There are five main options when it comes to choosing building materials. Which material or materials you choose depends on economic and climate factors, as well as the type of building you have in mind.

Although wood can decay over time and is vulnerable to insects (think termites), moisture damage, and fire, it has many advantages. It's lightweight yet strong and can easily be cut to length. You might be surprised how long a wood building can last. The Horyu-ji temple in Japan dates back to the eighth century [source: CWC]!

Brick is usually made of clay and was used as early as the time of the Sumerians. Whereas in those days too much rain could turn bricks back into mud, we now know that applying high heat will make bricks weather-resistant. They're easy to make and work with, durable, fire resistant and as the three little pigs discovered, wolf-resistant as well.

While stone is a useful and durable material that is naturally weather- and fire-resistant, and doesn't require mortar to hold it together, it's heavy to move and difficult to quarry. Stone is popular because it looks good, but there are more efficient and cheaper building materials out there, some of which can even be made to look like stone.

Concrete is a flexible and economical material and can either be formed on the spot or made elsewhere and transported. It's an ideal building material for all kinds of constructions, especially when reinforced with steel rods and mesh.

Iron and steel have all kinds of applications in today's buildings. Aside from acting as support framework, they can serve as independent foundations as well. Prefabrication makes it fast and easy to install, and the fact that it's 100 percent recyclable makes it economical and good for the environment. Steel technology is essential for today's trend of building up rather than out.