Ensuring structural stability of walls while constructing houses is crucial

Representative image. Photo: dins k.s / shutterstock

Ahamed, a Lebanese friend had once expressed his wish to visit Kerala and enjoy the famed houseboat ride. I invited him to stay at my house and promised to arrange the transportation facilities too. However, he was a bit hesitant as he is terrified of elephants. He had been scared of elephants after he was chased by a wild jumbo in Kenya, years ago. Ahamed thinks that Kerala is a land of elephants. So, when I showed him the picture of my house, Ahamad who is an engineer wondered which material has been used to construct the structure. I replied that we usually use bricks or laterite stones for construction. Ahamad advised that Keralites should build their homes using concrete that are sturdy; or, else elephants could easily destroy their homes. My Arab friend wanted the homes in Kerala to be sturdy and durable.

Meanwhile, I have been observing how Keralites have become extremely aware about the significance of having stronger slabs. Some people are curious to know about the right ratio of mixing cement and iron rods They are even willing to consult a structural engineer to ensure that their dream abode is sturdy.

As I told Ahamad, we had relied on just bricks and laterite stones to build the walls until recently. There is no need to challenge the quality and reliability of these materials as we have been using these since decades to build homes. But, it is important to ensure that the bricks and laterite stones are of high quality before using them.

Interestingly, many of our historical monuments and legendary temples are built using laterite stones and had clearly stood the test of time. The bricks that date back to the Indus Valley Civilization still stands unharmed. However, the availability of such stones became scarce when the environmental laws became stricter and the people became aware about the consequences of mining.

The humble cement blocks which were mostly used for constructing cow sheds or compound walls are the latest entrant in the construction scene. There is no point in saying that cement blocks shouldn’t be used to build houses. However , one needs to be extra careful while using them. These are the four important points that need to be kept in mind while using cement blocks for constructing houses or residential buildings:

» The ratio of cement, sand and mettle and their quality

» Water – cement ratio

» Compaction

» Curing

Besides, a few complex factors too need to be ensured in the case of all cement structures. Many constructors still believe that cement blocks are good enough to make cow sheds or boundary walls. Unlike popular perception that cement structures can stand intact for ‘eternity’, the homes that are built with insufficient ratios of materials are not sturdy and durable. Not just the mixing, but the water – cement ratio and the curing process too determine the sturdiness and durability of the blocks. Cement blocks that are weaker can wreak havoc not only on the structure but also the pockets of the owner. A cement block that is part of the boundary wall doesn’t have too much to do. Other than the weight of a dog or a cat that sits atop the wall, the blocks on the boundary wall do not bear much weight. However, when these blocks are used to construct houses, they have to bear the weight of the slabs that could weigh at least a tonne. Even though the cement blocks are not designed to bear such weight, it wouldn’t give away in the first few years.

Gradually, the blocks would lose its cementing power. Then, it becomes impossible for the blocks to bear weight or retain the shape of the structure. This would result in the disintegration of sand and baby mettle. Cracks would appear on the walls. Meanwhile, the slabs would still be quite ‘young’ and sturdy. However, their existence too become precarious as the walls that carry them become weaker. Soon, the building would begin its journey towards dilapidation and decay.

In case you have no other option but to use cement blocks for construction, then you could ensure its quality and sturdiness by contacting a nearby engineering college. The department of civil engineering would determine the sturdiness of the materials and give you a report.

It is safe to use cement blocks for constructing homes, if they are of high quality and are sturdy enough to carry weight. 

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