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Concrete Building Systems Gaining Ground
Volatile lumber prices, sudden supply disruptions and rising environmental concerns have prompted many builders to take a look at alternative building materials.
Volatile lumber prices, sudden supply disruptions and rising environmental concerns have prompted many builders to take a look at alternative building materials. Across the board, the use of alternative materials—steel, engineered lumber and tilt-wall to name a few—is up. One of the materials making the fastest inroad is concrete. For many builders it is proving a cost-effective, quality alternative to wood-frame construction.
As the advantages of concrete home building systems—superior strength, increased sound absorption, greater energy efficiency and disaster resistance—the overall market share of above-grade concrete walls continues to show impressive growth.
In 1998, 125,000 homes were built using concrete systems for exterior walls—a 10.7% market share. This represents a 350% increase since 1993, when market share was 3%.
New types of concrete block and advances in rigid foam insulation and in construction methods have combined to provide concrete building systems that outperform lumber building systems in strength, durability, energy efficiency, maintenance requirements, sound resistance and environmental impact.
Concrete construction does carry a cost premium of about 2% to 5% over traditional 2x4 wood framing.
A section on Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs) is being published in the International Residential Code text next year for the first time. Builders will be able to select wall thicknesses and reinforcement requirements from the prescriptive tables. The code identifies three different flat wall, waffle grid and screen grids, which account for 95% of all ICF systems.
Different agencies within the federal government are also contributing to the growth of concrete building systems. The Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH), Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Energy’s Energy Star Program are all exploring the need to promote environmentally sound and economically feasible alternatives to wood framing.
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