You see it in contemporary homes especially in spy movies — slick, window-laden contemporary concrete homes spread out on hilltops. Borrowing a concept from the ancient Romans, if you want a structure to last for centuries (think Coliseum, aqueducts) build it out of concrete.
While Europeans and those in other parts of the world (especially countries lacking in wood supply) embraced concrete as a whole-house building material long ago, it has taken Americans awhile longer to literally bring the concept home.
But it’s here and finally catching on. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the market share of concrete homes has steadily increased in recent years, with a variety of exterior above-grade concrete wall systems, including masonry construction, which uses concrete blocks to form the basic structure of a home; cast-in-place forms, which are filled with concrete to create walls, then removed once the concrete is hardened; precast panels, which are cast in a factory and then assembled in large sections at the job site; and insulating concrete forms (ICFs), where concrete is pumped between two layers of foam insulation to form walls.
More homeowners are discovering that concrete is the chameleon of construction, able to take on the texture of wood or glass, absorbing color beyond drab gray and, with the latest addition of structural fibers and plasticizers, is less prone to cracking. Used properly, concrete beams like the ageless stone of old, sculptural and timeless.
Concrete has been around since Romans mixed lime, sand, and rubble with volcanic ash to create the Pantheon dome. Modern concrete swaps out the volcanic ash for portland cement. The sturdiest concrete homes are reinforced with steel, making them strong enough to withstand fires, floods, and hurricanes — not a small concern in these days of natural disasters.
Concrete homes are typically 3% to 5% more expensive to build than conventional homes, but they’re less expensive to maintain and more durable over time, lowering heating and cooling costs and even insurance premiums. In addition to being more disaster-resistant, they are more insect resistant, more mold resistant, and one of the most energy-efficient systems available.
Investing in concrete construction with high-end finishes may pay off in resale value as well. Lots of windows, polished concrete floors, and floating staircases, all of which are not unusual on concrete designs, are easy to sell. When imprinted with a pattern, concrete can be a dramatic design element.
Custom wooden forms have been created to cast the concrete walls, floors, and ceilings. Exposed concrete ceilings can pose a challenge, however — where can you hide the home’s wiring and other elements? For that, architects have come up with wood-framed structures that float just below the ceiling, housing cove lights, speakers, air-conditioning vents and venting for the kitchen cooktop. Each structure is lined with a sound panel made of polypropylene material, to balance out the echo and soften the audio feel of the house.
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