • They can be hollow or dense.
  • The blocks are made out of Portland cement, water, stone, or quartz.
  • They are lightweight, sturdy, and fire-proof.
  • They are usually used for foundations, basement walls, and partition walls.
  • Steel rods can be used for additional reinforcement.
  • They are naturally termite-proof and insulative.
Hollow Concrete Block Exterior Wall
Hollow Concrete Block Exterior Wall

2. Fly Ash Hollow Bricks

  • These are made out of fly ash, stone powder, or sand. Slag and cement, or gypsum are used as adhesives.
  • They are used for load-bearing walls of low-ascent structures.
  • Additionally, mineral buildups, glass, and water are added to improve the water-proof and insulative properties of the structure.
Fly Ash Bricks
Fly Ash Bricks

3. Aerated Autoclave Cement (AAC)

  • Autoclaves are machinery that adjust the temperature and pressure to alter the physical and chemical properties of the objects placed in them.
  • AAC is made out of gypsum, lime, quartz sand, water, and aluminium powder.
  • It is then heated in an autoclave, where the necessary heat and pressure are applied to give the blocks structural integrity.
  • They are heat-safe and lightweight, and thus used for both exterior and interior walls.
  • The material is eco-friendly as it creates 30% less waste than normal concrete.
AAC Block Wall Construction
AAC Block Construction

4. Shipment Containers

  • Shipping containers are a popular low-cost material among the users researching recyclable material.
  • The smallest of containers can provide a space of 100 sq feet.
  • These can be pre-assembled and placed upon a ready foundation.
  • The assembly can be done as per the requirements and gives creative liberty. 
  • The containers can be imagined as Lego® blocks, with physical limitations.
Shipment Containers used as Units of a Design
Shipment Containers used as Units of a Design

5. Prefabricated Houses

  • In an age where the cost of cement, and brick, and mortar is increasing, pre-fabricated houses have become a go-to solution.
  • The houses are made of steel framing, wooden boards, and concrete floors.
  • Factory-made doors, windows, ceilings, and walls are added to the frame.
  • Based on the necessities, the walls, ceilings, and other features can be altered to specification.
  • Though the materials used are considerably expensive, in the big picture, the production, transportation, and labour costs are brought down.
  • Electrical, plumbing, and miscellaneous work are also done at the casting stage, thus, the post-construction time is also cut down.
Pre-Fabricated Houses on a Site
Pre-Fabricated Houses on a Site

Low-cost materials hit the spot when a design demands aesthetics, time, cost, and sustainability, as we have seen from the above discussion.

With scientific research underway to develop more low-cost building materials and the direction it is leaning towards, we believe in a promising future where low-cost building materials are used in iconic and game-changing designs.

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