Buildings are exposed to a variety of elements and factors in their service life, and this gives builders a unique challenge to overcome How can they make sure something bends and not breaks.

That’s where tensile strength comes in. It’s behind such innovations and tools, such as stainless steel girders and concrete reinforcing mesh panels. It’s this quality that most, if not all, buildings need in order to maintain a solid structure and stand the test of time. Without it, buildings would be a lot more unstable and unsafe than they are.

But what exactly is it?

Tensile strength vs. compressive strength

The best way to define tensile strength is to compare it to another capacity of a material or building: compressive strength. While compressive strength refers to the property of a material to withstand compression (being pushed together) like the load-bearing capabilities of building foundations, tensile strength is how a material resists tension (or elongating) such as the concrete of any hi-rise building.

Tensile strength is responsible for how long the materials and tools that we use every day will last with consistent use and the conditions that they’re exposed to. Obviously, the higher the tensile strength, the better the material is; but this can’t always be the case due to limited access to the material itself, the time required to process or build it, and most importantly, the cost.

Reinforcement of building materials

2 people studying the building construction

All buildings are subject to internal forces (like the weight of the building itself, the occupants, and how it was built) and external forces (time, weathering, outdoor structural damage) that can greatly affect the longevity and durability of the structure.

That is why having materials with high tensile strength is so important in buildings these days. Let’s take a look at one of the most common examples of this: concrete.

Concrete is quite brittle. You only need to look at concrete blocks usually used in quick housing to see that it doesn’t take a great amount of force to cause it to break. While this may be fine with certain buildings, it certainly won’t do for larger structures such as high-rise commercial towers and skyscrapers. However, in most building projects, concrete is still the most economical material that can be used. So, how is this tensile strength taken into account?

Reinforcement or the addition of other materials such as rebar, steel, polymer, or other additives can give the concrete more stability and resistance to stress, such as bending and cracking. These reinforcements need to bond with concrete well, be durable within the concrete, resistant to corrosion such as mild acid or rust, and be able to tolerate temperature shifts that can cause the concrete to expand.

While tensile strength isn’t in the layman’s vocabulary or awareness, it’s an important part of how our modern world is constructed. Any company that deals with the specialized parts of construction knows its importance well. In many cases, it literally holds up the things that make up our society today.