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When you think of concrete, you probably picture parking garages and sidewalks. Very few would ever conjure up images of a concrete home. Yet, this building material is becoming increasingly popular among homeowners. It’s strong, insulating and fire-resistant and relatively simple to build with. However, concrete does come with its fair share of limitations.
To better determine the pros and cons of concrete houses, we must examine the various types of concrete available and a few different building methods.
People have relied on concrete blocks to make homes for more than a century. These strong cubes are ideal for foundations and basements because they’re stronger than poured concrete and can withstand thousands of pounds of pressure without cracking or crumbling. They also provide heat against the cold, reducing energy use and minimizing homeowners’ bills.
However, for a concrete block to be this strong, builders must make them correctly. If they fail to do so, these blocks may sustain water damage or buckle under the sheer weight of a home. They’re also more expensive than wood and have an industrial look that some people don’t care for.
In windy regions, many contractors and architects decide to employ a removable form to build concrete homes. This system involves setting up a removable wall into which workers pour the concrete. Then, once it cures, they remove the forms.
This method is beneficial because workers can make interior and exterior walls simultaneously. Plus, the home will be more wind-resistant than if it consisted of concrete blocks. Still, removable forms may not be available in some areas, so you may have to resort to blocks or other materials that may be less stable.
There are two types of panel systems — precast and tilt-up. With precast concrete, a plant pre-makes a home’s exterior walls and adds foam insulation, steel reinforcements and electrical wiring. Then, they ship the panels to the site and the construction crew installs them, one on top of another. Tilt-ups are also precast; however, crews cast them on-site and tilt them into place.
Both kinds of panel systems ensure a high-quality product and can accommodate curved panels. They’re also wind-resistant and allow for quick set-up. However, you may find it difficult to locate a pre-casting factory nearby, and the further away it is, the more you’ll pay to transport it.
Insulating Concrete Forms
Insulating concrete forms — or ICFs — are ideal for building both foundation and above-ground walls. To make them, builders fill high-density plastic foam with concrete and steel reinforcements. Once it hardens, this thermal sandwich will insulate a home and block out wind, fire and noisy neighbors. Typically, builders can make ICFs four to 12 inches thick, depending on your design preferences.
These foam forms are advantageous to builders because they’re lightweight, easy to erect, don’t require additional insulation and can attach directly to interior drywall and exterior siding. The biggest disadvantage is that curved ICF walls take more time to make and are difficult to remodel.
Autoclaved Aerated Concrete
Builders combine fine aggregates, cement and an expansion agent to make autoclaved aerated concrete. This type of concrete is 80% air, making it incredibly lightweight and an excellent sound and thermal insulator. Contractors may cut, shave and shape the material and use it to build walls, roofs and floors. It’s also resistant to rot, mold, mildew, insects and fire.
Of course, AAC does come with limitations. This material is more prevalent in Europe than the U.S., so it isn’t readily available to most homeowners — unless you have a large budget to ship it. Additionally, it typically needs reinforcements and a protective finish to protect it from cracks, deterioration and collapse.
Considering the Cost
Concrete homes are slightly more expensive than your typical brick or wood building. To determine how much this building material will cost you, consider factors that may influence costs. These may include the price of concrete in your area, local labor rates, market competition and how much experience a crew has.
Even if these prices are lower than in other parts of the country, they may still feel unnecessarily expensive. However, when weighing the pros and cons of concrete houses, you must remember that a concrete home is an investment. If you live in your new home long enough, energy bill savings will offset initial project expenses. You just have to commit and be willing to live with a few cons.