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The Best Building Materials for Home: Timber, Bricks, Concrete, or Stone?

Updated on July 6, 2008


Stone and mud are the most basic natural building materials. People all over the world have used them together to create homes to suit their local weather conditions. In general stones are used as basic structural components in buildings, while mud is used to fill in the space between, acting as a type of concrete and insulation.

Stone structures have existed for as long as history can recall. It is the longest lasting building material available, and is usually readily available. Mostly stone buildings can be seen in most major cities, some civilisations built entirely with stone such as the Pyramids in Egypt. It is believed that for derelict buildings, concrete or timber structures are the first to run down, followed by brick structures, and stone structures may last for thousands of years.

There are many types of stones throughout the world all with differing attributes that make them better or worse for particular uses. Stone is a very dense material so it gives a lot of protection too, its main draw-back as a material is its weight and awkwardness. Its energy effectiveness is also considered a big draw-back, as stone is hard to keep warm without using large amounts of heating resources.


Wood is used for construction purposes when cut or pressed into timber, such as boards and planks. It is a generic building material and is used in building just about any type of structure in most climates. Wood can be very flexible under loads, keeping strength while bending, and is incredibly strong when compressed vertically. Therefore, wood is an ideal building material in earthquake zones, followed by steel. The worst is bricks and mortar.

There are many differing qualities to the different types of wood, even among same tree species. This means specific species are better for various uses than others. And growing conditions are important for deciding quality. Typical wood for building materials include oak and elm wood. Elm tree was preferred for wood exposed to damp conditions as it is more water resilient than the oak. It was therefore used for water pipes and pumps, but also when very long beams were necessary, as it grew taller than the oak tree.

Historically, wood for building large structures was used in its unprocessed form as logs. The trees were just cut to the needed length, sometimes stripped of bark, and then notched or lashed in to place. In earlier times, and in some parts of the world, many country homes or communities had a personal wood-lot from which the family or community would grow and harvest trees to build with. With the invention of mechanizing saws came the mass production of dimensional lumber. This made buildings quicker to put up and more uniform. Modern western style home is often built with timber frames and filled with bricks.


Bricks are usually made of clay, but also may be of lower quality mud. Clay bricks are formed in a moulding (the soft mud method) or in commercial manufacture more frequently by extruding clay through a die and then wire-cutting them to the proper size (the stiff mud process).

Bricks were very popular as a building material from 1700 to 1900s. This was probably due to the fact that it was much more flame retardant than wood in the ever crowding cities, and cheap to produce.

Types of clay or mud used to make bricks vary according to areas and time. Low-cost bricks include cinder block, made mostly with concrete, and Sandcrete block, which are weaker but cheaper than fired clay bricks.

Sometimes one can find bricks of a much larger than normal size. Some of the bricks used in buildings in England are twice the normal size. It is said that these were made at a time when there was a tax on bricks. From 1784 to 1850 you were taxed according to the number of bricks you used in a building. The size of individual bricks therefore increased. This is similar as the window size of buildings in Ireland due to William III's window tax.

Reinforced Concrete

For a concrete construction of any size, as concrete has a rather low tensile strength, it is generally strengthened using steel rods or bars. This strengthened concrete is then referred to as reinforced concrete. In order to minimise any air bubbles, that would weaken the structure, a vibrator is used to eliminate any air that has been entrained when the liquid concrete mix is poured around the ironwork. Concrete has been the predominant building material in this modern age.

Reinforced concrete comes cheap and will support structures for a long amount of time, but it is considered to be less strong and long lasting than brick buildings. When we brought our first home, our mortage adviser told us that many lenders are reluctant to lend money on reinforced concrete homes.

The best building materials for home

The best building materials for home depends on the local weather conditions (e.g. dampness, average temperature), energy effective (easy to keep warm in cold areas), local materials available, and whether you are in an earthquake prone area.


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    • jim.sheng profile image

      Dalriada Books Ltd 9 years ago from UK

      Thanks for your correction, Hoodala. Obviously, you are an expert on this. I was a bit confused with the concepts of 'thermal mass' and 'insulation'. You explanation is quite clear.

    • Hoodala profile image

      Hoodala 9 years ago from Mesa

      Nice hub Jim, As a building fanatic I love everything about construction except actually doing it. Mud is not usead insulation ever. Stone and mud or adobe actually have excellnt thermal characteristics. In cool climates they heat in the sun during the day and release their heat into the structure at night reucing heating costs. They are used as thermal mass but not insulation.