Normal Vs. Lightweight Concrete Explained

It's hard to imagine a commercial construction project that doesn't involve substantial concrete usage. While many people associate concrete with foundations, this material sees use in everything from landscaping to primary structural elements. Of course, part of this versatility comes from the ability to create concrete mixes with various properties for different applications.

Two broad categories of concrete include normal (or medium) weight concrete and "lightweight" concrete. When planning any large commercial project, it's crucial to understand how these products differ and the tradeoffs required when selecting between them.

What's the Difference?

The weight of concrete refers to the density, usually expressed as pounds per cubic foot or kilograms per cubic meter. Density can vary depending on the specific concrete mix, so there's no single density to describe every normal-weight or lightweight concrete. Instead, normal-density concrete typically falls around 150 lb/ft3, while lightweight concrete will have a much lower density.

The difference typically comes down to the aggregate used, ultimately creating a less dense material with markedly different properties from concrete with a normal or medium density. As a result, lightweight concrete will be more porous but typically still maintain a low water content, given sufficient time for evaporation.

Where is Lightweight Concrete Used?

Lightweight concrete is a broad category with numerous variations and applications. For example, higher-density lightweight concrete may be suitable for certain structural applications. In contrast, much lower-density lightweight concrete may find use in finish flooring, insulation, or other non-structural scenarios.

Lightweight concrete is also useful for architectural or decorative purposes, where it can provide the desired look without the higher weight associated with normal-density concrete. Since lightweight concrete is lower density than heavier mixes, these decorative coverings can also provide extra insulating properties for the structure.

Why Should You Consider Lightweight Concrete?

Lightweight concrete mixes can be more expensive than normal-density concrete, but they can offer other potential cost savings. Since these mixes weigh less, they result in a lower overall load on the building. This lower weight can mean less expensive and complicated load-bearing structures when planning for lightweight concrete usage during the design phase.

Lightweight concrete is also cheaper and easier to transport thanks to its lower weight, especially when dealing with precast structures. These cost-savings can add up for large projects, helping to offset the material costs further. The combined reduction in structural and transport costs may be significant for large commercial projects.

As with any construction material, lightweight concrete isn't suitable for all purposes, but it can be an important element of many projects when used correctly.

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