Anyone who has passed by a Houston industrial construction site in its early stages has probably noticed forms containing metal poles or rods. These rods are called rebar, which is an abbreviated form of “reinforcing bars.” Rebar is typically placed in the form prior to pouring concrete. The result is concrete that has higher load-bearing abilities, greater ductility and a longer life.
Concrete has been used for a wide variety of building projects for thousands of years. The Romans, for example, used concrete extensively, such as in the construction of the Coliseum. However, rebar concrete construction is relatively new and has been in use for less than 200 years.
Historians disagree on the name of the first person to use rebar concrete on a building project. Some credit an industrialist named Francois Coignet with the first house built with reinforced concrete. Others believe that a gardener, Joseph Monier, was the first to use reinforced concrete in his landscaping projects, while others credit the development to Joseph Louis Lambot. However, the consensus is that the technique was developed in France around 1850, with Monier receiving a patent for his technique in 1867.
In the years that followed, many different individuals and companies developed their own methods of creating and using rebar. Some used iron to make the bars, while others used steel. Numerous experiments were performed on the shape of the bars; they were produced as flat pieces or twisted, and they were also made in various sizes. Different methods of joining the bars together to keep them securely in place during and after the concrete was added were also tested. The best techniques survived, while those that were unsatisfactory have been all but lost to history.
Using reinforced concrete construction quickly became the method of choice for European buildings, and the technique soon arrived in America. In 1878, Thaddeus Hyatt received the first U.S. patent for his system; a refinery owned by The Pacific Coast Borax Company became the first U.S. construction project to use his system. By the first quarter of the 20th century, rebar concrete construction had become the overwhelming choice for new projects.
Rebar concrete construction allowed “building up” instead of out. Buildings made of wood had definite limits on the number of stories. Stone construction often allowed additional height, but it was expensive. With reinforced concrete, however, buildings could soar to new heights, allowing land to be used more efficiently. In short, rebar helped give rise to the modern skyscraper.
For more than a century, Houston design build companies have used rebar concrete construction systems for a wide range of projects. Bridges, highways, sports arenas, schools, dams, airports and many more projects rely on the strength and durability of reinforced concrete. Extensive research has been conducted to determine the best materials and methods, and systems have been continuously upgraded. As a result, modern systems have been developed to perform at levels that were once believed impossible.
Despite the benefits of rebar concrete construction, in recent years, some people have wondered whether concrete is a “green” material. The answer is a resounding, “Yes.” In fact, using concrete can earn builders points from the U.S. Green Building Council, which is the agency that issues LEED certifications. Reinforced concrete is used in many Houston LEED construction applications for numerous reasons, including the fact that it is recyclable, can be sourced locally and can help optimize energy usage.
Rebar concrete construction has only been used in the United States for approximately 135 years. In that time, it has become one of the most significant building materials used. The roads that Americans drive on, the buildings in which they work, the homes in which they live and the products and services they receive all exist in at least some measure to reinforced concrete.