Precast concrete offers a superior solution in residential construction.
In 2005, there were more than 2 million housing starts in the United States, including both single-family and multifamily construction. Also in 2005, the United States was visited by four major hurricanes and three tropical storms, causing an estimated $150 billion dollars in total damage. Hurricane Katrina alone destroyed as many as 275,000 homes in the Gulf Coast region.
With so much destruction, it is difficult to see the bright side of things. However, in the time since Hurricane Andrew blasted across Florida in 1992, the construction industry has learned at least one important lesson: Concrete products are the best construction material to reduce damage and destruction caused by storms. This became clear when damage assessment teams made their way through the ruins and found that the homes constructed with concrete products remained standing and suffered comparatively minor damage.
In addition to remaining tough under severe weather conditions, there are many other benefits of using precast concrete for residential construction.
Resistance to mold
If you were to survey home insurance providers to list the top concerns for their industry, not only would they list hurricanes and tropical storms, but they would likely mention mold. Mold is a multifaceted problem for insurance providers and homeowners. Insurance companies are forced to either pay out large sums to fix the mold problems when they’re spotted or discontinue their mold insurance coverage altogether. This transfers all of the risk to the homeowner who could have built with concrete in the first place. Timber frame homes are havens for mold growth. Wood offers mold the vital food source for growth, but concrete lacks that food source and is resistant to mold growth.
Homeowner energy savings
Historically, the thermal performance of a building material has been measured in terms of R-values, a function of resistance to heat flow during constant temperature. Unfortunately, this is an idealized laboratory condition and is generally not representative of real-world conditions.
Although not yet referred to as a popular measure of a material’s thermal performance, thermal mass is becoming more and more recognized as a key indicator of energy savings in construction today. Conventional concrete typically has a low R-value, but a high thermal mass. Common homebuilding materials, such as timber framing and batt insulation, have a relatively high R-value but a low thermal mass.
Optimally, a material that has both a high R-value and thermal mass would provide a superior solution to home heating and cooling. This is achieved with precast concrete panels that have integral insulation. Thermal mass also plays a significant part in stabilizing interior temperatures during the cyclic heating and cooling that occurs outdoors. During cooler months, the concrete absorbs heat during the daytime and releases this heat at night. The opposite occurs in warm months. The thermal mass effectively lowers the peak heating and cooling loads on the HVAC system inside the home.
The strength of precast concrete gradually increases over time. Other materials can deteriorate, shrink, experience creep and stress relaxation, lose strength or deflect over time. The load-carrying capacity of precast concrete is derived from its own structural qualities and does not rely on the strength or quality of the surrounding materials.
Studies have shown that precast concrete products can provide a service life in excess of 100 years. For severe service conditions, additional design options are available that can extend the life of the precast concrete product.
Precast concrete is noncombustible. Unfortunately, timber frame construction is highly susceptible to fire damage. In addition, concrete retains its structural capacity better than steel under extreme heat, which is now a significant consideration as witnessed in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the subsequent collapse of the Twin Towers.
The combination of both concrete and insulation provide excellent soundproofing. Diminished noise from weather and traffic allows for undisturbed sleeping patterns for the resident. You can also rest assured that a precast concrete home will withstand whatever nature throws at it.
Precast concrete can be made in any shape or form and with a very high degree of detail. For example, precast concrete can be made into radius shapes, a process virtually impossible to do with other building materials. Trim and components such as lintels, window sills, banding and door surrounds can all be cast into one piece. Precast concrete can also be used for the foundations, floors and even roofs of homes. Its design flexibility allows homeowners to reduce overall costs through repetition of products and speed of construction. A typical home can be erected and enclosed in a day or two.
Precast concrete has a distinct advantage over other building materials. It can be made to resemble diverse finishes like brick, stone, wood, smooth concrete, various textures and patterns, exposed aggregate and combination finishes. The possibilities are limited only by the imagination.
Several materials may also be cast into precast concrete as a veneer, such as granite, marble, brick, stone or terra cotta. This option allows for the advantages of precast concrete with a natural material finish. Precast concrete can also be made in an abundance of colors by using combinations of aggregates, cements and pigments. Precast concrete can match existing architecture and older, weathered materials, making it the ultimate aesthetic choice.
As a direct result of precast concrete’s high resistance to water, moisture, mold, heat, fire and insects, it is also a material that requires little maintenance. Wear and tear over time has negligible effect on concrete.
Construction using precast concrete can be completed much more quickly than conventional timber frame or cast-in-place concrete construction. Precast concrete products are manufactured off site in a quality controlled environment and delivered to the job site ready to install.
There are numerous benefits of using precast concrete in home construction. Precast products are increasingly taking up residence in homes because of their inherent quality, value and permanence. For more information on precast concrete home building, contact NPCA at (800) 366-7731 or visit the NPCA website.