8 Low-Cost Building Materials: Construction and Application

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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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