Wood and concrete have been used in construction for thousands of years and for good reason. Both materials have properties that make them appealing building materials.
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In this blog, we will tackle the age-old debate between wood and concrete. But before we dive headfirst into this heated debate, there are a few considerations we need to keep in mind.
As professionals in construction, we know that you can look at this question from various perspectives, which ultimately affects your interpretation of the advantages and disadvantages listed below. We also recognize the distinction between immediate advantages and long-term benefits. In other words, the benefits that a material provides in the long term may outweigh the drawbacks you experience today. Therefore, you should keep your own priorities in mind as you read this post.
An In-Depth Look at Concrete Construction
According to this study, concrete is the second most used material after water, and there are lots of reasons as to why it is so popular. Still, there are advantages and disadvantages to using concrete as a building material:
Advantages of Concrete
- Very durable
- Low maintenance
- Does not rust, rot, or burn
- Absorbs & retains heat (increases efficiency in buildings and cuts heating/cooling bills)
- Wind and water resistant
- Non-combustible (fire safe)
- Effective soundproofing material
Disadvantages of Concrete
- More expensive
- Heavy & difficult to transport (although lightweight concrete does exist)
- Limited versatility
- Slower to build with
- Susceptible to efflorescence
An In-Depth Look at Timber Construction
Just like concrete, wood, or timber has its benefits and its drawbacks as a building material:
Advantages of Wood
- Light, and easy to work with
- A natural resource (readily available, presenting promising opportunites)
Disadvantages of Wood
- Building inspectors have found it to be a hot spot for mold growth and moisture related problems, which undermines the structural integrity
- Wood is more susceptible to water damage, fire, decay, and termites
Sustainability and the Environment
When we think of wood, we often imagine a natural, sustainable, and environmentally friendly building material. And in many ways, it is. Wood stores carbon dioxide, which results in a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 2,432 metric tonnes (equal to taking 500 cars off the road for a year).
Concrete is often criticized for being unsustainable as it takes a lot of resources to produce. Cement, a main component of concrete, is one of the world’s biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Many people assume that because cement production is bad for the environment, so is concrete production. But the truth is far more complicated than that.
Let’s take a closer look…
- Concrete is durable—its lifespan is actually two or three times longer than other common building materials.
- Concrete is great at absorbing and retaining heat, which means it will increase energy efficiency of a building and reduce HVAC expenses.
- Its reflective properties will decrease air-conditioning costs in the hot summer months.
- Concrete produces little waste as it can be produced in batches specific to project needs.
Which Is Safer: Concrete or Wood?
Last but not least, there’s safety. In general, wooden structures are not as safe as concrete buildings. Wood is vulnerable to external threats like fire, wind, insects, moisture, and mold—all of which can result in structural damage and safety risks.
While concrete is a durable, strong material, it too poses some safety risks. For example, should a concrete structure collapse, either at a jobsite or once the building is occupied, falling concrete could seriously injure anyone who is nearby.
Also, if you’re a builder working with dry or wet concrete, you may experience irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, or skin. Furthermore, exposure to silica, a main ingredient in dry concrete, can even cause far more serious health issues, including lung cancer.
Now that you know everything about building with concrete and wood, which would you choose? Let us know by commenting below!
**Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on April 25th, 2018 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.