Building Materials – Best Strong and Lightweight Materials for a House
If you have not heard of the tiny house movement, you probably have not been binging TV during the pandemic. Shows like Tiny House Hunters, Tiny Luxury, and Tiny Paradise showcase the benefits of lightweight durable homes built on a tiny scale (usually 100 to 400 square feet). The popularity of the movement has sent homebuilders in search of the strongest and lightest building materials available so that the often mobile tiny homes are ready for travel.
But you don’t have to be looking to downsize to the diminutive in order to benefit from building with lightweight, strong materials. Experts point out that lightweight materials often have low thermal mass and can thus be effective for storing passive heat or maintaining coolness in almost any climate. Lightweight materials have also proven to speed up the build process because of their simplicity of use and the relative ease of transportation/mobility. They can be particularly effective in areas with challenging design needs such as steep lots or areas with limited access.
For home builders seeking to take advantage of the strong and the lightweight, you should consider the location of your home site, the cost of the material, the ease of maintenance of the materials you choose, and the sustainability the materials offer. Here are some materials, both traditional and innovative, that offer good strength to weight balance.
While steel support beams probably don’t seem lightweight, compared to alternative support materials such as concrete, they offer some of the best strength weight ratios on the market. Steel roofing panels have become a go-to choice for tiny home builders. The reason is that they offer resistance to the elements, fire, and mildew while being easy to install. Steel framing also offers excellent strength but is not as cost-effective as some other materials. If budget is not a concern, steel studs are “25 times stronger and 30% lighter than wood framing.”
This lightweight metal offers strength for exterior framing. Builders can use them to frame windows and doors as well as for molding. The tiny home builder can also use aluminum as a cheaper alternative to steel framing.
For some time, home builders used plastic for roofing, flooring, siding, windows, and more. However, structural engineers considered them unsuitable for load-bearing. That has changed, however, with the advent of “Fiber Reinforced Plastics”. These composite materials can bear weight loads comparable to steel. However, they are not susceptible to corrosion like their metal counterparts.
Although wood’s strength and weight vary depending on the type, pine, fir, and spruce are longstanding choices for those who seek to frame their homes with lightweight, strong building materials. Birch plywood and honeycomb paneling are also popular wood choices for exterior lightweight cladding for your home. A promising new form of engineered wood is known as “mass timber.” This material utilizes multi-layered panels of cross-laminated timber. Tests have proven that they are lighter than steel while bearing similar loads to the popular metal choice.
Some unusual alternatives:
For the experimental builder, there are some other materials that might be of interest. One such material is carefully stacked bales of hay that are staked together with bamboo or rebar and then coated with lime. This material has become an alternative to wood construction. Another relatively new material is “insulated concrete forms”. They are interlocking blocks of a concrete center with foams surrounding them. They connect in a manner similar to Legos.