The possibilities of concrete construction have captured the imagination of an increasing portion of the residential construction and home-buying public in recent years. With interest driven primarily by devastating impacts of hurricanes in the southeastern U.S., and forest fires in California, the use of concrete for residential construction of above-grade walls has grown substantially in the United States over the past fifteen years.
The overall market share of concrete construction in new single-family detached housing, in the form of concrete block, cast-in-place systems, pre-cast concrete, or insulated concrete forms (ICF), rose every year from 1993 through 2005, increasing from less than 0.1 percent of the market in 1993 to 17.9 percent in 2005 – spectacular growth by any measure.
However, recent steep declines in home building activity in the two largest concrete construction markets – Florida and California – and rising raw material costs relative to competing materials have led to a drop in the overall concrete home market share. From the 17.9 percent of above-grade walls attained in 2005, market share declined to 14.4 percent in 2007. Insulated concrete form (ICF) construction has also seen market fluctuation, from a 0.7 percent market share in 1997, ICF construction grew to 4.7 percent in 2006, and then declined slightly in 2007 to 4.5 percent of the residential market (ICF Builder 2008). Even with these adjustments, concrete construction in the residential market remains quite substantial compared to a decade ago.
Today, concrete construction of residential homes is being promoted as environmentally advantageous to alternative forms of construction. Claimed advantages of concrete include an ability to recycle and to incorporate recycled content, high durability, and superior energy efficiency of some concrete construction systems. This article examines the science behind these and other claims.