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. In this blog, we will tackle the age-old debate of wood vs. concrete. However, before we dive headfirst into this heated debate, we will also clarify cement vs. concrete as well as other considerations 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 could provide 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
Cement vs. Concrete
First, it is important to use the correct terms when discussing concrete. Many people use cement and concrete interchangeably, but these terms are fundamentally different. To start with, cement is a binding agent made from limestone and other minerals. Through a series of chemical processes, they turn into a fine powder that is hydraulic in nature. On the other hand, concrete is a building material that uses cement as part of its components. It also includes water and other aggregates. According to this study, concrete is the second most used material after water. What’s more, it is often the top choice in construction because of its resistance to harsh environments and its environmental friendliness. Thus, differentiating cement vs. concrete is useful to understand the latter’s advantages and disadvantages:
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
Similar to 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 opportunities)
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).
In contrast, concrete is often criticized for being unsustainable as it takes a lot of resources to produce. Cement, which we learned is 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. However, 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 the 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.
Wood vs. Concrete: Which is Safer?
Last but not least, there is 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 and strong material, it also presents some safety risks. For example, if a concrete structure collapses at a job site or once the building is occupied, the falling concrete could seriously injure anyone who is nearby.
Additionally, if you are 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 cause far more severe 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.