Concrete is widely used for residential construction in other parts of the world but has been a hard sell in the United States, despite the fact that concrete resists earthquakes, wind, and fire and serves the spectrum from economical housing to upscale custom homes. As recounted in the pages of Concrete Construction, the first “gravel wall” house was built a century before the magazine was founded. This country's first reinforced concrete house came in on the high end: Ward's Castle, a one-of-a-kind mansion built in 1875, is now on the National Register of Historic Places. A few decades later Thomas Edison sought to bring affordable concrete homes to a broad market with his patented monolithic design.
Many techniques have been developed for cost-effective concrete housing. In addition to continuing coverage of residential tilt-up construction, Concrete Construction has reported on such methods as the Uni-Con process for spraying concrete over steel, performed by unskilled labor (January 1961); a design featuring a concrete roof and walls shotcreted over polystyrene insulation and requiring no interior load-bearing walls (October 1986); and removable aluminum forming systems for casting walls and roof decks in one placement (February 2001).
Insulating concrete forms (ICFs) made inroads for the residential concrete market during the 1990s. A December 1996 article called ICFs “one of the hottest trends in residential construction,” adding that the number of homes built with ICFs had risen 50% to a total of 1000. By 2004 the number of ICF homes reached 60,000.
While the economic, strength, and energy efficient benefits are apparent, homeowners often are surprised at the beauty concrete can add to a home. A November 2005 article estimated that one-quarter of all residential concrete exterior flatwork receives some kind of decorative treatment. Keeping up with the growth trends in architectural and decorative concrete led to the formation of Concrete Construction's sister publication, RESIDENTIAL Concrete, in 2004. The March/April 2006 issue of RESIDENTIAL Concrete includes a detailed report on the American Concrete Institute's (ACI) landmark residential concrete code published in May 2005.
“Earth shelters are here to stay,” asserted a September 1980 article, pointing to the nation's 1000 completed earth shelters and at least as many more then under construction. The April 1988 issue heralded a “new generation” of dome-shaped structures using inflated forms.
Up on the Roof
Workers construct one segment of a thin-shell octagonal roof (top), touted in May 1958 as “a practical reality for low-budget construction.” Engineered as separate folded slabs and weighing 11 tons each, the roof's eight gables were individually precast, stacked, and placed using the lift-slab technique. Four decades later, Concrete Construction reported on a folded-plate design for sloping concrete roofs incorporating insulation panels (bottom, January 1999).
Tilt-up concrete houses, which debuted in the 1940s, provide homeowners with low-cost luxury, according to a February 1963 article. A May 1970 article noted that a tilt-up house shell could be had for as little as $4000 in some markets. Insulating sandwich panels made news in September 1994 (top), just as insulating concrete forms (ICFs) were taking the market by storm. Concrete Construction first reported on ICFs in June 1980 (bottom, left). Concrete adds style indoors with designer features such as exposed-aggregate walls (bottom, right, August 2001), stained floors, and countertops.
Basement basics have provided fodder since Concrete Construction's early days. “Nowhere else in the modern home is the difference between good and poor concrete construction practice so dramatically evident,” stated an April 1965 article. Today, readers still write in to ask questions like “How much shrinkage and cracking is acceptable in a poured concrete basement wall?” A January 1962 article illustrated how to build and equip a fallout shelter (top), considered by some to be “the very guardian of civilization itself.” In the 1970s came competition from wood foundations, but by May 1988 they were described as “the little engine that couldn't.” And basements even can challenge a contractor's creativity. The September 1999 issue described the Concrete Foundation Association's “basement from hell” (bottom), featuring multiple wall thicknesses and corner angles, uneven dimensions, and other complexities.
Out the Door
“Concrete is still the best material for building a home driveway [but] asphalt driveways appear to be on the increase,” lamented an article in the August 1964 issue, which offered tips for designing, installing, and promoting concrete driveways. Homeowners who are stuck with asphalt can always choose whitetopping, as described in an August 1990 article. Over the years, Concrete Construction has covered the selling points of using decorative techniques for residential flatwork and exterior structures, such as pattern-stamped patios (top, November 1975), elegant entryways (middle, October 1991), and exposed-aggregate landscaping accents (bottom, August 2001).