What is a Concrete House?
A concrete house is a home with concrete as its primary structural element, including concrete bearing walls. The concrete walls can be exposed or faced with other materials. The foundation and floors would be made of concrete, and even the roof structure of a concrete house can be concrete.
Concrete is an extremely strong and durable material making it a great choice for home construction. One important thing to know is that concrete houses are less common than many other construction forms but may be growing in popularity.
I am Jorge Fontan, an architect in New York and owner of Fontan Architecture in NYC. At our office, we have worked on various project types, including designing new Concrete Homes. We have built several concrete houses, and in this article, we will discuss why we have built concrete homes and a few advantages of owning one.
Concrete House Design Video
Concrete House Pros and Cons
Concrete Houses Pros:
- Durable Construction
- Highly Fire Rated Structure
- The flexibility of Material and Design
- Concrete can be formed into just about any shape or design you want.
- Aesthetics, Modern design (This is a Pro and a Con for some people)
- Some people love the look of exposed concrete some don’t. This one is subjective.
- You can build facades of any material over concrete or expose the concrete.
- Excellent for High-Risk areas
- Flood Zones
- I have always believed that the most important aspect of sustainability is building something that lasts a very long time. Concrete is perfect in this regard.
- Low Maintenance
- Common Material
- Concrete is a ubiquitous material that is available just about anywhere.
Concrete House Cons:
- A concrete house will always be more expensive than a wood frame (stick-built) house.
- Availability of skilled labor
- You need a good contractor to build a concrete house. Finding someone who has done it before may be difficult. I have built several concrete homes as an architect, but you may not find a local architect who has. This depends on your location.
- Aesthetics (This is a Pro for some people and a Con for others)
- Only some people like the look of concrete. It is definitely a more modern design aesthetic.
- Concrete can be covered with any material or even poured to replicate other materials.
Types of Concrete Houses
Different techniques for building a concrete home exist, such as poured-in-place, precast, or ICF. The house I am showing photos of in this post is a poured-in-place concrete house.
Poured-In-Place Concrete Homes
A poured-in-place concrete home is built on-site. Concrete forms are set up and the concrete is poured in the field.
Advantages of a Poured-in-Place Concrete Home
- More cost-effective
- No need to crane large slabs of concrete
- Poured concrete may be more locally available
- Reduce the number of joints
- No shipping of large precast panels
Disadvantages to Poured in Place Concrete Homes
- Quality control is harder on poured in place
- More opportunities for things to go wrong
- Availability of experienced, skilled labor will vary
- Chance of inconsistency in concrete mix
- Concrete samples and testing needed on site
- Aesthetic consistency will vary
Precast Concrete Homes
Precast concrete is poured in a factory or shop. Precasting brings greater quality control and consistency but increases costs on smaller projects.
Advantages of Precast Concrete Homes
- Higher level of quality control
- Greater chance of consistency in the aesthetic of the concrete panels
- Less dependent on the availability of local labor
- Testing and sampling are done in a factory or shop
- Potential cost savings on large-scale projects with standardized components
Disadvantages of Precast Concrete Homes
- More expensive on smaller projects
- Availability may be an issue
- It may need to be shipped from a great distance
- Requires a crane on site
- More joints
Concrete Home Construction
Durability has to be the number one advantage of a concrete home. We have built a few in New York and started doing so after Super Storm Sandy. The storm destroyed hundreds of homes, and we got involved in building concrete houses to replace them. Of course, you can make a concrete house anywhere, but we found that concrete homes can be a great solution in a flood zone, hurricane zone, or other high-risk areas. Check out another post we wrote on Flood Zone Design to learn more about building in the flood zone.
Advantages of Concrete Houses
Disaster Proof – In case of a flood or hurricane, a reinforced concrete house will have a far greater structural value. Concrete can take a beating and survive extreme weather and disasters far better than most houses.
Durable – Concrete, when done right, is a highly durable material. Concrete houses are built to last.
Energy Efficient – Building a concrete house is not inherently energy efficient, but with the proper design, it can be extremely efficient and sustainable.
Fireproof Construction – Concrete is a noncombustible material. This characteristic means you do not have to worry about fire like in a wood-framed house.
Material Flexibility – Concrete is poured into forms. It can literally be made into any shape, size, or pattern you like.
Insulating a Concrete House
I was once on a construction site for a concrete house we were building, and two guys walked down the street. I heard one guy say to the next guy, “That’s so stupid you can’t insulate a concrete house.” Well, I have to tell you, he was just wrong. There are many different ways to insulate a concrete house. When designed and built properly, a concrete home can easily outperform a typical house regarding insulation, temperature control, and sustainability. Concrete is an excellent option for sustainability (when done right). Insulation in new homes is important, and you should understand your options.
Concrete Insulating Options
You can separate interior and exterior concrete with insulation. This system provides concrete on the interior and exterior walls with insulation sandwiched in the middle.
Use ICF – Insulated Concrete Forms. These are concrete in the middle of your wall with insulation on the inside and outside face of the wall. The interior walls are Sheetrock, and the exterior walls require a finish material. This house does not have exposed concrete. You will never see the concrete in this type of house.
Use EIFS – Exterior Insulation and Finish System. You can build a concrete wall with concrete on the inside. You put insulation on the outside face and then put a finish material over the insulation. Typical construction types are stucco exterior or rain screen construction with siding or panels. This house can have an exposed concrete interior.
Build a box in a box. We do this on most of our concrete houses. The house is built as a concrete box with an insulated box on the inside. This house can have an exposed concrete exterior.
In warm climates, this is a lesser concern. Concrete houses can be a good choice in warm temperatures because they tend to keep the house relatively cool with little to no insulation. They can also be built in frigid climates with the proper insulation and air-sealing design.
Poured In Place Concrete
Below is a picture of poured-in-place concrete walls during construction on a concrete house we built in Breezy Point, NY.
Concrete House Design
You may or may not like the look of a concrete house. Concrete house designs can vary and look very modern or traditional. One advantage of concrete is there is no limit to the different designs you can do with this material. The house below is elevated on concrete columns because it is in the flood zone. This house has an exposed concrete exterior. This house was poured in place.
Concrete House Construction
Building a concrete house is very different from typical home construction. Make sure to work with qualified professionals.
The three biggest concerns for Concrete House Construction are:
- Quality Of Work
You can expect that Concrete House Construction takes longer to build than a wood frame house. Concrete Home Construction is more expensive than many other types of construction. When building a concrete house, you need to be concerned with the quality of work. Concrete is an unforgiving material. If you make a mistake, it will not be easy to fix.
Concrete Home Design and Construction
We have another post on Why Concrete Houses are Safer if you are interested. In this article, we reviewed some basic concepts regarding Concrete Homes. This post does not assume to cover every possible issue or condition but provides a general overview of the topic.
Thank You for reading our Blog Post on Concrete Home Design.
I hope this was helpful. Contact us at Fontan Architecture directly if you want to speak with an architect about a potential project.
This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 20 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.