Science Built This Home
A house is more than brick and mortar. It takes a bit of science to build a new home! With today’s electronic appliances, it is not surprising that technology and engineering play an important role in new home construction. But technology also has a role to play in the manufacture of the walls and doors, the insulation and roofing, and even the concrete. The basic building materials in construction are not so basic. There is great deal of science at work behind every new home. Here is a tally of how science helped build mine.
Geology & Geotechnical Engineering – Even before construction begins, surveyors and soil engineers look at the land to assess the construction site. Soil contains minerals, water, and air. It can be compressed, it can erode, and it can shift or sheer when a force is applied. The ground is the first thing to consider when you build because the last thing you want is a home on shifting soil. A soil engineer will collect a sample of the ground and run measurements that help determine how to lay a stable foundation.
Physics & Civil Engineering – The architect and builder are the housing industries resident Physicist and Civil Engineer. A house is a structure that is built to maintain loads and withstand force. Construction materials used in framing must be strong. Concrete foundation footers bear the weight of the entire home, from basement structural beams to the roof. The foundation walls are concrete reinforced with steel rebar. Load-bearing walls are anchored on steel columns in the basement. Wood supports, strong and light-weight, in the floors, the walls, and the roof trusses are installed to insure structural integrity. The foundation and frame are the bones of the house and it takes physics and engineering to assure that they are solid.
Mechanical Engineering – Every kid loves playing with diggers and bulldozers in the sandbox. These massive construction tools capture our wonder and amazement as they perform such a simple task in a very big way. But the task is not simple from a mechanical point of view and it takes highly technical engineering companies like Caterpillar and John Deere to manufacture these critical construction tools. Excavation equipment must perform an aggressive task in an unforgiving environment. Engineers combine heavy-duty steel, motors, and hydraulics to create an earth moving machine that continues to work no matter how dirty the job.
Chemistry – Aspects of chemistry are present in almost every surface of a new home – this is the science that makes the additives, the polymers, the coatings and the adhesives. Additives improve products by extending their lifetime, improving fire resistance, helping dissimilar materials blend, or simply by adding color. Polymers that are plastic can be found in building materials throughout the home; it is used to make water pipes, exterior moisture vapor house wrap, windows, siding and garage doors. Polymers and additives make it possible to mold doors from recycled sawdust. Coatings, like paint, cover the surfaces we see, inside and out. Latex polymer coatings hide outside and underground on the exterior of the foundation. The latex prevents moisture vapor from entering through the basement walls into the home. Adhesives help to bond material layers in drywall and hold the tile to the wall or floor.
Material Science – Builders rely on construction materials that are tested and proven. Material scientists and engineers study the physics and chemistry of polymers, ceramics, glass, composites, and metal alloys. They design new building materials that are stronger and lighter and find ways to use recycled components in construction. Perhaps of the most visible and certainly most beautiful building product that highlights material science is the counter top. The kitchen counter has evolved from the laminate Formica® surface to options that now include Quartz, Corian® and Recycled glass composites. There is a scientific challenge behind making composite materials – how do you fuse different substances together. Science helps create the blended product and prevents delamination (peeling or chipping) over the lifetime of the product.
Electrical Engineering – The electronics and digital equipment in our new homes make electrical engineering an easy science to spot. Residential process controls are a product of electrical engineering and computer science. Appliances with on-board computers wash and dry our clothes and dishes. Temperature control systems adjust our heating and cooling throughout the day. Homes are wireless, music and media stream, we live in a technical wonderland that we can control with our smart phone. Technology makes all of this possible.
Biology & Botany – One of the last steps in every new house building project is to complete the landscaping. For many, the garden is another room to live in and enjoy and just as science helped to build the home, science is also there to improve the garden. Native plants, low water grass seed and drip irrigation are just a few features in our garden. These ideas started as gardeners and botanist grapple with environmental problems. Living in an urban area poses the additional challenge of providing a habitat for birds, butterflies and bugs, and all the four-legged mammals that feast in our garden. Science can help gardeners make good planting choices and create a beautiful yard that improves the ecosystem.
It is easy to look on the surface and simply see the beautiful new house or the design details. Living in a home, you forget the technology unless it stops working. Sitting outside, you can enjoy the view and relax. You are surrounded by bits of science and engineering that came together to make a home – it is just beyond the surface. So, look a little harder and see if you can count the ways that science matters.
If you need further proof that our childhood obsession with construction equipment is alive and well, watch this popular YouTube video from Caterpillar – and enjoy!
Follow the steps of new home construction in this YouTube video from Civil Engineering.