Tag Archives: construction materials

What is Low-Carbon Concrete?

The active ingredient in concrete is cement, and concrete’s ubiquitous usage makes cement the most widely used industrial commodity today. The world consumes about half a ton of cement per person per year. But alongside its positive benefits as a construction material, cement also puts a major strain on the environment. Cement production currently accounts for 3% of world energy consumption and roughly 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing emissions from the cement sector is critical to meeting the United Nation’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, but the sector has proven inherently challenging to decarbonize. This challenge is prompting a major drive to develop technological solutions that can address these processing emissions, including significant upticks in both investments and startup activity in low-carbon cement. Continue reading

Choosing the Best Windows for Your Home

Windows are an important investment in your home’s curb appeal and your quality of life. They’re also pricey, often costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars to install or replace. Gone are the days when homeowners’ interest in windows was limited to size and shape: today’s energy-conscious consumers want to minimize costs of heating/ cooling their homes. Whether you’re building a new home or planning to replace existing, the key is knowing which choices will give you the biggest bang for your buck without impacting your bottom line. This guide is intended to help you make informed choices as to best window options for your home. Continue reading

12 Sustainable Building Materials

A sustainable (a.k.a. eco-friendly) building material is one that minimizes its impact on the environment – whether in its production, use, or disposal – and that can be readily recycled. Building with sustainable materials reduces the amount of carbon involved in the growth, production, and/or manufacturing of the material, thus diminishing the size of the carbon footprint associated with that material. Here we discuss some candidates among the current generation of eco-friendly building materials. Continue reading

Transparent Aluminum: A Cutting Edge Material

One of the more recent technologies to emerge in the ever-changing world of advanced building materials is transparent aluminum. It has long been the ambition of architects and engineers to find a material that combines the strength and hardness of metal with the crystal-clear purity of glass. Such a “clear metal” could be used, for example, to construct towering glass-walled skyscrapers whose outer skins are structurally self-supporting, with an absolute minimum of secondary supporting members. Transparent aluminum is a cutting edge-material already being used in specialty architectural applications including blast-resistant and infrared-optical windows.

What is Transparent Aluminum?
Known commercially as ALON, transparent aluminum is made of aluminum oxynitride, a combination of aluminum, oxygen and nitrogen. Before it can end up as a hard transparent armor plate, it begins as a powder. This powder is then molded, subjected to high heat and baked, just as any other ceramic is baked. Once baked, the powder liquefies and then quickly cools into a solid, which leaves the molecules loosely arranged as if still in liquid form. The resulting rigid crystalline structure of the molecules provides a level of strength and scratch resistance that’s comparable to rugged sapphire. Additional polishing strengthens the aluminum alloy and also makes it extremely clear.

Chemical Composition
Transparent aluminum is a transparent polycrystalline ceramic with a cubic spinel crystal structure. ALON is produced by combining aluminum, oxygen, and nitrogen. Its chemical formula is Al2O27N5.

Physical Properties
• Hardest polycrystalline transparent ceramic commercially available.
• 80% transparent in the near-ultraviolet, visible and infrared regions.
• Best material available material in terms of optical quality.
• It is three times harder than steel and four times as hard as conventional silica glass of the same thickness.
• Corrosion and oxidation resistant.
• High flexural strength.
• Good compressive strength.

Manufacturing Process
ALON production begins by introducing a mixture having aluminum oxide and carbon into a chamber, agitating the mixture within the chamber, and heating the mixture to make aluminum oxynitride. The next step involves pressurizing the aluminum oxynitride powder to 15,000 pounds per inch in rubber molds submerged in hydraulic fluid. The obtained material, which is molded and opaque, is heated to 2000-deg C and kept at this temperature for two days. Once cooled, ALON emerges transparent and is then ground and polished for extra clarity and strength.

Applications of Transparent Aluminum
Although the material has exceptional mechanical and optical properties, at present it is prohibitively expensive to produce. For this reason its current application in construction is relatively limited, constrained to specialty applications including bullet-proof glass, blast-resistant windows, and infrared-optical windows.

It is thought that as the material becomes more mainstream, production costs will become less prohibitive. In turn this could lead to its application in more commonplace uses. Specifically, due to its exceptional strength and impact-resistance characteristics, in the near term it’s well positioned to emerge as a superior alternative to conventional safety glass (i.e. tempered or laminated glass) in building applications. In the longer term, it could be a material poised to allow towering buildings whose skins are made of only transparent metal.

For Further Reading:
• Science Daily has published an article, “Transparent Aluminum Is New State Of Matter”, found at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090727130814.htm
• An article, “What is Transparent Aluminum?” can be found at TheConstructor.org. The link is: https://theconstructor.org/building/building-material/transparent-aluminium/561733/
• Surmet, a producer of transparent aluminum, has published several articles about ALON at: http://www.surmet.com/technology/alon-optical-ceramics/

Building Location, Fire-Rated Construction, and You

Everyone wants to make the most out of their property. Maximizing your open space is the most common approach, and locating your buildings (including accessory structures) as close as possible to your property line is one way to increase the open space between – and thus maximize the usable square footage of – those buildings. However this can come at one fairly big price: fire resistant requirements. This post will explain what has to be fireproofed, what that means, and what that means to you. Continue reading

Slab-on-Grade vs. Crawl Space: Which Foundation System is Best?

Is it better to have a crawlspace or slab-on-grade foundation system? This is a common question among those planning to build or add onto their house. A crawlspace continues to be the more common type of foundation, but slab foundations are becoming increasingly popular. While there are advantages and disadvantages to each type of foundation, the choice ultimately comes down to a combination of personal preference, costs/benefits analysis, short-term vs. long-term advantages, and site-specific conditions accruing to where the new addition or custom home is being built. Continue reading this crawlspace vs. slab comparison to learn which one will best suit your needs. Continue reading

All You Need to Know About Rainscreens


Stopping the rain that gets past the siding. In most cases, the investment in a rainscreen siding installation pays dividends in paint longevity and siding durability.

To lower the risk of wall rot, it’s increasingly seen as sensible to provide a ventilated air gap between the siding material (also known as cladding) and the structural sheathing. As rainscreens become more common, mainstream builders are more often being compelled to ask, “What is a rainscreen? How do I know if I need one?”. This article discusses the most common questions about rainscreen gaps between the siding and sheathing. Continue reading

Wood Flooring 101: Types of Wood Flooring

Wood flooring is a long-lasting, aesthetically pleasing, and affordable interior floor covering. According to the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) in a national survey of real estate agents, 90% said that houses with wood flooring sell faster and for higher prices than houses without wood floors. That being the case, who wouldn’t want a wood floor? Prior to racing out and purchasing wood flooring, we need to understand what is available and keep in mind that all wood floors are not created equal. Continue reading

Transparent Wood Could Be the Window of the Future

Transparent wood composites are novel wood materials which have up to 90% transparency. Some have better mechanical properties than wood itself. They were made for the first time in 1992. These materials are significantly more biodegradable than glass and plastics. Transparent wood is also shatterproof. Continue reading

All About Linoleum Flooring

When the RMS Titanic set sail in 1912, many of its public spaces featured linoleum flooring, and nearly 100 years later, an expedition to the famed wreck discovered those tiles—still intact. Patented by Frederick Walton in 1863, linoleum remains one of the longest-wearing and most versatile of flooring materials. Continue reading