building made of stone

What is the best stone for building?

Many types of stones are available such as basalt, marble, limestone, sandstone, quartzite, travertine, slate, gneiss, laterite, and granite, which can be used as construction materials. The stones used for building construction should be hard, durable, tough, and should be free from weathered soft patches of material, cracks, and other defects that are responsible for the reduction of strength and durability. Stones for construction purposes are obtained by quarrying from massive solid rocks.

Each type of stone lends itself to various construction applications based on its properties. For instance, certain types like basalt and granite have superior characteristics like high compressive strength and durability and hence employed in major construction works. However, there are stones that their characteristics (such low compressive strength and presence of harmful materials in their constituents) makes them suitable for minor construction works, for example, gneiss. So, stones are used as a building material and also for decorative purposes.

Building with stone in an environmentally considerate way requires careful thought and planning. The returns from building with natural stone far outweigh the costs involved, though, pricing on this natural resource varies considerably. Conventional building demands large quantities of energy and water, which can create heavy amounts of pollution and waste. Building with stone and implementing green techniques is good for humans and the environment both in the construction phase, as well as for the lifetime of the home.

Stones are derived from the rocks which are naturally occurred as the portion of earth’s crust. Each rock has a different chemical composition and exhibits different properties. Some of these rocks are widely used in the construction industry. Some commonly used building stones along with their properties and uses are explained in this article.

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Limestone

It is featuring a pleasing patina, limestone weathers naturally over the years without chemical colouring agents that lose vibrancy. Limestone’s even texture and grade improves with time, and its adaptability makes it a favourite among green builders because it’s easy to sculpt, shape and tailor to various architectural styles. Whether it’s used as a landscape accent or part of the home’s structure, evidence of its durability over multiple generations can be seen across the country at colleges, universities, courthouses and cathedrals. Use caution if you want to use limestone for kitchen countertops because the stone is porous and will scratch and stain easily; instead, think flooring or fireplace.


building made of stone

Granite

Only diamonds, sapphires and rubies champion granite’s hardness and durability, and as such, this natural stone is the go-to material for countertops, steps, driveway curbing and fireplaces. Its unusual flecked mineral colours and spattered and swirled grain patterns suit almost any style of the kitchen — modern, Tuscan or contemporary — performing second only to stainless steel in its natural ability to resist bacteria. Granite used in interior building predominantly feature polished finishes; however, the stone is available in other textures, including a flamed, rough texture that’s more popular for exterior applications.

Travertine

Small cavities that form to create cream-coloured, flowery patterns characterise travertine, which is a sedimentary rock that’s shaped in natural hot springs that builders often fill with grout to enhance durability. Unfilled or “empty” travertine appears in delicate earth tones for indoor or outdoor flooring, fireplace surrounds and garden walkways.

Slate

Used in construction for thousands of years because of its unwavering resistance to seasonal freeze-thaw cycles, this dense metamorphic rock comes in grey, green, red and even purple tones when produced in the United States. Domestic slates feature multiple, mottled colours and a weathered appearance that adds warmth to a room. Slate imported from Asia, Africa and South America tends to display copper, gold and orange mottling. Although it’s used most commonly as interior flooring because it’s easily trimmed to size, slate works well as a durable, stain-resistant kitchen countertop, building cladding, shower enclosure and roof covering over the fireplace.

Several different kinds of natural stone can be used for building. It’s important to know the properties and distinctions of each so you can use the right materials for your project.

Of course, the three main types of natural stone are common knowledge- igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary. But within these divisions, there are different strengths and characteristics of rocks that can be used for different things.

Igneous rocks are a broad category of natural stone that includes harder rocks such as granite and basalt, as well as softer rocks like pumice. When magma or lava is cooled, it forms igneous rocks, and these are used by many masons to provide strength in the structures they build. Granite is especially popular for counters, floors, and etc. Obsidian and other hard stones can also be used in the framework and to create building blocks. 

Metamorphic stone has been transformed from an existing rock as a result of physical and chemical changes, such as pressure or temperature. The most popular form of metamorphic rock has to be marble, a stone that has been historically and practically significant for hundreds of years. Notable sculptors carve marble into beautiful statues, architects use it for grand monuments and buildings, and it can be found in home flooring, countertops, and fireplaces. Marble is very aesthetically pleasing and is often chosen for its colouring and decorative properties. There are also several kinds of marble that provide different looks and textures.

In addition to marble, other metamorphic rocks such as slate are popular in building. A very hard and sharp rock, slate is particularly prominent in memorial structures. Slate can also split easily into plates that are thin enough to be used for roofing houses. 

The third category of natural stone, sedimentary, is formed through the coming together of fragments from other rocks. Deposits of sediments collect and arrange themselves, often in bodies of water. Through the application of heat and pressure, strata layers are formed within this rock. Fossil fuels are found within this sedimentary stone, but for builders, they may be more concerned with limestone. Limestone is a type of sedimentary rock that is versatile and universally used as a building material. It has a high level of strength and can be easily turned into blocks or bricks. The stone is also fairly resistant to corroding and can be highly durable. Builders often use limestone for cladding on walls and in flooring. Travertine is an especially popular form of limestone, chosen for its specific aesthetic.

There are a lot of different materials to choose from when building with natural stone. This is why builders and architects carefully consider their options and know the properties of each type of rock before choosing one over the other. Some may be very decorative and attractive, while others may be more durable in a structure or base. Before selecting a type of stone to build with, weigh the pros and cons, and don’t be afraid to use more unconventional building material.

Types of Building Stones

Some of the common building stones which are used for different purposes in India are as follows:

Granite

It is a deep-seated igneous rock, which is hard, durable and available in various colours. It has a high value of crushing strength and is capable of bearing high weathering.

Granite is used for bridge components, retaining walls, stone columns, road metal, ballast for railways, foundation, stonework and for coarse aggregates in concrete. These stones can also be cut into slabs and polished to be used as floor slabs and stone facing slabs.

Granite is found in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala.

Basalt and Trap

They are originated from igneous rocks in the absence of pressure by the rapid cooling of the magma.

The structure is medium to fine-grained and compact. Their colour varies from dark grey to black. Fractures and joints are common. Their weight varies from 18 kN/m3 to 29 kN/m3. The compressive strength varies from 200 to 350 N/mm2. These are igneous rocks. They are used as road metals, aggregates for concrete. They are also used for rubble masonry works for bridge piers, river walls and dams. They are used as pavement.

Trap stone

They have the same uses as granite. Deccan trap is a popular stone of this group in South India.

Limestone

Limestone is used for flooring, roofing, pavements and as a base material for cement. It is found in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

Sandstone

This stone is another form of sedimentary rock formed by the action of mechanical sediments. It has a sandy structure which is low in strength and easy to dress.

They are used for ornamental works, paving and as road metal. It is available in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

These are sedimentary rocks and hence stratified. They consist of quartz and feldspar. They are found in various colours like white, grey, red, buff, brown, yellow and even dark grey. The specific gravity varies from 1.85 to 2.7, and compressive strength varies from 20 to 170 N/mm2. Its porosity varies from 5 to 25 per cent. Weathering of rocks renders it unsuitable as building stone. It is desirable to use sandstones with silica cement for heavy structures, if necessary. They are used for masonry work, for dams, bridge piers and river walls.

Gneiss

It can be recognised by its elongated platy minerals usually mixed with mica and used in the same way as granite.

They can be used for flooring, pavement and not for major purposes because of its weakness. It is found in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat.

It is a metamorphic rock. It is having fine to coarse grains. Alternative dark and white bands are common. Light grey, pink, purple, greenish-grey and dark grey coloured varieties are available. These stones are not preferred because of deleterious constituents present in it. They may be used in minor constructions. However hard varieties may be used for buildings. The specific gravity varies from 2.5 to 3.0, and crushing strength varies from 50 to 200 N/mm2.

Marble

It is a metamorphic rock which can be easily cut and carved into different shapes. It is used for ornamental purposes, stone facing slabs, flooring, facing works etc.

This is a metamorphic rock. It can take a good polish. It is available in different pleasing colours like white and pink. Its specific gravity is 2.65, and compressive strength is 70–75 N/mm2. It is used for facing and ornamental works. It is used for columns, flooring, steps etc.

It is found in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh.

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Slate

It is a metamorphic rock which can be split easily and available in black colour. It is used for damp-proofing flooring and roofing.

These are metamorphic rocks. They are composed of quartz, mica and clay minerals. The structure is fine-grained. They split along the planes of original bedding easily. The colour varies from dark grey, greenish-grey, purple-grey to black. The specific gravity is 2.6 to 2.7. Compressive strength varies from 100 to 200 N/mm2. They are used as roofing tiles, slabs, pavements etc.

Quartzite

It is a metamorphic rock which is hard, brittle, crystalline and durable. It is difficult to work with and used in the same way as granite but not recommended for ornamental works as it is brittle.

Quartzites are metamorphic rocks. The structure is fine to coarse-grained and often granular and branded. They are available in different colours like white, grey, yellowish. Quartz is the chief constituent with feldspar and mica in small quantities. The specific gravity varies from 2.55 to2.65. Crushing strength varies from 50 to 300 N/mm2. They are used as building blocks and slabs. They’re also used as aggregates for concrete.

Laterite

It is decomposed from igneous rocks; occur in soft and hard varieties. It contains a high percentage of iron oxide and can be easily cut into blocks.

Requirements Of Good Building Stones

The following are the quality requirements of good building stones:

Strength

Generally, most of the building stones have a high strength to resist the load coming on it. Therefore it is not of prime concern when it comes to checking the quality of stones. But when the stones are to be used in large structures, it becomes necessary to check the compressive strength of stones.

Compressive strength of building stones generally fall within the range of 60 to 200N/mm2.

Durability

Building stones should be capable of resisting the adverse effects of natural forces like wind, rain and heat. It must be durable and should not deteriorate due to the adverse effects of the above natural forces.

Hardness

When stones are used in floors, pavements or aprons of bridges, they become subjected to wearing and abrasive forces caused by the movement of men or machine over them. So it is required to test the hardness of stone.

The Mohs scale determines the hardness of stone.

Toughness

The toughness of stones means its ability to resist impact forces. Building stones should be tough enough to sustain stresses developed due to vibrations. The vibrations may be due to the machinery mounted over them or due to the loads moving over them. The stone aggregates used in the road constructions should be tough.

Specific Gravity

The more the specific gravity of stone, the heavier and stronger the stone is.

Therefore stones having higher specific gravity values should be used for the construction of dams, retaining walls, docks and harbours. The specific gravity of good building stone is between 2.4 and 2.8.

Porosity And Absorption

The porosity of building stones depends upon the mineral constituent and structural formation of the parent rock. If stones used in building construction are porous, then rainwater can easily enter into the pore spaces and cause damage to the stones. Therefore building stone should not be porous.

Water absorption of stone is directly proportional to the porosity of the rock. If a stone is more porous, then it will absorb more water and cause more damage to the stone.

In higher altitudes, the freezing of water in pores takes place, and it disintegrates the stone.

Dressing

Giving the required shape to the stone is called dressing. It should be easy to dress so that the cost of dressing is reduced. However, the care should be taken so that, this is not at the cost of the required strength and durability.

Appearance

In case of the stones to be used for face works, where appearance is a primary requirement, its colour and ability to receive polish is an important factor.

Light-coloured stones are more preferred than dark-coloured stones as the colour are likely to fade out with time.

Seasoning

Good stones should be free from the quarry sap. Lateritic stones should not be used for 6 to 12 months after quarrying. They are allowed to get rid of quarry sap by the action of nature. This process of removing quarry sap is called seasoning.

Workability

The stone should be workable. Stone is said to be workable when the work involved in stone working (such as cutting, dressing & shaping) is economical and easy to conduct.

Cost

Cost is an important consideration in selecting a building material. The proximity of the quarry to the building site brings down the cost of transportation and hence the cost of stones comes down.

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Fire Resistance

Stones should be free from calcium carbonate, oxides of iron, and minerals having different coefficients of thermal expansion. Igneous rock show marked disintegration principally because of quartz which disintegrates into small particles at a temperature of about 575°C. Limestone, however, can withstand a little higher temperature; i.e. up to 800°C after which they disintegrate.

No single stone can satisfy all the below-mentioned quality requirements. For example, strength and durability requirement contradicts ease of dressing requirement. Hence it is necessary that the site engineer looks into the properties required for the intended work and selects the stone accordingly.

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