Concrete blocks, though used widely, have the drawback of being very high in embodied energythe total amount of energy it takes to make a material (or a building). See more on embodied energy due to the cement they contain. They may also produce a wall which is too thick . Achieving PassivhausSee more on the Passivhaus standard. The PassivHaus Institute has pioneered a standard for low energy buildings. It includes very low energy usage and ways of achieving this. The word is derived from the idea of buildings which are fundamentally low energy and passive solar heated rather than using extra gadgets to heat them. See Passivhaus for the UK branch of the organisation. standard by packing 300mm of insulation into a traditional brick and block wall produces a total thickness of about 550mm which is so thick that windows become less effective in terms of view and daylight and it actually takes up a great deal of footprint on the ground, which is expensive in terms of buildable space.
There are alternatives to blockwork above ground (and below ground if you substitute brickwork, but this is usually not much better in terms of embodied energy). Concrete blockwork is usually specified for the purposes of being loadbearing, unaffected by moisture, thermally insulating, acoustically insulating and fireproof. Usually a mixture of these.
For the purpose of constructing the below ground wall, down to the foundations, there is no real substitute for blockwork because it is not damaged by moisture (providing it is sulphate resisting, along with its mortar). Similarly for party walls there is a strong argument for their use because all the above properties are put to their best use.
However, above DPCDamp Proof Course - a strip of (usually) plastic built into walls to prevent damp rising or penetrating. see more level, timber frame construction, along with plywood, plasterboard and insulation can often do a better job than blockwork. In the case of timber post and beamSubstantial, usually horizontal structural member., SIPSStructural Insulated Panels - prefabricated (usually in a factory) timber panels often forming part of an integrated building system and aimed at fast site erection. see more on SIPs or Walter Segalrefers to a simple self build timber frame form of construction pioneered by the architect Walter Segal. see details of the systemThe architect who devised a simple timber frame self build system (often simply known as 'Segal self build'). see more on the Segal method construction there might not even be any need for below ground blockwork. Once again the argument for walls which are virtually fully filled with insulation to achieve PassivHaus standards may mean that blockwork simply takes up too much space.
Aircrete blocks, which have much higher insulation values than standard blocks may be a way of achieving the desired insulation without creating an unacceptably thick wall. However there is a fairly fixed relationship between the weight of concrete blocks, their insulating properties and their compressive strength. Generally the lighter and better insulating, the less strength they have and this means they might not be strong enough to hold up floors and roof, especially if they are the only means of support. See the Aircrete Products Association web site
Shapes and sizes
The Concrete Block Association have information for the specification of blocks including sizes, density, tolerance, strength and configuration.
The standard block size is 440 x 215 which is designed to coordinate with multiples of bricks. (Bricks are 215 x 65 and the joints are taken as 10mm.) So if you include the joints then a block length is the same as two brick lengths and a block height is the height of three bricks. Also this means that a block set on its end is equal to 6 bricks in height and a brick on end is the same height as a block, This means less cutting of blocks and allows wall ties to coordinate properly.
The Building RegulationsThese are the mass of regulations that cover safety, health, welfare, convenience, energy efficiency etc. in the way buildings are constructed. Not to be confused with Planning consent (which is more to do with whether you can put up the building in the first place) part AThe Approved documents Approved documents are detailed publications which come under the English Building Regulations. They are based on tried and tested methods of building and if you follow them you are assured of complying with the Regs. The equivalents for Scotland are the Technical HandbookUnder the Scottish Building Regulations, the Technical Handbook gives construction principles, which, if you follow them guarantee compliance with the Regulations, for Wales: the Approved documents (Wales), and for N.I. the Technical BookletsUnder the Northern Ireland Building Regulations, the Technical Booklets give construction principles, which, if you follow them guarantee compliance with the Regulations, (England) part A, deals with building structures covers the structure of a building. This Approved Document goes into a lot of detail for traditional masonry buildings but almost none for timber frame, steel frame, earth building SIPs etc. For these you will need to consult a structural engineer (while SIPs structures are usually handled by the manufacturer)
With most forms of construction there will be implications concerning fire safety. These are covered in the Building Regulations and you can see examples of how to conform with these in Part BThe Approved documents, (England) part B, deals with fire (Fire Safety)
Site preparation and resistance to contaminants
This section, Part CThe Approved documents, (England) part C, deals with Site preparation and resistance to contaminants (C1) and Resistance to Moisture (C2), covers site remediationthe term applied to the method of dealing with pollutants and contaminants in the ground. The Building Regulations cover this in detail. See info about Approved Document C – Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture along with protection from nasties which might affect the construction and occupants such as damp, rain, radon etc. There is an abridged version of the Approved Document specially for houses.