What Alloys are Commonly Used in Construction?

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Alloys are a fusion of metals and non-metallic elements. There are several common combinations of alloys; notably, silver and white copper create sterling silver, while gold and silver produce white gold. Although there are many combinations of metals, there are a few that remain long-lasting and hard-wearing - those are the alloys commonly used in construction.

Metals are known for their durability, so it is no surprise they are major elements in construction. As a solid substance that easily generates electrical and thermal conductivity, metals tend to be extremely sturdy, ductile and sometimes shiny. In construction, alloys are standardly used for pipework and structural components.

Specific Alloys in Construction

Construction primarily uses the following alloys: titanium, stainless steel, aluminum, copper/copper tubing, lead, and iron. Each alloy has commonly designated use and possesses the strength and durability desired in construction.

Titanium is often used for air conditioning and heating systems. Its lightweight material is not at the expense of strength, as it exceptionally resists corrosion. This lightweight metal is also commonly used in piping or roofing.

Stainless steel is not the only type of steel used in construction, but usually the most common. There are also steels such as galvanized, mild, light gauge, structural and weather steel. Stainless steel is a combination of either chromium or nickel, galvanized steel is covered in zinc, and weathering steel has a protective top layer. Both galvanized and weathering steel can resist corrosion, whereas stainless steel avoids rusting and weathering. Steel itself is an alloy of iron and is known for its ability to withstand high pressure and tension in construction. Steel commonly used for its durability and versatility, but also its comparably low financial cost.

Like titanium, aluminum is also a lightweight, strong alloy with great resistance to corrosion. Aluminum is favorable in construction for its ductile, workable and versatile usage - it can help construct a series of building features. In the process of building ceilings, walls, doors, window frames, heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC systems), and spandrels, aluminum is usually opted for. Due to the flexibility of aluminum, it is used to efficiently, and relatively quickly, build the exteriors of buildings as a wall cladding system. After steel, aluminum is said to be the second most applied metal in construction.

As the longest and oldest metal used by humans, copper’s reddish-brown (that can oxidize to a blueish green) material remains a popular and productive alloy in construction. Copper is malleable and ductile, with a particularly high thermal and electrical conductivity. The alloy is said to be one of, if not, the most versatile engineering and construction materials on the planet; in which it is used for electrical wiring, heating, cladding, rainwater systems, roofing, and oil and gas. As a uniquely malleable alloy, copper’s joints can smoothly transform and make pipes and tubes. Not only is copper an efficient and adequate building material, but its physical properties also add aesthetic pleasures to rooms and spaces - exposed copper can double as both a necessary piece of construction and a statement feature in many buildings.

Historically, paint and pipework were both made with substantial amounts of lead. However, the United States band lead-based paint in 1978, and subsequently banned lead pipework in 1986. Lead is heavy and was banned due to its toxicity when absorbed into the human body. The material is a component of a soft solder, and primarily employed in roofing, windows, lining for cornices, cladding, tanks, flashing, and gutters.

Lastly, there are two types of iron: cast and wrought iron. Based on each type’s properties, they have different purposes in building and construction. Cast iron is an alloy that contains under 5 percent of carbon, as well as small amounts of manganese and silicon. Different to wrought iron, cast iron is very brittle, non-malleable and hard, and is melted and poured into shapes or molds, then cools and solidifies. Cast iron is usually applied to large-scale architecture. Wrought iron is softer and more malleable, creating ease in heating, reheating, and reworking the alloy. A unique feature of wrought iron is that it strengthens as it is reworked.

Conclusion

The strength, versatility and resistance of construction alloys makes them ideal for building. Although there are countless alloys, there are frontrunners for construction. These main alloys in construction include titanium, stainless steel, aluminum, copper/copper tubing, lead and iron. Most of these materials share similar properties or features, but all can be used for different purposes. Each of these unique alloys could form the framework of the very building you are sitting in right now!

Sources and Further Reading

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Sydney Luntz

Written by

Sydney Luntz

Since graduating from the University of York with a BA Hons. in English Literature and Linguistics, Sydney has spent her time interning and freelancing before attending University of Arts College London in the fall, to complete a Master's in Data Journalism. In her spare time, you can catch Sydney reading a book, at a concert, or wandering a gallery!

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