Chemicals Used When Building a House

Amy Hawthorne

by Amy Hawthorne

24th October 2014

In the near future, we may all have access to 3D printers and be able to simply print our ideal house. Until technology makes this leap, however, we will continue to build houses using the more conventional method.

For this, we need a few builders and a countless number of construction chemicals that make up the building materials.

There are a few construction chemicals that make up your house that you may not expect. Here, I examine five important materials involved in the construction industry and break down the basic chemistry of them. The lists of construction chemicals are not exhaustive and chemicals may vary depending on the type and age of each material.

1.     Cavity Wall Insulation

Construction chemicals:

  • Urea
  • Formaldehyde
  • Ammonia

One of the more common types of cavity wall insulation comes in the form of Urea Formaldehyde (UF) foam. This is a water-based material that’s directly injected into brickwork. It’s made up of a mixture of urea formaldehyde resin (an acidic foaming agent) and a propellant such as air.

The two active chemicals, urea and formaldehyde, are mixed causing foam to expand and fill cavities in the wall, thus keeping your home nice and toasty. This works by trapping air bubbles inside the foam, which creates an insulating layer to reduce heat loss.

In order for the reaction to occur, urea and formaldehyde are condensed in an aqueous solution, using ammonia as an alkaline catalyst.

2.     Glass


Glass has its own unique chemistry: the arrangement of atoms in solid glass is similar to that of a liquid

Construction chemicals:

  • Soda
  • Lead oxide
  • Boron oxide
  • Alumina
  • Silicon dioxide
  • Sodium oxide
  • Calcium oxide (lime)
  • Magnesium oxide
  • Aluminium oxide

The state of glass is quite unique. The solid state is produced by cooling molten material, so the arrangement of atoms is similar to that of a liquid.

Lead oxide produces a gas that’s easier to melt and shape. Boron oxide and alumina help to create gas that can withstand temperature changes. Previously, increases and decreases in temperature would weaken glass and cause it to break – possibly causing injuries.

The glass that is usually used in windows is known as soda lime glass. This is used because of its relatively low cost, as well as ability to be shaped and melted. It is, however, less chemically resistant than some other types of glass. Soda lime glass is mainly composed of silica (sand), soda and lime.

3.     Cement

Construction chemicals:

  • Calcium oxide
  • Silicon dioxide
  • Alumina
  • Iron oxide
  • Magnesium oxide

The chemical composition has to be controlled in order for the cement to be effective. For example, silicon dioxide is great for increased strength (as is calcium oxide) but too much of it can increase the time it takes for cement to set. Aluminium oxide, on the other hand, has a property that actually helps the material to set.

Iron oxide colours the cement, as well as helping the fusion of materials. Magnesium oxide is a naturally-occurring mineral which should be kept to a minimum – if the content exceeds 5%, it will cause cracks and weaken the structure.

4.     Sand


Silicon dioxide makes up the majority of sand and is ideal in the construction industry due to its strong covalent bond

Construction chemicals:

  • Silicon dioxide
  • Calcium carbonate
  • Chlorite

Sand is a naturally-occurring substance that plays a great role in the manufacture of buildings.

A common constituent of sand is silicon dioxide (or silica). It is ideal in the construction industry as it has strong covalent bonds, a high melting point and high boiling point.

Sand will undergo various treatments and processes to produce the desired grade for a particular application. Depending on its properties, it may be used in various aspects across a building; plastering, pillars, moulding, concrete etc.

Calcium carbonate (in limestone form) isn’t used by itself in the construction industry due to its vulnerability to acid rain. Instead, it’s used as raw substance for building materials. Interestingly, calcium carbonate is also used in paper and babies’ nappies!

5.     Metal: Steel

Construction chemicals:

  • Manganese
  • Phosphorus
  • Sulphur
  • Nickel
  • Chromium
  • Vanadium

Other metals that were probably used in the construction of your house are aluminium and copper. Here we’ll talk about steel, an alloy of iron and carbon.

Due to its hard and strong nature, steel is often used as beams to support buildings. It’s durable, and boasts the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any other building material. Additionally, steel is fire-resistant and is not an organic material, so it won’t rot or crack.

Vanadium is a chemical element which occurs naturally in mineral and fossil fuel deposits. It is added to steel to make it stronger and the industrial vanadium compound, vanadium pentoxide, is used as a catalyst for the production of sulphuric acid.

If you have any questions about the chemicals mentioned, please contact us via our website or call our sales team. 

Feel free to let us know if there are any other building materials you would like to know the chemistry of!


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