18th Nov 2022 -

Construction materials are used to produce every building across the world, with concrete, mortar, bricks, glass, and more used to produce everything from houses to skyscrapers to industrial buildings. In this overview from Building Materials Nationwide, we’ll explore the key construction materials used within the UK, explaining some of the benefits and drawbacks of each. We’ll also look at some of the recent issues affecting the construction sector and the increasing push for sustainability within manufacturing.

What are Construction Materials?

Construction materials form the basis of every building, from the bricks in a house to the concrete in a hydraulic dam. Anything that is used within the construction of a building can be considered a construction material, though for this article we’ll be focusing on the base components. They can either be raw components from the earth like stones or timber, or specialist products like cement. Throughout history, a huge selection of materials has been used to create buildings, initially reflecting the materials that were readily available nearby. Today, sought-after building materials like sand will be shipped in large quantities to meet needs. The modern construction industry is huge and interconnected, powering massive building developments across the globe. 

Two bricklayers building a brick wall with trowel and red bricks.

Bricks and Blocks

The most popular choice for house building within the UK, clay bricks have been a building tool across civilised history. In the modern building industry, concrete blocks are also a popular choice.

Clay Bricks

Clay bricks will be made from a combination of clay, water, and aggregates, and heated within a kiln in moulds. Modern clay bricks are produced on an industrial scale, typically in the dimensions 215mm x 102.5mm x 65mm. Clay bricks will be used to construct walls, buildings, and floors, installed with mortar between each brick join. Clay bricks have remained a popular construction material due to their strength and long life, with many brick buildings standing after hundreds of years. Clay bricks can come in a wide range of looks, either caused by the type of clay used or from additives mixed in during the heating process.

There are a few types of clay bricks available. Facing bricks are designed for visual uses within a building. The outer walls of a house, visible internal brickwork, and standalone walls will usually be built from facing bricks. While red bricks are the most common option, you’ll find a range of other colours available, including those with more of a blend and others that are consistent. Common bricks are also available, which possess an unappealing and inconsistent look. They will be used throughout a building for hidden uses, such as walls that won’t be visible, or aspects that will be covered with a different material. Airbricks will sometimes be used, with holes designed to allow air passage to areas with risks of dampness. Finally, engineering bricks will be used for specific purposes within UK buildings. These bricks are heated to a higher level, giving them a greater level of strength alongside water resistance. They will be used within the foundations of houses due to their strength, and will also be used within water-facing structures like bridges and sewers, as well as damp-proof courses within buildings.

Concrete Blocks

While the use of concrete as a construction material dates back to ancient Rome and Egypt, producing concrete blocks is a more recent innovation. For the production of concrete blocks, sometimes called concrete masonry units (CMUs), concrete will be dried into specific cuboid shapes, typically larger in size than clay bricks. They will be installed in a similar method to clay bricks, with layers of mortar between each block. They will often be reinforced, requiring blocks with several holes, called hollow blocks, which will have steel rebars inserted through them to give strength to a wall. Concrete blocks when reinforced can offer tremendous strength, alongside thermal and acoustic insulation.

There are some downsides compared to clay bricks, the largest being a dramatically reduced lifespan of around 100 years. While concrete blocks, especially when reinforced, can be extremely strong, they will usually need to be covered with some manner of cladding as bare concrete blocks are not considered as attractive as clay ones. Concrete blocks are also prone to some issues with water, as they are porous, which can cause issues with freezing and expansion.


Aggregates are an important element of a wide variety of construction materials. The term aggregate refers to loose pieces of stone, ranging in size from fine sand to rocks. These will rarely be used on their own but will be included within a huge range of other components. Sand in particular will be used within mortar, concrete, bricks, and glass, making it one of the most in-demand construction materials on the planet. Larger aggregates like gravel are used within concrete and are also used in the construction of roads and for paths and driveways. The largest aggregates tend to be used on their own for specific purposes. Decorative aggregates are also available; these are designed to offer a more pleasing look for visual use within gardens and water features.


Cement has been used as a binding agent within constructions for thousands of years. Normally constructed from a mixture of limestone, sand, clay, and other components, cement will be used within either mortar or concrete, which form key components of almost every contemporary building. There are several types of cement, with portland cement being the most common in modern buildings. Other options include rapid hardening cement, which will greatly shorten the period of time for cement-based products to set, and Portland Pozzolana Cement (PPC), which is typically used for underwater construction. Regular cement will take between 1 and 2 days to dry, and around 28 days are needed for it to reach full strength.

When using cement it’s important to keep its various health and safety issues in mind. Cement dust will be dangerous to breathe in, potentially contributing to silicosis in some cases. Wet cement products will also pose a risk to users if they make contact with the skin. Wet cement can cause burns, with chemicals in the mixture attaching to the skin. All wet cement products that come into contact with the skin should be removed immediately, and medical help should be sought.


Mortar is made from a combination of cement, fine aggregates, lime, and water. It is normally used for joining bricks or blocks within constructions. Mortar gives strength to structures once dried. It will also be used for plastering and rendering. Plastering is the process of smoothing an internal brick wall to give a consistent look that can then be decorated. Rendering is the equivalent for exterior walls, and will be made with a different mortar mix to offer better moisture resistance. Moisture can either be mixed yourself, or bought premixed ready for water to be added.


Concrete is the most popular construction material in the world, being used in the production of everything from skyscrapers to pavements. Concrete is made from a combination of cement, fine aggregates like sand, coarse aggregates like gravel, and water. Concrete can be poured for use in foundations, or dried within blocks for building walls.  There are various concrete mixes, with different types of cement and aggregates offering extra strength or support against certain elements. The aggregates within the concrete will be the source of its strength, with larger rocks like crushed stones used. Like mortar, concrete can either be specifically mixed or bought pre-mixed to ensure the right levels of each component.

Reinforcing Concrete

Concrete boasts excellent compressive strength, explaining why it is regularly used for large-scale projects. However, concrete has poor tensile strength, meaning that it will need to be reinforced for use in large structures to avoid serious issues with cracking. There are two popular methods of reinforcement: rebars and reinforcement mesh. Rebars are steel bars which will be installed within the concrete, either within areas where concrete will be poured or between the holes of hollow bricks in a concrete block wall. Reinforcement mesh offers similar benefits but comes as a mesh that concrete can be poured around, with several options available to offer reinforcement within a building.

Sustainable Timner


Wood has been used within buildings since the days of prehistory. Referred to as timber once cut, wood is a naturally renewable resource that offers great strength over time. The many different trees used for timber are divided into hardwood and softwood varieties, with hardwood more typically used for visible uses and strength-based constructions. Despite this, softwood is the more popular of the two and can be used for many of the same purposes. Most timber will be kiln-dried before being sold, to remove the moisture contained within it. It can then be planed on one or more sides, essentially sanding it to give a flat surface. There are a variety of strength and visual grades for timber, with higher visual grades indicating wood that can be used for visible panelling and furniture, and higher strength grades indicating timber that can be used for load-bearing purposes. For strength, the two most popular softwood options will be C16 and C24 timber, with C24 being the strongest. Another important option is treated timber, which will be force-filled with preservatives to offer protection against water and insects. This will be vital for exterior uses to prevent rotting.

Buildings can be wholly constructed from timber, or constructed in part, with interior features, flooring, exterior decks and more made from visually graded timber. Timber is versatile, attractive when graded, and environmentally friendly, providing it is sourced sustainably. The main drawback of timber is that it will naturally fluctuate in size over time, which must be accounted for during planning. Timber has also been affected by large price increases in recent years, which could make it too expensive for some building projects.

Engineered Wood

Engineered wood products are manufactured boards that involve either shavings or slices of wood within them. They can be used for a variety of sheathing and flooring applications in a building, offering a cost-effective and sometimes stronger option. Within engineered wood types there will be weaker options like MDF, which is made from sawdust, wood shavings, and adhesives, coming with a range of facings but offering little strength. A stronger option would be high-quality OSB boards, which are used for wall and roof sheathing within construction projects. These are produced from strands of timber, which will be placed on top of one another at rotations with adhesives and bonded under strength and heat. Engineered wood is very popular for things like furniture within a house, but is also a construction material to consider in its own right. Engineered wood will come at lower costs than authentic timber products, though this price will vary between weaker options and stronger options, and costs will also vary between those with a more or less authentic look.


Produced from molten sand, glass has been in use for thousands of years, from the houses of ancient Rome to the churches of medieval Europe. Today, thanks to the float glass process introduced in 1958, glass can be produced in flat sheets of a uniform thickness. Glass windows will be expected within modern construction, with reinforcement required to accommodate the brittleness of glass. Glass can also be used for skylights and floors within buildings, typically larger commercial units. There are other types of glass available for construction, such as shatterproof glass, which can be used for windows that are likely to be broken, thereby avoiding sharper edges. Laminated glass is a thicker glass intended for strength-based uses. Toughened glass is also a type of safety glass, used for areas where strength is essential. A benefit of glass is its versatility, and it is easily cut into a range of shapes. As a construction material it is an essential component that must be planned around, due to its lack of strength.


Metals, especially steel, are widely used in construction. Steel can be used to quickly produce strong frames for everything from houses to skyscrapers. Steel is also used for the rebars that reinforce concrete structures. Aluminium is also a popular metal, used within window and door frames, certain roof systems, and for structures in environments where other metals could deteriorate – such as those connected to seawater.

What Do Construction Materials Cost?

The cost of construction materials has fluctuated majorly in recent years due to international events like the COVID-19 pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine. When planning out a construction project, you’ll have to carefully consider price when picking out construction materials. Even within a single material such as clay bricks, prices as of writing range from £183 for 396 common bricks to over a thousand pounds for 500 facing bricks.

Are There Shortages of Construction Materials?

While the shortage of construction materials across the UK during the Covid pandemic was severe, there are signs now that it is easing. However, with prices continuing to rise, there remain serious issues for construction companies and DIY builders alike.

Are Construction Materials Sustainable?

With increasing focus on tackling man-made climate change taking hold across the world, the construction industry is grappling with the sustainability of its materials. There are construction materials that currently cause issues across the globe. Cement mining and production cause issues to local environments, and the large-scale harvesting of sand has brought with it a series of humanitarian issues. Timber, when sustainably harvested, may offer a better alternative for some building projects. There is tremendous interest and research towards alternative construction materials that will not contribute to climate change.

Wholesale Construction Materials Delivered Across the UK

Building Materials Nationwide works across the building industry to offer a comprehensive selection of construction materials, all of which can be delivered wholesale across the UK. Whether you are looking for bricks, timber, aggregates or something else, we’re sure to have a range of options – all sold at competitive prices. For customers within the industry, we also offer trade accounts, giving access to our full product range, our express delivery methods, and your dedicated account manager. Our dedicated account managers can be contacted via phone or email, helping you to organise larger wholesale orders or to source the exact products you need through our network of suppliers. Sign up for a trade account today.