The Advantages of Concrete

It ensures strong foundations and big statements: concrete is everywhere–and has plenty of pros in light of new construction requirements.

Almost all buildings use it: concrete has proven its worth as a construction material.  The Romans even used concrete (a mixture using burnt lime, sand, water, brick dust and volcanic ash) to build their aqueducts. With it, they built the dome of the Pantheon in the year 125. Even today, it’s one of the best-kept buildings of Ancient Rome. 

Since then, concrete has been continuously developed to become the building industry standard that it is today. This robust construction material facilitates sturdy, water-resistant foundations and strong walls. It provides heat and sound insulation. As concrete stores heat, solid buildings create a balanced internal temperature. Concrete ceilings and walls absorb more sound and impact how much sound echoes around an apartment in a multi-family home or office buildings.

Concrete is long-lasting and needs minimal maintenance thanks to constantly developing recipes. Solid buildings are more resistant to hazards such as fire. In previous centuries, whole cities were destroyed by fire moving unhindered throughout wooden constructions. Today, there are high requirements for wood in construction to avoid such catastrophes. But, as an organic material, wood contributes to the fire risk. The opposite is true of concrete. It does not smoke or release toxic gases up to fire temperatures of 1,000 degrees C, instead remaining mostly solid and not spreading the flames. 

Load-bearing capacity and creative freedom

High fire temperatures can impact the load-bearing capacity of steel building components. If steel and concrete are built together, the concrete casing prevents the steel beams and supports from reaching critical temperatures that may impair their ability to bear weight in the case of a fire .

Concrete can take enchanting shapes, such as the petal ceiling made from hypar shells like at Los Manatiales in Mexico by Félix Candela, or the swooping concrete and polyester structure at the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku by Zaha Hadid. Shells can be used to make concrete mirror-smooth or cause it to take on textures such as the look of wood. And elastic formliners can apply any design, from wood, stone or grooves to fantasy textures to photos and even text, to concrete. 

Concrete is everywhere. And this has much to do with its most important ingredient: cement. Portland cement makes concrete sturdy and long-lasting with its calcium silicates and calcium aluminates. During production, CO2 is released from the raw materials–this process accounts for the majority of emissions during cement production. To minimize these effects, three strategies may be employed:

  • The use of alternative base materials to reduce the proportion of Portland cement clinker used
  • Optimization of the production technology to increase energy efficiency
  • The use of alternative fuels in production to replace fossil fuels and avoid the associated CO2 emissions

Concrete and sustainable construction

Properly produced and used, concrete is a long-lasting construction material that guarantees the finished building’s extensive usability, saving resources in the long run. 

Unlike other construction materials, concrete can usually be obtained locally. On average, there is a concrete plant within a 25 kilometer radius of a construction site–this keeps transport journeys short and related emissions low. It can even be produced on-site. When building with wood, the material is usually moved great distances, with imported wood requiring particularly lengthy transport routes.

Water is essential not just in production but also in cleaning equipment, tools and transport tool mixers. Concrete plants treat it for reuse in their own preparation systems to conserve resources and work in a more environmentally-friendly way. 

Processing building rubble to make recycled concrete is increasingly playing a role in rising to the requirements of sustainable construction. Recycled concrete, which is produced using building rubble at waste processing facilities, replaces natural stone or gravel. This building rubble and the aggregate are subject to precise specifications. These are laid out in the DAfStb guidelines on concrete in compliance with DIN EN 206-1 and DIN 1045-2 with recycled aggregate in compliance with DIN EN 12620. How well it can be used may be altered through the addition of plasticizers and liquefiers. 

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