You may have noticed the recent surge in the popularity of concrete homes. Actually, concrete houses have been a mainstay in Europe for a long time. But in the US, homebuilders and buyers are finally starting to appreciate the advantages of this durable, versatile building material.
In this guide to concrete homes, we are going to explain what you need to know about concrete houses. First, we are going to go over some of the different methods of concrete home construction. Then, we’ll review the benefits and costs.
Concrete House Construction Methods
Concrete is simply a better way to build a better home.
When you build a concrete home, you can choose from a number of different construction methods. Let’s learn about each of these options in detail.
Many homes are built out of concrete blocks. When these blocks are manufactured, they can include insulation built right in.
Concrete blocks seem to be popular in some areas that feature hurricane conditions, such as Florida. In other areas, they are not as popular. If you live in an area where they are widely used, they may be an especially ideal choice from a construction standpoint. You should have an easy time finding a crew that knows what they are doing, and building with them to code should also not be a problem.
If you want to build a structure with an unusual shape, however, they might not be suitable.
One of the most prevalent forms of concrete construction nowadays is insulating concrete forms or “ICFs” for short. Like concrete blocks, ICFs are great for homes in hurricane zones.
What exactly is an ICF? Well, as the name implies, an ICF is an insulating form that contains concrete, which is poured in during the manufacturing process.
Not only do ICFs provide excellent insulation (of course), but they also offer fantastic soundproofing, help maintain the quality of your air by keeping out pollutants and allergens, and they provide all of the other benefits you can expect with concrete in terms of durability, pest-proofing and more.
As with concrete blocks, the main drawback of using ICFs is that they are not well-suited to buildings with unusual shapes. If you want a curved structure, you will be better served with a different form of concrete construction.
Next on our list of concrete construction types for cement houses is precast concrete. This type of construction is exactly what it sounds like. Concrete for components of the structure is cast, and then shipped to the building site.
Technically, tilt-up construction (see below) could also be considered a type of precast construction, but usually when we discuss precast concrete, we are talking about concrete that is precast in a factory.
The nice thing about a factory setting is that the environment is controlled, so it is easy to control the quality and precision of the resulting components. Labor costs are reduced, and installation of components on-site can be simple. You can also precast the same forms over and over in a cost-effective way.
As you might imagine, however, moving precast concrete components is expensive given how heavy they are.
Tilt-up construction refers to casting concrete panels on the ground at the building site rather than at a factory. Once the panels cure, the workers literally tilt them up into a vertical orientation and assemble the structure.
It is easy to understand the appeal of tilt-up concrete construction. It is simple and fast to cast the panels and then tilt them into place.
There was a time when tilt-up construction was limited in what it could achieve, but it has become a very versatile technique. The panels can even be decorated to your liking if they are cast face-up.
That said, there may be worksites where it would be challenging logistically to maneuver the panels. So, this method of construction may not be a fit for every job. Also, it is still more suitable for relatively simple structures.
Making housing more affordable is the key benefit of the emerging concrete 3d printed homes market.
- Affordability: Unfortunately, the average person cannot afford a home of their own. 3D printed houses lower the cost of building new homes, putting ownership in reach of consumers who need a home and cannot afford it.
- Sustainability: Wastefulness is a major concern in homebuilding. Thousands of pounds of waste are sent to landfills for a single 2,000 home construction. However, using 3D printing method, waste is minimal, leading to a more sustainable form of homebuilding.
- Availability: Homes, even if they’re modular, take 6 months to complete, at the very least. Stick-built homes may take 12 – 18 months to complete. However, 3D printed homes are completed rapidly, significantly reducing the time it takes to go from ordering a house to living in it.
Earlier we talked about ICFs, which feature permanent forms. But there is also a type of concrete construction that features forms that are removed after the concrete is poured and cured.
Concrete made using removable forms features steel for reinforcement as well as insulation.
One cool feature of removable form concrete is that it is easy to texture it. So, for example, if you want an appearance that resembles brick, you might consider using removable forms to achieve it.
Another popular use for removable forms is in the construction of buildings that include concrete for the floors and ceilings rather than just the walls.
The term “panel systems” actually refers to a category of concrete construction methods rather than one single method. In fact, we have already discussed the two types of systems that fall into this category: tilt-up construction and precast concrete construction.
Autoclaved Aerated Concrete
One more type of concrete construction to know is autoclaved aerated concrete. If you can imagine baking with concrete, that is kind of what happens with autoclaved aerated concrete.
Of course, we do not mean this in a literal fashion. But an agent that is mixed in with the cement and fine aggregates in this type of concrete causes it to expand. You can think of it a bit like what happens to dough rising when you prepare a recipe.
What makes this type of concrete special is just how lightweight it is. There are bubbles of air throughout, comprising most of its volume. It insulates effectively and is quite durable even with its air content.
If you are in Europe, it might not be too hard to come by autoclaved aerated concrete. But if you are in the US, it might be more difficult to find this type of concrete. That said, it seems inevitable that it will take off here sooner or later.
Residential Concrete Construction Benefits
With today’s innovative concrete home building systems you can build beautiful concrete homes in any style with all the added benefits like energy efficiency, safety, and peace and quiet.
#1 – Strength
Concrete is simply a better way to build a better home.
Buying a home can be the single largest investment of your life. If that home is constructed with concrete walls, your investment is naturally protected from the structural damage that can be caused by the effects of nature.
As the owner of a concrete house, you’ll benefit from lower annual maintenance and energy costs while living in a home that provides a secure haven for your family.
A concrete home is a solid investment for your family both in terms of value and safety.
Fire Resistance Structures
Fire can endanger the lives of everyone in the family and destroy those things that cannot be replaced. Insurance companies recognize concrete as being safer than any other form of construction when fire threatens a home. Living in a concrete home can bring peace of mind to homeowners concerned about fire.
When disaster threatens in the form of hurricanes, tornadoes or wild fires, your family will be safer in a home constructed with concrete walls. It’s no accident that concrete is the material of choice for modern-day fortresses and disaster shelters. This strong, durable material stands up to the fury of nature…including the more subtle threats of rot, rust and termites. Today’s strongest residential wall systems are made of concrete.
#2 – Energy Efficiency
Energy Efficiency = The Mass of Concrete Construction
It doesn’t take an Einstein to understand why concrete homes are more energy efficient than wood-frame homes. The mass of concrete slows down the passage of heat moving through the wall. This means that, with the same insulation, a concrete structure stays warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer than a wood-frame home. Also, a concrete wall doesn’t have as many air leaks as a wood frame construction wall – and air leakage accounts for a large percentage of energy loss in the home.
A concrete house can keep you comfortable year-round … while reducing your utility bills.
Besides having the advantage of mass, today’s concrete home building systems all utilize cost effective, highly efficient insulation to keep your home dry and comfortable year round while enjoying the benefits of lower utility bills.
Concrete forms an integral wall – solid, continuous and airtight. By comparison, a wood-frame wall is a collection of components – studs, sheet rock, sheathing and insulation. Each joint and connection is a potential air leak. As the air passes through these leaks, it takes your heating and air conditioning with it. That adds up to higher heating and cooling costs year round.
Space Age Insulation
Today’s concrete home benefits greatly from the progress that has been made in home insulation over the past 20 years. Many insulated concrete wall systems use polystyrene blocks or panels as the concrete formwork into which reinforcing steel and concrete are placed. These polystyrene forms are left in place to give your home an exceptional R-value. For concrete masonry homes, insulation choices range from foiled-backed batts to polystyrene panels. Standard hollow masonry units can be filled with insulating materials.
Smart Design = Savings
When designing today’s concrete forms, smart builders are able to realize considerable savings by using concrete’s energy efficiency to justify smaller heating and air conditioning systems. This results in a comfortable home with correspondingly smaller heating and air conditioning bills. The bottom line – savings are realized up front and throughout the life of a home.
#3 – Eco Friendly
A Natural Building Material
In this age of vanishing resources, we must choose our building materials more wisely, balancing the expenditure of natural resources with the benefits of a material over its useful life. Concrete draws upon some of the earth’s most common and abundant minerals for its raw materials. The amount of land used to extract the materials needed to make concrete is only a fraction of that used to cut down our forests for lumber.
Building a concrete house helps save our precious forests.
Concrete houses are more energy efficient than wood-frame homes and therefore require less energy to heat and cool. This reduces the amount of so-called greenhouse gases produced by power generation plants.
Concrete Uses Recycled Materials
Portland cement, which makes up about 10 percent of concrete, is manufactured from limestone, clay and sand. Scrap tires and other combustible waste that would otherwise take up valuable land in land fills are often used as a fuel source in the cement manufacturing process. Sources of aggregates are diverse and plentiful: sand, gravel, crushed stone, and an ever-increasing array of consumer and industrial waste products – fly ash from coal burning electric power plants and blast furnace slag from steel mills. Crushed concrete from demolition is often used as aggregate for concrete. Concrete’s nearly inert matrix of materials makes it an ideal recycling medium, with absolutely no degradation of strength or performance.
Concrete promotes a healthier indoor atmosphere, since it is practically inert, and requires no volatile organic-based preservatives like wood does. It’s naturally waterproof and fire-resistant, so it doesn’t need special coatings or sealers. Concrete can also be easily cleaned with organic, non-toxic substances.
Built To Last
Since wood rots and decays, and is extremely susceptible to natural disasters, it is central to a wasteful construction cycle of frequent disposal and replacement. Concrete, on the other hand, requires little or no maintenance, stands up to hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and fires. It can’t be eaten by termites and won’t rust or rot. Concrete’s sheer durability over decades of use goes a long way towards waste reduction.
Concrete houses promote a healthier and safer environment.
#4 – Low Maintenance
Solid Materials and Innovative Building Techniques Lead to Low Maintenance Construction
Ownership Made Easy
The beauty of a concrete home is that it requires far less work on the part of the homeowner to keep it looking like new. What are the three most common causes of exterior wall maintenance? Termites, rotting and paint peeling or fading. Insulated concrete forms and structures are rarely, if ever affected by termites or rot. As to paint, while some contemporary concrete homes have wood siding, most have a stucco or brick facade. Some use a concrete texture or other concrete products as finishes. None require painting.
A concrete building requires far less work to keep it looking like new.
All of this translates into a concrete housing costing less to own than a wood-frame or wood veneer home.
Standing Up To The Elements
Part of maintaining a home over the course of its lifetime involves repair of damage from such elements of nature as rain, wind and termites. Concrete home construction is more resistant to the wind and rain of hurricanes, tornadoes and other major windstorms. When Hurricane Andrew roared through South Florida, concrete homes protected families far better than their wood-frame counterparts. Especially those built with steel reinforced concrete walls can also be designed to withstand the destructive forces of earthquakes.
Two of nature’s threats to homes – termites and dry rot – are more subtle than hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes. But they can be just as costly. While an infestation of termites can cause severe structural damage to a wood-frame house, the structural walls of a concrete home are safe from their destructive efforts. Dry rot is actually a disease, common to timber and caused by fungi. Dry rot does not affect concrete and is therefore not a worry for the owners of a concrete block house.
Whether a Victorian gingerbread home or a Colonial mansion, concrete homes are quiet, easy-to-maintain and safe from fire, hurricanes, termites and wood rot. Concrete also can be used to create classic, low-maintenance floors with patterns similar to classic stonework but with a look all their own.
Concrete homes are more resistant to fire than wood-frame homes. This gives your family a better chance of avoiding injury due to fire. Even if a concrete structure does catch on fire, the damage does not seriously affect the structure of the walls, making repair a simpler task.
The concrete wall systems available today have evolved to the point where you can design your home to require a minimum of maintenance while providing a maximum of protection…and it will still look new for years after it is built.
A concrete house requires far less work to keep it looking like new.
#5 – Aesthetics
Beauty That’s More Than Skin Deep
Drive up to a new home today and you probably cannot tell how that home was constructed. That’s because the “skin” covering a home – whether it’s stucco, brick, wood or vinyl siding – provides the same finished appearance whether it’s placed over wood-frame or concrete construction.
Concrete can create any shape or size home that you can imagine.
How can you tell what type of construction is behind a home’s veneer? The walls in an unfinished garage or basement may give you a clue. But even with insulated concrete forms- the benefits of solid concrete construction aren’t apparent at first glance. They only show up years after the home is purchased – in the form of lower maintenance costs and lower energy bills. So, to be sure you make the right home buying decision, always ask the seller or builder what type of construction is behind that beautiful exterior.
Concrete can create any shape or size home you can imagine. Because concrete takes any shape or form, it can create an unlimited variety of curves and angles. Concrete’s strength can be used to create large open spaces – offering total flexibility in designing your home’s floor plan.
Whether a Victorian gingerbread home or a Colonial mansion, concrete homes are quiet, easy-to-maintain and safe from fire, hurricanes, termites and wood rot. Concrete also can be used to create classic, low maintenance floors with patterns similar to classic stonework but with a look all their own.
Should your tastes lean toward traditional or contemporary, the strength and flexibility of concrete can create a home that looks like the 21st Century and, with minimum maintenance, will hold its beauty and value throughout the next century.
#6 – Sound Reduction
Concrete’s Sound Reducing Qualities and Air-Tightness Make Your Home a Quieter and More Comfortable Living Environment
The Peace And Quiet Of Concrete
Land for home building is becoming more scarce and we’re forced to build our homes closer together and near noise sources like highways, railways, and airports. Concrete homes provide the necessary sound-reducing qualities to provide the kind of quiet comfort we all look for in a home.
The quiet comfort of concrete makes a concrete home a solid investment in lifestyle.
The greater mass of concrete walls can reduce sound penetrating through a wall by over 80 percent when compared to wood-frame construction. Although some sound will penetrate the windows, a concrete home is often two-thirds quieter than a wood-frame home.
Because concrete homes are built with solid concrete walls they are more air-tight than wood-frame. The continuous layer of rigid insulation used in concrete construction provides a consistent thermal barrier unlike wood-frame and batt insulation which has gaps in the insulation. This reduces drafts and cold spots inside your home resulting in more comfortable living spaces throughout your home.
Thermal Mass = Even Temperature
The mass of the concrete also has the heat-absorbing property called thermal mass. This smoothes out swings in temperature over time. It keeps the house from overheating or getting suddenly cold when the furnace or air conditioner cycles on and off throughout the day. It also helps keep the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter resulting in year-round comfort.
Lower Energy Bills
The same qualities that bring you the quiet comfort of a concrete home – thermal mass and consistency of insulation – also brings the peace of mind of saving money. Concrete homes can often reduce energy bills by over 50 percent compared to wood-frame homes. It’s not often an investment pays that kind of a return.
Make an investment in lifestyle with a quiet concrete house and save money on energy bills at the same time.
#7 – Financial Savings
Energy Efficiency, Durability, and Resale Value Add Up to Big Savings
A concrete home is a solid investment for your family in terms of value and safety.
Lower Utility Bills
Concrete homes save energy in two ways. The mass of the concrete slows down the passage of heat or cold moving through the wall. With the same insulation, a concrete home stays warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. Also, concrete walls are more air-tight than wood-frame walls. Since leaks account for a large percentage of energy loss in the home, concrete homes enjoy savings in energy consumption. That adds up to lower utility bills. A survey, conducted by Dr. Peter VanderWerf at Boston University, found that using insulating concrete forms (ICFs) reduces energy used for heating by about 44% and for cooling by about 32%.
Reduced Insurance Premiums
Concrete houses resist fire. They’re stronger than wood frame homes and safer during tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Insurance for concrete homes is often 15% to 25% lower. One insurance agent in St. Louis, Missouri, offers discounts on homeowners insurance policies of up to 25% for ICF homes. No one, however, can put a price on the peace of mind that comes with owning a concrete home.
The Quality Payback
Concrete homes cost a little more than wood-frame homes. But lower energy bills and insurance premiums can offset the slightly higher mortgage payment. The real payback is in quality…the intangible benefits of a quieter and more comfortable home.
How Much Do Concrete Homes Cost?
You are likely feeling excited now for the many benefits of concrete. But how much will it cost you to build a concrete house?
It’s true—you will pay more for a concrete house than you would for a traditional home made of wood. But you may be surprised to learn that concrete houses are not expensive. In fact, if you are buying an existing home, it comes out to paying just $1 more a month for a concrete house.
|Standard Home||Concrete Home||Comments|
|Purchase Price||$200,000||$208,000||4% more|
|Principal and Int.||$1,119||$1,163||7.5% interest|
|Taxes||$300||$312||.15% tax rate|
|Housing Costs||$1,624||$1,625||Only $1 more|
A homebuyer pays 4% more for an energy-efficient concrete home. He secures a mortgage with a 7.5% interest rate and makes a 20% down payment on the home. He would pay $44 more on principal and interest and $12 more on property taxes but saves $12 per month on homeowners insurance and $43 per month on energy bills.
The total monthly cost for the concrete house is only $1 more than the standard home – a small price to pay for the added security, quiet, and comfort.
What if you want to build your own concrete house? These costs are also quite reasonable.
Fox Blocks writes, “ICF construction costs 3 to 5 percent more, or $2 to $4 more per square foot of floor area than wood-frame construction.”
That is not a huge investment. And remember, it will pay for itself over time, because you are going to be saving money in the long-term on maintenance, heating and cooling and repairs.
That said, there can be a considerable range for the cost to build a concrete home. It can cost you anywhere from $110 to $250 per square foot. Let’s take a look at what factors affect the pricing.
7 Factors That Impact the Cost For Concrete Houses
- Construction method: We have shared a number of different construction methods with you for concrete homes. Each of them has a different cost. In fact, there may also be variations in cost depending on the efficiency of the processes of the individual contractors you work with. So, that is a consideration as well.
- Shipping costs: If you are getting precast concrete components to use in your home construction, then you will need to think about the cost of shipping those components.
- Size: The larger the concrete home you are constructing, the more expensive it will be to build. Keep in mind, however, that the cost per square foot is likely to decrease when you are building to a larger scale.
- Shape and design: The overall layout of your concrete home is going to have an impact on how much it costs. A home that essentially is just a concrete cube is not going to run you as much as one that features a number of wings in an elaborate configuration. Additionally, you might have to pay more for unusually-shaped surfaces (i.e. curved or wavy walls).
- Cost of concrete: The price of concrete varies from day to day just like that of any other resource. So, the timing of your project will affect how much it costs. If you can, try and buy the materials for your project at a time when prices are low. Of course, it can be difficult to determine when the best time to purchase is, unless you have a good grasp on what might cause prices to rise and fall.
- Labor costs: Consider the cost of labor that will go into your project, whether at a factory, at your site, or both. You may want to shop around to see where you can find the best prices. Keep in mind, however, that the cheapest labor may not do the best job.
- Finishing: Finally, the finishing for your interior and exterior will have an effect on the cost of a concrete home, as will doors, windows, and other features.