Properties of Lightweight Concrete

Fernando Martinez Lewels has a M.S.C.E degree from the University of Texas at El Paso. He is now working with the Agartif company in Chihuahua, Mexico (about 170 miles from El Paso Texas). This Company has developed a type of lightweight aggregate that provides material for all types of construction needs, at reasonable cost and with good thermal insulation values. They manufacture the equipment required to do this according to the needs of their customers; the feed stock are common construction materials that should be available in most locations. Their philosophy in developing this type of aggregate is to be able to use this everywhere, without depending on a lightweight aggregate quarry, so you can have access to this material in any part of the world. In Mexico we have a saying that "we build our homes so we have to go outside in the summer to be fresh, and in the winter we go outside to catch the rays of sun to be warm". Lightweight concrete can help this situation by making available materials for more comfortable homes.

Questions and Answers

Q: We are building in a cold wet earthquake zone climate, and are experimenting with a blend of mineral wool (for insulative value and additional strength, pumice and concrete. Straw bale sized lightweight structural concrete. As pumice absorbs water, we are concerned about frost/thaw cycles, and massive rainfall levels in general. Also, how would the cost compare to regular concrete?

A: (Kelly) Sounds like an interesting mix. I wouldn't worry too much about frost-thaw cycles with pumicecrete, since it has been used for many years in extreme climates without deteriorating. Any moisture that is retained in the aggregate would have plenty of room to expand. I would try to keep the walls as dry as possible, though, to enhance their insulating ability. As for cost comparison, I would say that pumicecrete might cost a little more than ordinary concrete, because of the need to buy the pumice, which will likely cost more than the sand/ gravel mix.

Q: I have a house built with 12" scoria, cement, sand walls, do you know what the r value would be for this type of wall?

A: (Kelly) I built my house using scoria in earthbags, and then covered with papercrete; the walls are about 16 inches thick, and are extremely well insulating. I would guess that the R-value is around 40, but this has not been scientifically tested. This guess is based on the performance of the house, which seems similar to a straw bale structure. A 12" pumicecrete wall would certainly be less than this, because it is thinner, and because the cement that binds it is not insulating. The insulating value of such a wall would depend on much cement and sand is used to bind the material together. The more entrained air in the composite, the better the insulation. I would guess that your wall is somewhere between R-10 to R-20.

Q: What are the advantages/disadvantages of using unexpanded perlite? I am referring to perlite that has not been expanded by heat. I am
wondering about the load capacity, general strength etc. i.e. could I reliably use it for building walls or floors.

A: (Bruce) Unexpanded perlite is used in the foundry industry, and for some other very industrial applications, but not normally in any construction applications, or horticultural ones. Unexpanded perlite could be used---although normally it would be much more expensive than regular sand so it isn't used. The only possible problem with using it would be it's tendency to "expand" during a fire---but hopefully by the time the fire reached the expansion temperature, people would no longer be near the building.

Q: Is there a difference between lightweight concrete and lightweight insulating concrete? I am considering the lightweight insulating concrete for a flat roof instead of steel and foam insulation, is this a good idea and how can I get more information on who produces this product?

A: (Bruce) There are many forms of "lightweight" concrete using both lightweight aggregates like expanded shales and clay and/or pumice to what might be called ultra lightweight aggregates like perlite and vermiculite. (See ASTM C-332 for a listing of the different types.) Usually what is called "insulating concrete" would only be concrete made with perlite or vermiculite, and not necessarily with any of the other much heavier lightweight aggregates.

Q: I saw an article in the NY Times about architects commissioned to design green houses to rebuild New Orleans. One of these homes was designed to float in case of a flood and its foundation was said to be made of lightweight concrete. Do you know how this would be done?

A: (Kelly) There are many formulations of lightweight concrete, with the main variation being the type of aggregate that is used. In some cases, such as with styrofoam beads, the concrete could actually float.

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I specifically disclaim any warranty, either expressed or implied, concerning the information on these pages. Neither I nor any of the advisor/consultants associated with this site will have liability for loss, damage, or injury, resulting from the use of any information found on this, or any other page at this site. Kelly Hart, Hartworks LLC.