By Monte Leper
Q. We have always wanted to build a house from scratch and want to plan a modern, fireproof, hurricane proof home that ticks all the boxes for a dream home. We have a property to build on but realize the economy is working against us as the cost of everything seems to be much higher than when we started our wish list. Someone we know suggested building with concrete blocks to save money, but the house will be near the bay, and we wonder if it will survive a flood, especially since we already know that we must have habitable soil above flood height. What do you recommend to build our house? Concrete is what we’ve seen, but won’t it be expensive?
A. Concrete is an excellent choice for building in a flood prone area, but it is not the best material system to save money over other building systems and materials you might choose, especially for residential construction. The reason why concrete buildings are built, in general, is to adhere to much stricter building laws to accommodate a greater number of people, protecting us from the spread of fire while being very strong and requiring little maintenance. The code (or written law) is in place to create safe buildings. Fire, wind and flooding are very real and worrisome threats.
What you have typically seen in flood prone areas are the full first floor foundations surrounding the garage and storage areas. Living areas should be above flood level. You have to be prepared for much more labor intensive construction above the lowest level if you hope to build in concrete. Concrete buildings require steel reinforcing rods – tons – put into configurations before the concrete is formed and poured.
Concrete is usually formed from wooden forms built by carpenters, who must then remove the forms from the concrete once it has set and hardened. If that sounds expensive, consider that a wooden structure, well designed and covered with an anti-flooding membrane and cement panels, can meet the same regulations for much less. This is only because one-, two-, or three-story structures can still meet current law requirements without the excessive strength or flame resistance that tall buildings must have.
Concrete block is not a better choice. It will not resist movement like a monolithic reinforced concrete wall would. Steel wall studs covered with sheets of concrete panels, finished with stucco, also hold up very well if properly anchored, at a much lower cost. You can create the same modern look and avoid the cost of an all-concrete structure if you use the wood or steel wall studs above the lowest reinforced concrete level. Instead of poured concrete floors, consider wooden floors which better accommodate insulation, are fire resistant and have a sprinkler system which will save the house and its contents more economically. Good luck!
© 2022 Monte Leper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to [email protected], with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, Architect