Sand and gravel are instrumental in the building blocks of America’s way of life. These materials are used in the building roads and homes, making concrete and blocks, mortar and plaster. Sand and gravel, in their many and varied forms, serve hundreds of purposes from constructing skyscrapers down to the sand a child enjoys on the beach or in a sandbox or the gravel that lines the walkway to the front door.
Sand, by itself, comes in varied grain sizes and textures and is used for everyday purposes. Beach sand is a fine sand mix of multi-colored grains. This is the sand used to create beaches, soften playgrounds and volley ball courts, and fill sandboxes. It is also used as a bedding material under a simply made brick or stone patio. Utility sand is also fine sand used to fill in and stabilize water, gas or utility pipes and to fill in trenches. Fine utility sand serves those purposes, plus it is used to fill sandbags and line the floors of horse arenas.
The building construction sands are coarse sands with specific uses. Concrete sand is mixed with cement; mason sand mixes with mortar and concrete and is used for laying stone, bricks or blocks. Bank-run sand is fine or coarse and mixes with concrete to set fence posts, pillars and patios.
Gravel is an aggregate or small bits and pieces of rocks or other hard materials. Coarse gravels are used for gravel patios, dog runs, and driveways, around patio pavers, along garden beds and as drainage materials. Granite gravel is used for erosion control, temporary driveway surfaces and drains. Large irregularly-shaped chunks of rock dumped on shore lines to inhibit erosion are usually granite and is called rip rap. Pea gravel is a small, rounded, pea-sized stone that gives a more refined look to gardening and lawn accents. This gravel is also used to fill empty abandoned gas tanks at unused gas stations. Pea gravel comes in decorative colors and is usually sifted through large screens to get a uniform size for various projects.
Sand and Gravel Together
Sand and gravel are used primarily as aggregate in Portland cement. They are the main ingredients in concrete products used to build roads and highway systems. Together they form the building blocks of homes and other structures. These materials are usually mined from local pits near major construction centers, as transporting them from place to place would be prohibitively expensive. Bridge foundations and sidewalks are made from cement with sand and gravel aggregates. Parking lots, bike trails and blacktop roads are paved with mixtures of these two ingredients. Other uses include filtration beds at water treatment plants, sand blasting abrasives and traction enhancing products for ice and snow covered highways.
Sand and gravel are so prevalent in the building materials of the United States that, according to Ohio State University’s GeoFacts No. 19, revised November 2001, it takes 90 tons to build a six-room house, 15,000 to build a school and about 85,000 tons to construct one mile of a four-lane highway. Approximately four tons of sand and gravel are mined each year for every person in the country.