Florida residents embrace cast-in-place concrete homes
By: Cyndee DuHadaway
When the division leaders of Mercedes Homes in Melbourne, Fla. wanted to build a more innovative home, they researched the latest building materials and techniques. The result of their research led them to begin building with concrete solid walls, according to Kirk Malone, Mercedes Home corporate vice president of construction.
"The result has been phenomenal," Malone said. "Two years ago we were pouring two houses a week. Now we're pouring three a day."
Since its decision to build using solid concrete walls, more than 220 homes have been completed and another 1,000 homes are planned. Mercedes Homes is currently pouring three homes every 24 hours, and plan to double that rate, pouring as many as eight homes a day, according to Vince Heuser, Solid Wall System manager
Since its establishment in 1984, Mercedes Homes was ranked the 29th largest builder in the United States according to Builder Magazine's "Builder 100" edition, and is the seventh largest Florida construction firm, according to Top Rank Florida Magazine. The company is 12 divisions strong with six subsidiary companies, including the concrete wall subsidiary, Solid Wall System.
Superior construction method
"The Solid Wall System we use in Mercedes Homes is superior to frame building and concrete block methods for a variety of reasons," Heuser said. "The strength of the home, insulation, pest resistance and fire resistance of Solid Wall System-built homes is far superior to both wood-frame and concrete block homes "
Homes built with Solid Wall System are more storm resistant and energy efficient, two factors Heuser said he believes make the home building system so attractive to home buyers in Florida, where hot weather and hurricanes are constant facts of life.
"We have an extensive steel setup with three or four times the rebar in a standard basement," Heuser explained. "Solid Wall System combines that extensive rebar system with six-inch wide walls of concrete. The result is a sturdier, more energy efficient home."
While Florida may be a paradise of palm trees and sunny skies, it is also an area predisposed to heat, humidity, hurricanes and pests, all factors that Malone said were considered when making the decision to go concrete.
"The Solid Wall System wall itself can withstand in excess of 200 mph wind gusts, making it more durable in a hurricane-prone area," Malone said.
The thickness and density of the Solid Wall System provides maximum protection from fires, storms and wind gusts. Debris driven by high winds presents the greatest hazard to building occupants during storms, according to testing performed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Solid concrete walls can help prevent wind-driven debris from traveling through exterior walls, whereas traditional wood-framed walls lack the weight, mass and significant rebar anchor to resist the impact of wind-driven debris.
Some of the same characteristics that make Solid Wall System more wind resistant make it more energy efficient.
"We did some testing with Steven Winter Associates and found possible energy savings of up to 30 percent," Malone said.
"Compared to a typical concrete block home, we get a 30 percent or better rate of energy efficiency with Solid Wall System homes," Heuser said. "And the rates can be as much as 50 percent more energy efficient than many wood-frame houses."
On the clock
Heuser said the Solid Wall System-built homes are manpower efficient as well.
"Scheduling the build-time is more consistent and faster than block or wood homes," Heuser said.
Once the home site and house plan are chosen, the Solid Wall System team moves in with a precision plan that runs like clockwork.
"We average 80 to 85 man hours, from tying the steel, setting the forms, pumping the concrete and stripping the forms," Heuser said. "The process is more efficient that laying blocks, because you've got the same crews doing the same work, with no leftover blocks and sand to contend with.
"At the beginning of the process, we tie the steel, and then it is inspected by local building inspectors. Then we put up the forms. "We usually set and pump the same day."
Heuser said the average size home built with Solid Wall System in Florida is currently 2,100 to 2,200-square feet of living space with an additional two-car garage.
"That's about 230-lineal feet of concrete wall," he said. "The walls are usually 9 feet high with aluminum window bucks to block out the primarily commodity-sized windows."
The end result is a solidly constructed, well-designed home that is finished in stucco, a perfect balance with the surrounding Florida landscape.
Cost differences recouped
In addition to a more uniform construction schedule and increased efficiency in building methods, Heuser said that in many cases, the cost of building with the concrete and rebar Solid Wall System is similar to other methods of home building.
"In most cases, the cost is the same or very minimally different," Heuser said. "When the cost is a little higher, it's usually less than a thousand-dollar difference, and with the energy savings most home owners say they've recouped the small additional cost within the first year."
Malone said the home prices currently range from $100,000-$250,000 and are low-maintenance as well as affordable, making them attractive to a range of homeowners, from first-time buyers to empty nesters and people retiring to the area.
Florida embracing concrete
"The concrete constructed homes have been very well received," Malone said. "We sell out as soon as we open sales to the public."
Heuser said that from a builder's standpoint, Solid Wall System is also preferable because the cost of building is constant year-to-year.
Because Solid Wall System constructs with concrete, the risks of rotting, burning or damage from insects is practically non-existent, according to Heuser.
"Solid Wall System effectively buffer the home's interior from the outdoors with six inches of concrete, which significantly reduces fluctuations in indoor air temperature, air infiltration and noise."
"Concrete is really catching on in Florida," Heuser said. "It just makes sense. With the energy savings, wind resistance and the efficient building methods, I strongly believe that within the next 10 years, you won't see very many wood-frame or cement block houses being built in this area."
Solid Wall System-built homes reflect the values of quality and craftsmanship inherent in all Mercedes Homes. The concrete wall system is the result of the company's extensive research and its quest for the best and latest techniques and technology in modern home building. Malone said the Solid Wall System homes are designed for safety, comfort and ease of living, and are built to withstand the tests of time.
"I'd like to see us convert our main market to Solid Wall System in our Florida division," Malone said. "I can really see it taking off."
In fact, the folks at Mercedes Homes are so sure of their product that many team members own their own Solid Wall System homes.
"The lower level of my home is Solid Wall," Malone said. "It's quiet, it's energy efficient and it's built with a strength that gives me great piece of mind."
Cyndee DuHadaway is a freelance writer from Austin, Texas, specializing in writing about home design, building and decorating.