Concrete sinks were a popular showcased item at this year's Artistry in Decorative Concrete at World of Concrete 2008.
Bryan Haraway/Getty Images Concrete sinks were a popular showcased item at this year's Artistry in Decorative Concrete at World of Concrete 2008.

At the beginning of 2008, the residential construction market faces an uphill battle. Due to high home inventories as a result of overbuilding and the subprime mortgage crisis, housing starts are expected to decline 25% from 2007, according to the Portland Cement Association (PCA). The quantity of homes in the U.S. inventory may reach a 10-month supply by the end of this year.

As a concrete contractor, this information is not exactly music to your ears. Compounding this rather bleak outlook, home builders generally do not see construction activity pick up until the housing inventory supply reaches the neighborhood of a five months' supply. Per the PCA, this benchmark is not expected to be reached until sometime in the latter part of 2009.

But rather than curse the economy and the lousy housing market, now is the perfect time to make the case for concrete to become a critical part of residential construction.

How can this be done? You can start by promoting the pliable value of concrete for use in residential applications. Building from the ground up, a grass-roots effort by contractors to bestow the many short- and long-term benefits of concrete must begin immediately with architects and builders. Your discussions should focus on the variety of ways concrete can be incorporated in residential applications. Architects and builders must be made aware of these benefits that include energy efficiency, durability against natural disasters, and quiet living environment, as well as the ever-expanding and creative use of decorative concrete in interior and exterior residential applications. Although these architects and builders may be aware of the benefits of concrete, they may not know how to creatively incorporate concrete into their designs beyond the foundation. Your role as a contractor is to help them overcome the hurdle with the goal of making concrete a key ingredient in their design specifications.

One key factor you can reference due to the recent green movement in residential applications is that the public has become more conscious of the benefits of concrete, and some are asking that concrete be specified in residential applications. However, there is still plenty of opportunity for the use of concrete to evolve.

Earlier this year, for example, World of Concrete 2008 featured dozens of concrete applications specific to the residential marketplace. Products and services related to tilt-up concrete and insulating concrete forms had a major presence on the show floor. Not to be outdone on the decorative side, everything from countertops to sinks to concrete overlays were exhibited and demonstrated at the Artistry in Decorative Concrete demos.

The times are changing and the recent trend of building larger, extravagant custom homes is now over. Affordable homes, designed and built on the premise of sustainability, may come to dominate the landscape when the housing industry begins to recover from the stagnant sales. More important is that concrete can be used for more than just the foundation for this movement.