Welcome to the first Possibilities in Precast column. Precast concrete is a versatile product, and its range of applications continues to grow. This new section will appear in future issues of Precast Solutions to keep you on top of emerging products and technologies within the precast industry.
By Kirk Stelsel
When it comes to residential construction, change often comes slowly. A number of factors, however, have led to new techniques and alternate building materials making headway into the market in recent years. In the 2000s, a series of hurricanes left Gulf Coast cities forever changed, a rapidly growing emphasis on sustainability emerged, and the recession refocused contractors and homeowners on cost savings and quality.
Precast concrete provides a solution for all of these needs and, as a result, is becoming a go-to product for various applications in residential construction. The concept of using precast for home building is not new, but it has never been closer to reaching the forefront than now.
Plant-made precast concrete products have been heavily used in commercial and infrastructure construction for years because they offer durability, quality and quick installation. There are no delays due to weather, plant-production quality is ensured, and just-in-time delivery keeps construction moving along.
These same benefits also apply to home building. A precast framework, including footings, foundations, floors, walls and, if needed, steps as well as products for wastewater and stormwater management, (Figure 3) can be installed in a fraction of the time required by other methods.
The result is cost savings on construction time and labor and an earlier completion date for the homeowner. The completed home is resistant to high winds and seismic activity, offers a savings on energy costs due to the thermal mass properties of concrete and built-in insulation, reduces maintenance costs, and better protects homeowners from fire, insects, vermin and other pests.
In addition to a long service life, rapid installation and resistance to forces of nature, the use of precast also contributes to points needed to attain LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. Precast is made using regionally sourced materials, typically includes recycled content and can help reduce site disturbance.
The precast industry has also become increasingly focused on refined and finished architectural products over the years. Precast can offer a wide range of aesthetic versatility, including veneers to achieve a brick or natural stone exterior (Figures 1 and 2) that is long lasting and less expensive. Precast pavers, fences and retaining walls can be added to match the exterior of the home and increase service life, and custom precast shops can even provide decor pieces such as fountains, statues, benches and tables.
On the interior, precast countertops have become increasingly popular, and precast can mimic clay, brick, stone, ceramic, tile, terra cotta and even limestone for various other interior applications. Precast products can also be used for door and window trim, baseboards, fireplaces and much more.
The opportunities for precast use in residential construction are nearly endless and can provide contractors and homeowners with a finished product that is beautiful, sustainable, affordable, functional, durable and, best of all, comfortable.
Kirk Stelsel is communication manager for the National Precast Concrete Association.