Ferrocement is a composite material which is used in construction around the world. As the name implies, ferrocement is a type of cement, but it is applied in a very special way, utilizing minimal material and as a result being much less costly than traditional cement construction. Ferrocement is used to build homes, boats, bridges, and a variety of other structures, and some artists also work with ferrocement, creating sculptures and architectural features from this very strong, durable, versatile material.
To construct something from ferrocement, someone starts by creating a frame of wire mesh. Chicken wire is a common choice, but any sort of metallic mesh will work. The mesh is often layered, creating a matrix. Next, a mixture of cement, sand, and water is spread over the frame, typically very thinly, and then the ferrocement structure is allowed to cure; most people keep the ferrocement moist as it sets. The curing time varies, but can exceed a month in some climates and situations. At the end of the curing period, the resulting structure is quite strong and very solid, despite the fact that the walls are very thin.
You may hear ferrocement referred to as “thin shell” or “chicken wire and cement construction.” There are a number of advantages to ferrocement which make it the material of choice for some people. For one thing, it is extremely flexible, as the load of the structure is widely distributed, and ferrocement tends to perform well in earthquakes. It is also fire resistant, and extremely durable; well constructed ferrocement structures can endure for decades with minimal maintenance.
One reason many people like ferrocement is that it is a very inexpensive material to build with. Fans of ferrocement construction sometimes say that it “pays for itself” by being minimally expensive. In areas where resources and skilled labor are scare, this building material is an excellent option to have available, allowing people to build durable structures which will not be priced out of reach.
For people who are interested in using ferrocement to build a house, consulting local building codes is an excellent idea, as is discussing the idea with an engineer, who can help you create a load-bearing design which will meet local code requirements. In some regions, ferrocement building classes and workshops are available for people who would like some experience working with the material; if you're willing to let your house be a model, you can also sponsor such a workshop, learning to work with ferrocement while having your house built by a team of students.