Article No: 27

2006-04-28 14:16:23
Cast-in-place concrete homes

With the popularity of concrete homes at an all-time high, a relatively new concrete home construction method promises to play a major role in the future growth of the concrete home market. Cast-in-place concrete construction, which involves setting up removable forms for the pouring of concrete walls, poses an alternative to concrete masonry, insulating concrete form (ICF), precast and tilt-up methods.

Photo courtesy of Concrete Homes Council

The cast-in-place method is being advocated by the Concrete Homes Council, a new organization recently created as a part of the Concrete Foundations Association. The council, which is sponsored by manufacturers of removable forming systems and the Portland Cement Association, believes that cast-in-place concrete housing — already popular in many other parts of the world — has the potential to catch on rather quickly in the United States.

For one, cast-in-place construction lends itself to large-scale projects such as multi-family apartment complexes or condominiums, as well as large single-family home developments or subdivisions. But perhaps more important, the Concrete Homes Council and the CFA represent a large network of basement contractors who already have experience with below grade cast-in-place concrete walls.

"What you've got is a whole army of contractors out there that are already familiar with concrete wall construction," says Jim Niehoff, residential promotion manager for the Portland Cement Association. "They simply have to make the transition to building concrete walls above ground. I think that's a much easier transition than expecting a wood-frame builder to start building concrete walls."

One of the explicit goals of the Concrete Homes Council is to convince basement contractors belonging to the CFA to try their hand at building homes with above grade concrete walls. For this reason, the Concrete Homes Council functions as part of the Concrete Foundations Association rather than as a separate organization.

"Rather than go out and form another association that basically consisted of everybody who was already a member of the CFA, it made more sense to make the Concrete Homes Council part of CFA," says CFA executive director Ed Sauter. The council was formed after last year's World of Concrete show, where Hanley-Wood's Joe Nasvik approached CFA representatives with the idea to start an organization dedicated to promoting cast-in-place concrete homes.

Sauter says the Concrete Homes Council is patterned after the Decorative Concrete Council, which functions under the umbrella of the American Society of Concrete Contractors. The Concrete Homes Council is mostly autonomous, but still answerable to the CFA's board of directors, he adds. "But they raise their own money, and they spend their own money pretty much as they see fit."

Members of the Concrete Homes Council include form manufacturers, builders, developers, concrete contractors and other concrete industry figures. The council is sponsored by the Portland Cement Association, as well as form manufacturers Durand Forms of Durand, Mich., Outinord Universal of Miami, and Precise Forms, Wall-Ties & Forms and Western Forms, all based in the Kansas City, Mo., area.

Photo courtesy of Concrete Homes Council

Cast-in-place construction

The cast-in-place concrete construction advocated by the Concrete Homes Council uses temporary forms, typically made of aluminum. Rigid foam insulation is usually placed between the forms and held in place with a system of non-conductive ties. Then concrete is poured on either side of the foam. Steel rebar is also generally used to add strength to the wall. Once the concrete has cured, the forms can be removed and reused as many as 3,000 times with a minimum of maintenance.

Cast-in-place, or poured-in-place, concrete homes are typically constructed in one of three ways:

    * Only the exterior walls are cast-in-place concrete.
    * Both exterior and interior walls are cast-in-place concrete.
    * The floor/ceiling, exterior walls and interior walls are all cast-in place concrete.

Projected growth

The goal of the Concrete Homes Council is to build a total of 100,000 homes based on the three methods over the next five years. Several projects are already underway or completed in Wisconsin, North and South Carolina, Missouri, Kansas and Florida. Cast-in-place concrete was also used for several Habitat for Humanity homes built recently in Atlanta, New Orleans and Houston. (See the related story in the April/May issue of Concrete Homes.)

"Most of the building so far has been scattered lot development," says Concrete Homes Council member Carl Engelken, who is national sales manager with Wall-Ties & Forms. "Our real goal is to get into entry- to mid-level housing developments."

Breaking into the production housing market should be only a matter of time for the members of the Concrete Homes Council, according to the PCA's Niehoff. "I think within a couple of years they could potentially gain some really significant market share," he says.

The key, Niehoff says, will be convincing the CFA contractor base to enter the concrete home market. That may not be so difficult, with a recent survey showing that 86 percent of the CFA's members are already considering building concrete homes. Also, many CFA contractors are well-positioned to meet heavy demand. "Generally the amount of capital required to be in the poured wall business is pretty significant, so most of them tend to be pretty savvy businessmen as well," Niehoff says.

Another factor working in favor of the Concrete Homes Council is the awareness of concrete homes generated by the recent growth of the ICF market. "In part the ICF people have helped blaze the trail there," Sauter says. "They've helped convince contractors that concrete housing is viable."

Cast-in-place and ICF systems

With cast-in-place concrete homes poised for rapid growth, the emergence of the Concrete Homes Council could easily be seen as a threat to the ICF industry. However, the PCA's Niehoff disagrees. "We view the two systems really as complementing each other," Niehoff says.

"We've been primarily pushing ICFs for the last several years, even though we've always advocated all types of above ground concrete wall systems," continues Niehoff. "I think the Concrete Homes Council gives us a whole new weapon in our arsenal. I don't think that promoting a cast-in-place system is going to be at the expense of ICFs at all. This just lets people know that there's more than one option if they decide to build with concrete."

Although there have been several exceptions, ICFs have been primarily used for high-end custom houses. Cast-in-place systems, meanwhile, are better suited for production housing where repetition is involved.

"The ICF people have done a great job accommodating custom homes and that sort of thing," says Ron Ward, vice president with Western Forms and a member of the Concrete Homes Council. "But when it crosses over to 50 units, 100 units or 500 units, people from our council are going to win the day, from a production standpoint and a cost standpoint."

Instead of trying to compete with one another, the ICF and cast-in place industries are looking to take market share away from a common adversary — the wood framing industry.

"By and large, wood is still viewed as the housing material of choice in the United States," Sauter says. "We have to try to change that perception."