Concrete Industry Partners to Build Single-Family Homes

Originally published by: Builder OnlineMarch 26, 2021

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Habitat for Humanity recently partnered with Build with Strength, backed by the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA), to construct resilient, affordable, and sustainable housing across the United States. Through the partnership, Build with Strength is coordinating the donation of concrete and other materials to the construction of Habitat homes and will work directly with local organizations to support home builds across 16 locations.

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Gregg Lewis, executive vice president of promotion strategy and communication at the NRMCA, says the partnership with Habitat for Humanity was born out of an effort by the concrete industry to provide aid for Puerto Rico after the large scale of hurricane damage in recent years. Once involved, the NRMCA asked Habitat to poll its local affiliates to find partners that would be interested in learning about using concrete for upcoming builds.

Through the partnership, Habitat for Humanity plans to build at least 50 homes in 50 states in five years. Timelines, however, have been impacted significantly by COVID-19. Numerous Habitat affiliates have had their schedules delayed due to a lack of availability of having volunteers on their jobsites.

The first projects under the partnership are set to break ground in Butte County, California, in May and include the construction of three homes in Paradise, California. According to Habitat for Humanity of Butte County, the town of Paradise was 90% destroyed by wildfires in 2018.

Other areas participating in the Build with Strength-Habitat for Humanity partnership include Des Moines, Iowa; Joplin, Missouri; and Lincoln, Nebraska, three areas that have been significantly impacted by tornadoes over recent years. Lewis says concrete homes will also be built in Minnesota, where climate is more of a deterrent for homeowners and energy performance serves as an important criterion for housing affordability.

“We want this [partnership] to help Habitat add value to the families that they’re working with and to help explore the viability of the [concrete] construction method for affordable housing,” Lewis says of the initiative. “[It’s] kind of a different story and different interpretation based on the location and what the needs are in that location. It’s a very localized initiative, and we’re working with our local affiliates just like Habitat International is working with their local affiliates.”

Homes built in the initial 16 locations of the partnership will use insulated concrete forms (ICF), according to Lewis. The Insulating Concrete Forms Manufacturing Association (ICFMA) is donating materials to help project affordability. In subsequent years of the program, Lewis says there is a possibility homes will be built with concrete masonry.

In addition to coordinating the donation of materials for home builds, the NRMCA is also coordinating a training class in each participating location. The classes are designed not only to teach the local Habitat affiliates and their construction teams about proper building techniques, but also for local builders to understand how homes are built with concrete.

“In Paradise, the plans that were converted to ICF for houses that we’re going to build are now part of a master plan book for anybody who wants to rebuild a home in Paradise,” says Lewis. “They can use those drawings at no cost to them to build so that they have a set of permit drawings. Now, you have an opportunity if you’re going to rebuild in Paradise to do that in a noncombustible way, which has a real benefit in areas where families can’t afford to insure their properties from wildfire due to the costs.”

As many builders face challenges due to the rising costs of lumber and related supply-side issues, Lewis says concrete building is an affordable alternative for many builders. The NAHB recently estimated lumber price spikes had caused the cost of building an average new single-family home to increase by more than $24,000 since mid-April 2020. Beyond building resilient homes for the local communities, Lewis says one of the goals of the Habitat partnership is to raise awareness about building possibilities with concrete and to introduce the material to new audiences.

“A lot builders, I think either they don’t know or have never really considered [concrete] because they ‘know what they know,’” continues Lewis. “There’s obviously a cost to make a change from what you’re used to doing. You’ve got to learn it, you’ve got to figure it out, how it’s going to impact your profitability, and all those types of things. But, we can provide that information so that builders and developers and architects know this is a viable option and also give them the resources so that they’re successful when they give it a try.”

In addition to greater cost stability, concrete organizations highlight the resilience of the material as an advantage over other building materials. Concrete homes are durable and resilient in regions impacted by severe weather events, such as wildfires on the West Coast, hurricanes in the Southeast, and tornadoes in the Midwest. According to Lewis, concrete homes also can offer strong sound insulation, reducing noise intrusion for homes located close to airports, rail lines, or high-traffic areas.

One of the arguments against concrete is the environmental impacts of using the material. To that point, Lewis says the concrete industry is innovating and the NRMCA is preparing to build the first carbon-positive concrete home in the United States.