Concrete homes are sturdy, durable, and easy to heat and cool. On the downside, they tend to be more expensive than wooden models. Check out what goes into constructing one to decide if building a concrete house might be right for you.
Benefits of a Concrete House
There’s a long list of advantages to using concrete for your home. Durability is a big one.
Not only is a properly-placed concrete house going to stand for generations, but it will provide protection against natural disasters in a way traditional wood-frame, or stick-built, houses can’t.
That means your concrete house will likely stand up to hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, and wildfires.
In addition, concrete won’t succumb to common household issues such as rot, mold, and insect infestation. Termites aren’t going to chew through concrete.
Concrete is eco-friendly (sometimes). Sustainable architecture is a bit of a greenwashing term, especially considering the construction industry makes up about 40% of carbon emissions in the environment.
This is a combination of the materials used in construction, commonly referred to as embodied carbon, and the carbon emissions released during the life of the structure, called operational carbon.
Even at that, concrete offers many benefits that add up to make it a fairly environmentally-friendly material. The fact that it is so long-lasting means the materials will be used once, in contrast to homes that need to be rebuilt after a time.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of concrete homes is they are quite energy-efficient when properly built and equipped.
The natural interior temperature control will provide passive heating and cooling, resulting in lower utility costs for you and less energy consumption, which is good for the environment.
Concrete provides a comfortable environment within the home. Unlike wood homes, concrete blocks out drafts. It also blocks out noise, providing a quiet interior space.
Concrete houses can also be much faster to build than timber homes. However, this likely won’t be the case if you’re building it yourself rather than hiring it out.
A final benefit of concrete houses worth mentioning from an environmental standpoint is that the construction process results in less waste than traditional builds.
Cons of a Concrete House
The primary disadvantage of a concrete house is that it is more expensive than a stick-built design. This is mostly due to the time and specialized labor involved.
Concrete houses are not a new concept. They’ve been around a very long time. However, timber homes have prevailed as the primary option because they are less expensive to construct.
Plus, working with wood is easier from a DIY perspective.
In addition to the need for skilled laborers (from architects to concrete pourers), another deterrent for people considering a concrete house is the stark and cold aesthetics of concrete. We’ll talk more about that later.
So, Can I DIY a Concrete House?
Maybe. There are many factors to consider, such as your skill level, budget, and timeline.
Types of Concrete House Construction
If you’re considering building a concrete house, you may have a particular idea of what that process looks like. The truth is, however, there are many ways to build a concrete house.
The first uses masonry techniques. You can have concrete blocks custom made or you can rely on prefabricated standard blocks.
This is probably the easiest way for a DIY enthusiast to build their own concrete home--one block at a time. These blocks are manageable to maneuver into place and are held together with mortar.
Similarly, you could have concrete shapes poured onsite. This could be in the form of blocks, panels, or a combination of both.
In fact, you can pour entire walls and then lift them into place, much like the old method of barn raisings. Obviously, concrete is much heavier than a wood-framed wall, so it requires a crane and many hands to get the job done.
A more expensive and more convenient method is to have the concrete sections prefabricated in a factory. The custom pieces are then delivered to the job site like a building kit for a home.
By far, the most common way concrete is used in building houses is by creating a frame and pouring the walls into place.
If you’re comfortable building concrete frames, this is a doable DIY option, but don’t make the decision lightly. It requires precision and experience.
Not all concrete houses are 100% concrete. It’s common to use concrete to make exterior walls only. You can also vote to make exterior and interior walls concrete, but build the ceilings and floors out of a different material.
Finally, you can decide on concrete top to bottom with exterior and interior walls, ceilings, and floors made with the material.
Companies across the country are now specializing in both the products and the processes to make pour-in-place concrete houses easier to build.
Whether a builder is managing the process or you plan to tackle it yourself, reusable concrete forms make the job much easier, faster, and more accurate.
These forms are made from different materials but are typically lightweight and modular so you can use them for any length of wall or custom home footprint.
In other words, you don’t have to go with a basic square box if building a concrete home. You can make it any size and shape you want.
One option is called insulating concrete forms, or ICFs. They are used for building both foundations and above-grade walls.
Since they are easy to erect, they’re a versatile product that can be stacked like Legos to reach the desired heights.
They are insulated and reinforced with rebar along the way so most of the work is in the preparation, before the actual concrete pour.
ICFs are connected together and reinforced as needed before concrete is poured directly into them. After about 24 hours, the frames are then removed and can be reused on another job site.
Steps to Building a Concrete Home
Okay, so you’ve considered the pros and cons and figured out your building method. Now it’s time to move on with the build.
Step 1 - Planning a Concrete House
Every type of house has special considerations, but planning for a concrete home may require a bit of advice from an expert in the field.
You can buy a standardized blueprint for a concrete house online, or you can have an architect familiar with concrete homes draw one up for you.
If you already have schematics for a stick-built home, you can also convert that design into a concrete home.
There will be special considerations when planning a concrete home, such as the timing of electrical and plumbing work. Wires and pipes are typically installed prior to the concrete pour.
Also, know the regulations for concrete homes. For example, most concrete walls will measure four inches thick while ceilings will be six inches thick.
Many other regulations outline doorway widths, fire egresses, step height, and other standard building codes that apply to all types of architecture.
At the planning stage, also decide on the type of insulation technique you’ll be using. You can pour the concrete followed by an interior finish that contains the insulation. That means your interior wall will not be a concrete finish.
In reverse, you can have a concrete finish inside. Then place the insulation on the outside of the wall with a finish, such as stucco or siding, on the outside of that.
If you’re using forms, you can have a center of concrete with insulation on both the inside and outside. However, you won’t have any exposed concrete if that is part of the appeal for you.
Finally, you can choose to place the insulation in the middle with concrete on both sides. This is the most expensive option.
Step 2 - Mark the Footprint for Your Concrete House
With a ‘concrete’ plan in hand, you’ll clear the building site and mark out the footprint of the house. Mark every corner with stakes and connect them with twine or similar material.
Step 3 - Prepare the Footings
Footings are the concrete 'footprint' that is in contact with the ground. Footings support the foundation and therefore the entire structure. Make sure your footings are properly cured before moving on to the foundation.
Step 4 - Prepare and Pour the Concrete Foundation
Like any concrete pour, foundation construction begins by building a frame or placing prefabbed frames. Then pour your foundation, ensure it is square and level, and allow it the proper time to thoroughly dry.
Step 5 - Prepare for Concrete Walls
With your foundation in place, you’ll start building up. precisely place forms around the exterior of the foundation. Stagger each row so the seams in every other row match. This adds strength to the supports.
Measure wall lengths for accuracy. Also measure diagonally to ensure the structure is square. This will be important when you begin installing cabinets, flooring, and other interior components that rely on a square wall.
Step 6 - Complete Wiring and Plumbing
Once your frames are in place, you’ll be eager to get the cement onsite. However, there is much work to be done before that happens. Place rebar inside the frames. Install all wiring and plumbing as well as HVAC ducting.
All your systems need to be in place before pouring the concrete or you’ll be forced to mount conduit and other structures where they are visible inside the home.
Step 7 - Pour the Walls
Finally, it’s time to pour the walls. The process is the same as it is for the foundation. Ensure the wall frames are well supported before the pour. After the pour, allow the concrete to set and remove the frames after about 24 hours.
Step 8 - Pour Concrete Ceilings
Again, the technique is the same for pouring a ceiling as it is for walls and foundations. Place your frames, ensure accuracy, complete the pour, and allow proper dry time.
Step 9 - Install a Roof
Every home needs a roof. All types of roofs are an option in conjunction with a concrete home. It can be finished with concrete or you can go with a flat design. Of course, you can go traditional with prefab trusses or built-in-place supports.
Step 10 - All the Other Stuff
Once the concrete work is done, the home will need all the finishing touches any home requires. This includes the installation of windows and doors and porches or decking.
You’ll install cabinets, flooring, appliances, and other everyday surfaces.
Step 11 - Concrete Finishes
Above, we listed the finished look of concrete as a potential con of using the product.
However, the truth is you likely have a concrete home in your neighborhood and don’t even know it. The reason is that most concrete homes are covered with a facade that matches wood-built homes.
Concrete homes can be made to look like plaster, painted any color you choose, or covered with traditional siding materials. You can even add a layer of faux or real brick or stone if that’s the look you prefer.
The same is true for inside the house. You can cover the interior walls with a skim coat of plaster to make it look like a drywall finish. You can also paint concrete walls or cover them with sheetrock if you like.
Step 12 - Interior Design
Mounting shelves and hanging mirrors in a concrete house requires specialized hardware and tools. You won’t be able to simply hammer a nail into the wall or use a countersink.
Get a set of masonry drill bits and some masonry screws. Use them to mount your mirrors, art, cabinets, shelves, and everything else.
Layer in your rugs, window coverings, furniture, and soft furnishings for the finished look.
In conclusion, building a concrete home is no easy task. However, it’s possible with the right tools and techniques. It’s up to you to decide whether it’s within your DIY capabilities.
If you’re set on designing and building a concrete home, check out the Best Concrete Drill for the Home, consider a heated floor with How to Pour Concrete Floor Radiant Heat, and discover Making a Polished Concrete Floor.