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Is it Time to Contact a Consultant?

Building Materials and the Element of Loads in Structures

by Lori Silva

One of the primary duties of a structural engineer is to make sure that a building can handle loads. Loads are forces acting on the structure because of the weight of the materials used in construction and other external elements, like the wind. Ultimately, the load stresses the load-bearing elements of the building and jeopardizes its stability. The two types of load experienced on a structure are the vertical and horizontal loads. The building materials used to bear loads in a structure have different characteristics. They also vary in terms of cost, and their suitability depends on the type of structure you are building. The following discussion focuses on building materials and the elements of bearing structural loads.


Wood is one of the most economical materials you can use in construction. It is readily available, considering that it a natural resource growing in many countries across the world. Wood can be available as a lightweight material that is easy for use in construction projects. Additionally, it has excellent insulation properties because it is a poor conductor of heat. This quality makes a wood top choice for the construction of residential structures.

Wood, however, has its downsides when it comes to structural performance. It has limited load-bearing capacity compared to other materials, and it only works well when you have short distances between the load-bearing walls of your structure. Moreover, wood is very flammable and costs more when you need to make the structure fireproof.


When you want something with an excellent strength-to-weight ratio, look no further than steel. Steel boasts an immense tensile strength that allows it to withstand significant compression and tension imposed on it by any building. It comes in C-channels, angular beams, and I-shaped beams that you can weld together when additional structural strength is necessary. Indeed, steel makes a good structural material for tall buildings, warehouses, and large industrial facilities.  

Reinforced Concrete

Reinforced concrete is a composite structural construction material comprising concrete and steel reinforcements. The steel reinforcements are often referred to as rebar. Their job is to enhance the ability of the concrete slab to withstand tension forces. If you do not use rebar, your concrete slab will remain weak, brittle, and susceptible to cracking. Reinforced concrete is a go-to structural construction solution that works well for many structures. You can use it for building homes, commercial apartments, offices, and business complexes. The combination of steel and concrete also meets the structural needs of large-scale infrastructure such as bridges, tunnels, and roads.

To learn more, contact a structural engineering contractor.