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Concrete

Technology Snapshot & Benefits:
When it comes to a dependable green building material, concrete ranks near the top. Considering the life cycle of concrete, its emerging status as a sustainable building material is justified. Concrete is made predominantly from limestone, one of Earth’s most abundant resources. It can even be made from waste byproducts. Concrete’s durability is the mainstay of its tough reputation. According to ConcreteNetwork.com, “Life spans for concrete building products can be double or triple those of other common building materials.”

Homes built with concrete foundations, walls and/or floors resourcefully absorb and retain heat because of concrete’s inherent thermal mass capabilities. This equals energy efficiency for the homeowner by lowering heating and cooling costs. Concrete also offers reduced noise levels compared to wood-framed walls, and a multitude of design possibilities exist. According to the Portland Cement Association (PCA), many techniques are available when designing a home, including insulating concrete forms (ICFs); concrete masonry; aerated concrete; tilt-up concrete; and precast concrete. Solid, continuous and airtight forms used in concrete homes provide excellent insulation. A wide range of insulation choices are available depending on the concrete construction materials and technique used. Concrete is a moldable material that accepts environmentally friendly applications of color. The PCA maintains that “with volatile wood prices, logging's high environmental price tag, and a growing shortage of high-quality lumber, concrete offers … cost effective, quality alternatives to wood-frame home construction.”

Commercially, concrete can minimize urban heat islands. Light-colored concrete roofs and pavements absorb less heat and reflect solar radiation. Concrete can be produced in various quantities, promoting efficiency in that only enough is made for a specific project. When a concrete structure is no longer needed, the concrete can be crushed and recycled into aggregate for use in new concrete pavements or as backfill or road base (The Concrete Network).

Estimated Cost Savings:
When life cycle costs, operation and maintenance costs, and health issues are factored into home building, concrete shines as a star material. Walls using ICFs save on heating and cooling bills. Savings are also reaped from purchasing smaller heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units. Using concrete for driveways and roofing tiles saves money in the long run because of concrete’s low maintenance costs and lengthier life span. Additionally, a concrete foundation can also serve as decorative flooring. All these cost advantages can help with a home’s resale, too.

Issues:
Concrete foundations have been known to shift, sink, settle and/or crack. Improper maintenance, expansive clay or improperly compacted soil can cause foundation settlement and movement. While unstable soils can cause upheaval in both slab and pier and beam foundations, movements within different parts of a concrete slab can cause cracks or even potential damage to the structure. Accidents and lower real estate value, as well as poor drainage and equipment malfunctions, may result from a concrete slab shifting. When this occurs, call a concrete floor and foundation repair contactor who provides some form of underpinning as one of their services to repair a failed foundation. A professional is required to accurately assess the property and damage then determine the correct method of repair.

Regional Issues:
Concrete is resistant to weather extremes, such as tornado-force winds, and to mold, insect damage and fire. According to the California Energy Commission, most new homes in California are constructed on a concrete slab. Homes in warm and cold climates both benefit from concrete’s use of thermal mass, or the collecting and storing of radiant energy. In cooler weather during daylight, the concrete absorbs direct sunlight if windows are thoughtfully oriented. When temperatures fall at night, the stored heat releases and warms rooms. In colder climates, this passive solar heating method may need to be supplemented by radiant in-floor heating systems. In humid climates, concrete homes can resist rot, mold and termite infestation.

Concrete is versatile enough to fit any style of home or neighborhood and can be covered in siding, stucco, brick, or stone. Whether modern to traditional in design, concrete homes provide more energy efficiency than wood-framed homes while still meshing with the look or character of an area. Fiber cement siding, which has existed for decades, is composed of cement, sand and cellulose fiber and is similar in performance to stucco in that it’s weather and insect resistant; but fiber cement siding can look like traditional wood clapboard siding. (Please view “Fiber Cement Siding” from Ask a Builder.) These varied options are gaining in popularity for home exteriors across the United States.

Installation:
It is important to find an installer that is right for your project and choice of technique. For example, the Insulating Concrete Form Association (ICFA) provides “a database of distributors and manufacturers of ICFs, experienced ICF contractors, ready-mix producers, designers, and even mortgage lenders that offer reduced interest rates for energy-efficient homes (http://www.forms.org/ ).” United States and Canadian concrete home construction contractors are listed here on The Concrete Network website.

More Information On This Topic:
The Concrete Network

Portland Cement Association (PCA)

Insulating Concrete Form Association (ICFA)

Environmental Council of Concrete Organizations (ECCO)

“Ask the Builder” by Nationally Syndicated Newspaper Columnist Tim Carter - “Fiber Cement Siding – It’s a Serious Contender!”

 


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