Posted on 26 Comments

We Bought Building Sand and Stone. Why?

building sand header

It seems a bit crazy to buy lots of building sand and stones for our shipping container house when we have tonnes of the stuff right under our feet. There is a reason why we have done so, and this post explains what we bought and why we bought it. Building a home is kind of like baking a cake; you use different ingredients for different purposes, depending on how you want the end product to turn out.

Our little bit of property is mostly made up of a clay type of soil. Clay is interesting but difficult to work with. It expands with water and contracts as it dries out. Because of this, you cannot cast concrete directly on top of clay. It would crack as the clay “breathes”. Our house is made up of four shipping containers placed in a square. The central “courtyard” area will have a concrete floor. So, how are we going to prevent the concrete from cracking under us?

We need to build up a solid base for the concrete to sit on. We want to allow the clay to do what it wants underneath the house without affecting the footings or concrete floor in the central area. Therefore we bought several types of sand and stone to layer underneath the concrete that will allow the concrete slab to “float” on top of the clay.

I asked Kevin what types of sand and stone are available for purchase in the building industry.

Types of Building Sand and Stone

building sand
Ten cubic metres of building sand

Plastering Sand: Kevin described this kind of sand as “dead” because it doesn’t react much and holds its form well. It is mainly used for plastering walls because it sticks well to a wall and doesn’t slide down before it has a chance to dry.

Building Sand: This kind of sand is much  more “alive” and settles more than the plastering sand. Therefore, this sand is best for between bricks as it settles nicely between the rough surfaces. If used for plastering, it would tend to slide down the wall. I can imagine that that would be extremely frustrating!

Fun Fact:
Most building sand comes from old river beds and other sandy areas. Sea-sand is usually not used for several reasons. 1) The particles are too rounded in shape so the concrete won’t bind properly. 2) Sea sand doesn’t have a lot of compressive strength so the end result won’t be as strong. 3) The salt found in sea sand attracts moisture which can cause the structure to be damp. 4) The salt and water combination will encourage metal components to corrode faster. 


Building Stone: This crushed stone is available in a variety of different average stone sizes to be used in various applications.

Slag Ash Aggregrate: Slag ash aggregate is a byproduct of the metal industry’s smelting process. After smelting ore, the slag that runs off is cooled, crushed and sold as a filler for concrete. It’s not as strong as stone but is a little lighter so is very useful in areas where strength is not a concern. Kevin hasn’t seen slag ash available for sale in the Western Cape (although it might be). It is readily available around Johannesburg which is a mining area. It is also usually a little cheaper than stone, and considered a sustainable alternative to aggregates such as stone. 

Base-course and Sub-base Material: This material is available in a range of coarseness from G1 through to G7. It is highly compactable which makes it very useful for places such as under the tar on roads and highways.  It’s made from a mixture of stones and other substances in order to make it compact extremely well. 

Buying The Building Sand And Stone (Actually Base Course G5 and G7)

Twenty-eight tonnes of Base Course G7


We decided to place our order for ten cubic metres of building sand, fourteen tonnes of G5 and 28 tonnes of G7. The idea is to make a nice compacted layer of G5 and G7, over which we will place a layer of sand. Over this we will cast our concrete floor. All the layers should allow the clay to slide around underneath as it wants, leaving our concrete safe above it. The G7 is a little finer than the G5. 

We were a little worried about huge articulated dump trucks managing to get through our driveway from the road as there are ditches running on both sides. We were also a little worried about the power cables that run across our property. After a few days of back-and-forth emails about the delivery of our order, I spoke to a manager regarding our plot and he sent a site inspector to have a quick look. The verdict: We would be able to accept delivery in a smaller short-wheel base dump truck. 

So, we paid for the sand and stone on the Thursday and made arrangements for delivery the following Monday.

I can’t doubt this particular company’s efficiency. I received a phone call very early on Friday morning; they were ready to make the first delivery. Thankfully Gwen and Louis were on site and in a position to accept delivery, so we had everything delivered by early afternoon that day. 

building sand

Now we are ready for site leveling and the layering of our base-course and sand!

building sand

26 thoughts on “We Bought Building Sand and Stone. Why?

  1. I’ve often seen piles of sand at building sites but it never occurred to me to wonder what it was used for. If you’d asked, I probably would have said it was for making concrete. But your post shows that there’s a whole lot more to it than that!

    Also, it never occurred to me to wonder where it came from, and if I’d thought about it, I probably would have assumed it was taken from beaches. But when I came to visit you, we passed an area on the side of the road where digging machines were digging up the ground, and you said it was a sand mine. Who would ever have thought there was such a thing as a sand mine? But apparently there is!

    1. And who would have thought that plain old sand was useful at all! πŸ˜‰

  2. Considering that I was thinking how to start the project a house starting from 0 all this is extremely interesting at least gives me an overview of something I sincerely know nothing about!

    1. Thank you so much! Your comment really makes me happy because that’s what we are trying to achieve!

  3. I was unfamiliar with this entire process and I felt like I was taking a well structured class reading your blog post. My husband absolutely loves reading about these building projects so I will be forwarding the link to this post to him. Thank you for all of the well written information.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. I am learning so much too. Thank you too for sharing the link 😊

  4. Woohoo! Congratulations. I did not understand there were different sands for building, although, to be fair, I have witnessed sand castle competition sand being trucked in, and they wanted it full of salt and a higher moisture content.

    1. Wow! The sand castle competition must have been absolutely amazing! I haven’t been to one but have seen photos off the internet.

  5. I had no idea that plain sand can be used in so many ways😯 that’s fantastic

    1. I was learning things too when researching for this post

  6. This is so interesting. I learned quite a few things about clay, sand and stone! Thank you.

    1. Aren’t natural materials just amazing! πŸ™‚

  7. Types of Building Sand and Stone Is very intriguing and will prove to be useful on my next building project.

    1. All the best for your next building project πŸ™‚

  8. I would always ask my husband where those trucks carrying stone and sand were headed, and we would always wonder what it was being used for, so thank you for explaining! Good luck with the build, I wish you guys great weather! πŸ™‚

    1. Maybe next time you’ll have a better guess! As for the weather, we’re currently in the middle of the summer dry season, so it’s a good time to get things done πŸ™‚

  9. This is interesting and helpful to know in the future if I ever build a concrete foundation over clay ground. Can’t wait to see your final house!

    1. If you ever do find yourself in our position, don’t forget to check what you need to do with your engineers! πŸ™‚

  10. How long will the whole house take? I’m so interested to see the final result!

    1. We’re hoping to move in sometime next year, but things have been slower than we wished so far, so lots of blog posts still coming up. You can sign up for our newsletter if you would like to be notified of new posts.

  11. Shipping container homes have always fascinated me. I’m currently doing the vanlife thing, but I can see this being an option for the future.

    1. I feel the same about container houses, and I think it’s amazing that we can actually be involved in one ourselves. (Van life is also fascinating as is the Tiny House on Wheels movement)

  12. I am curious as to how all this works out. I am always impressed by the people who do a bit of the do it yourself stuff.

    1. I really hope you’ll visit us again to check up on our progress πŸ™‚

  13. I could kick myself for only finding you guys now and you’re South African ❀ Loving all the posts you’ve done so far. I’m going to be following along all the way. It’s been a dream of ours to convert a shipping container inta a small home for so long. Thanks so very much for sharing so much real and valuable information

    1. Wow thank you! Will you be sharing your journey too? Would love to follow you if you do 😁

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