A concrete house is a home that is built with concrete as its primary structural element, specifically with 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 a durable and readily available material. In the past few years at Fontan Architecture we have built several concrete houses. In this article we will discuss why we have built concrete homes and a few advantages to owning one.
- Concrete House Pros and Cons
- Types of Concrete Houses
- Concrete Home Construction
- Sustainability of Concrete Homes
Concrete House Design Video
Concrete House Pros and Cons
Concrete Houses Pros:
- Durable Construction
- Highly Fire Rated Structure
- 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 concrete some don’t this one is subjective.
- You can build facades of of any material over concrete or expose the concrete.
- Excellent for High Risk areas
- Flood Zones
- I have always held by my belief 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 then a wood frame 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. As an architect I have built several concrete houses 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)
- Not everyone likes 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. As in the photo below that is not siding over concrete that is concrete made to look like siding to fit in with the neighborhood.
Types Of Concrete Houses
- Poured In Place Concrete
- Precast Concrete
Poured In Place Concrete Homes
A poured in place concrete home is built on site. Concrete forms are set up and and the concrete is poured in the field.
Advantages to 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 opportunity 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. This brings a greater level of quality control and consistency but increases cost 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 availability of local labor
- Testing and sampling is done in a factory or shop
- Potential cost savings on large scale projects with standardized components
Disadvantages to Precast Concrete Homes
- More expensive on smaller projects
- Availability may be an issue
- May need to be shipped from great distance
- Requires a crane on site
- More joints
Concrete Home Construction
Durability has to be the number one advantage to a concrete home. We have built a few in New York and started doing so after Super Storm Sandy. Hundreds of homes were destroyed by the storm, and we got involved building concrete houses to replace them. Of course you can build a concrete house anywhere but we found that in a flood zone, hurricane zone. or other high risk areas concrete homes can be a great solution. 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 would.
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 when done right it can be extremely efficient and sustainable.
Fireproof Construction – Concrete is a noncombustible material. This means you do not have to worry about fire like you would 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. The image of a yellow house is a concrete house and no that isn’t siding over a concrete wall. That is a concrete wall. This house was built in Breezy Point, NY. Almost all of the houses there have siding. This house was built with wood slats in the form work so that the actual concrete would take the shape of siding. The window trim, eaves, gutters are all poured in place concrete.
Insulating a Concrete House
I was once on a construction site for a concrete house we were building and 2 guys walk 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, they were just wrong. There are actually many different ways to insulate a concrete house and in fact a concrete house when designed and built properly can easily outperform a typical house with regards to insulation, temperature control, and sustainability. Concrete is an excellent option if you are planning to build a sustainable house. Insulation in new homes is important and you should understand your options.
The Detail drawing shows a wall section of a concrete house we are going to build in Far Rockaway, NY. In this particular house the client wants concrete on the inside and on the outside. You will notice a pink ribbon in the drawing that is continuous rigid insulation that separates the exterior concrete from the interior concrete. So in the winter the interior concrete is warm and stays warm and the exterior concrete is cold and does not touch the interior structure. There are many other techniques for insulating concrete homes this is just one, we wont get into detail on all of them, but here are a few methods.
Concrete Insulating Options
Separate interior and exterior concrete with insulation. This allows for concrete on interior and exterior walls as shown in the detail drawing.
Use ICF – Insulated Concrete Forms. These are concrete in the middle of your wall with insulation on the inside and outside. The interior walls are Sheetrock and the exterior walls required a finish material. This house does not have exposed concrete you will never see the concrete in this type of house. This house can have an exposed concrete exterior and exposed concrete interior if you like.
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 them 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 obviously a lesser concern. Concrete houses are actually more popular in warm climates because they tend to keep the house relatively cool with little to no insulation. They can also be built in very cold climates with the proper insulation and air sealing design.
Interior Concrete Finishes
Below is a photo of an interior Concrete Finish in one of our projects. You can read another post we wrote to learn more about Interior Concrete Finishes.
If you choose to build with exposed concrete you can always cover the material or disguise it as another material. Many people do not like the look of raw concrete. in the 1950s, 60s and 70s buildings with exposed concrete became popular and these buildings were often referred to as Brutalist Architecture. Although some people, such as myself, liked Brutalism many did not. As a material concrete can be used to achieve lots of different looks. It can be rough, smooth, polished, you can even mimic other materials as we have shown above with the poured in place concrete siding. Below is a photo of a showroom I worked on a few years ago with a polished concrete floor.
Poured In Place Concrete
Below is a picture of poured in place concrete walls in a concrete house we did in Breezy Point, NY. This concrete is not polished you will see a distinct difference between this and the photo above of the polished floor.
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. The advantage of concrete is there is no limit to the different designs you can do with this material. You can always build it to look like a more traditional house as we have shown. Or if you like the look you can make a modern concrete home like the one below. The house is elevated on concrete columns because it is in the flood zone. This house will have a concrete exterior and interior. As well as a roof deck, with a small green roof, solar panels and rain water collecting for use in gardening.
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
In this article we reviewed some of the basic concepts with regards to Concrete Homes. This post does not assume to cover every possible issue or condition, but provide a general overview of the topic.
Thank You for reading our Blog Post on Concrete Home Design.
Please feel free to leave questions or comments below. If you want to speak with an architect about a project you are planning you can contact our office directly.
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 15 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.