Cast off as the stuff of unfinished basements, cheap patio flooring and maximum security prison cell walls, concrete has long been the scourge of home designers, many of whom look for creative ways to cover up and limit the use of this typically drab building material. Yet concrete serves a number of useful functions inside a home. In addition to providing a sturdy, durable and cost-effective foundation, concrete is also fire-resistant. The material's properties make it slow to transfer heat and thus unlikely to burn like wood or soften and bend like steel when exposed to fire [sources: Concrete Centre, Portland Cement Association].
There are a number of ways to make a home more fire-resistant using concrete without sacrificing a warm (figuratively speaking) and appealing aesthetic. Read on for a few hints.
Roughly one-sixth of new homes are built using a concrete block frame, in part because the material provides a stout defense against harsh weather and natural disasters like tornadoes and hurricanes. When it comes to fires, a concrete framed house provides shelter not only from what's outside, but can also help limit the damage caused by a blaze that starts within the home. Concrete's fire-resistant nature serves as a blockade of sorts preventing a fire from spreading. This may result in a lower fire insurance policy for a concrete constructed home as compared to a house built with a wood or other framing [source: Gromicko and Fowler].
Many builders are turning to insulated concrete forms, which maintain the strong and durable qualities of traditional concrete while providing layers of foam insulation -- by pouring concrete over an insulated foam form -- to provide energy efficiency and an additional barrier against outside noise. The plastic foams used in ICFs are treated with flame retardants to maintain fire resistance [sources: Department of Energy, Concrete Network].
Granite, schmanite. Millstone may be the countertop surface du jour, but trying to keep up with the Jonses will only leave you chasing trends, not to mention trading out your new soapstone counters for bamboo six months later. Set your kitchen apart from modern ubiquity with concrete countertops.
In addition to being less costly than granite, marble and the like, concrete provides a smooth, strong, heat and scratch-resistant surface that can be molded to fit any shape and is available in a wide spectrum of color options. When choosing a concrete countertop, homeowners should keep in mind that some of the products used to seal and wax the surface aren't fire-resistant. Also, while the material is relatively inexpensive to purchase, custom casting can be costly [source: Hoffman, Portland Cement Association].
Forget cushy fabric and plush leather; the next time that you drift off to sleep in front of the television with half a beverage in hand, do it in a concrete easy chair. Yes, you heard right! In 2011, Swedish interior designer Swedish Ninja introduced an easy chair made with "concrete canvas," a flexible "cement impregnated" fabric that hardens when hydrated to form a thin, durable water and fire-resistant concrete layer [sources: Concrete Canvas, Swedish Ninja].
Comfy seats aren't the only way to use concrete to make striking (and fire proof!) living room furniture. From end tables to patio furniture and dining chairs, concrete is making its way into home furnishings of every stripe. New, lightweight versions of the building material create items that are easier to transport from the show room to the living room [source: Nakano and Boone].
In addition to providing a sound, sturdy foundation, concrete walls can also be used within a home. Interior concrete walls provide additional sound barriers and added fire-resistance. If that's not enough, think about the environment. The cement used to make concrete comes mostly from limestone, one of the most abundant minerals on this here planet of ours. And since you only produce what you need, there's less waste.
Concrete walls can also make a home more energy efficient: Although the material does not transfer heat, concrete is able to absorb and retain warmth, reducing the need for a constant heat supply [source: Balogh].
Sure, using lightweight concrete will save you from slipping a disc while moving that shiny new cement-based chaise lounge into the study. It can also provide increased protection against fire. Mixed with an aggregate of shale, slate or clay rather than limestone, lightweight concrete offers an even lower heat transfer rate -- and therefore increased fire-resistance -- than the traditional version of the building material. While it can be designed to reach a similar strength as traditional concrete, some forms of the lightweight material may not be suited for structural purposes [sources: National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, Bilow].
A number of manufacturers also offer lightweight concrete finishers, which require more attention than the old-fashioned heavy stuff and take a bit longer to dry [source: National Ready Mixed Concrete Association].
Whether it's a ranch house in Albuquerque, a fifth floor walk-up in Fort Greene, or a duplex in Sioux Falls, somewhere under the surface of the floors in your home sweet home likely lies a slab of concrete. For years, interior designers have been looking for new, appealing and often expensive (zebrawood, we're talking about you) ways to cover up mundane concrete flooring. Yet concrete floors provide a cost-effective minimalist aesthetic that homeowners can liven up -- and easily change -- with colorful stains.
In addition to being fire-resistant, concrete floors allow for relief from allergens commonly trapped in carpets (indoor air pollution is among the top five environmental risks to public health, according to the Environmental Protection Agency), are more durable and last longer than other common types of flooring [sources: HGTV, EPA].
A concrete frame gives a home a solid base and serves as the first line of defense against fire. Yet the frame alone will not make a home fire-proof. Other parts of the structure -- doors, windows, even roof shingles -- are not only susceptible to letting fire into a house, but also helping it grow [source: Gromicko and Fowler].
Concrete roof tiles share the fire-resistant properties of other concrete furnishings while providing the look of a tile roof without the cost. First usedin 19th-century Bavaria, concrete tiles often last for the life of the home and typically carry a lifetime warranty [source: Portland Cement Association].
Wash place, relaxing refuge, homemade gin receptacle -- a bathtub can serve many purposes. As the move toward modern minimalist home interiors expands into the bathroom, concrete tubs in particular have grown in popularity. Their sturdiness compared to acrylic and fiberglass models and relatively low cost make concrete tubs an attractive alternative to stone and iron tubs. As in other areas of the home, concrete's capacity for easy molding and coloring give owners the chance to have a one-of-a kind tub as well as one that can be designed to fit even the tiniest of washrooms. Its heat-retaining quality means you can stay in the tub longer before the water gets cold. The only snag is that it can be heavy and awkward to install [sources: freshome, Bathtub World].
At this point it should be clear the beauty of concrete for interior furnishing purposes is that it can be poured to shape just about any form and stained to match the existing decor. That's essentially the pitch for a kitchen or bathroom sink: unique and versatile while also durable and easy to maintain. Designers use concrete to make all manner of sinks, from free-standing pedestal models to bowls intended to rest atop a counter. Like concrete tubs, these models can be shaped to fit existing space restrictions and plumbing arrangements [source: The Concrete Network].
That's not to mention concrete's fire fighting ability. Forget to blow out a candle or turn off the curling iron? At least the sink will still be standing.
There is, simply put, no point in having a backyard unless you can burn stuff in it. What better way to keep a bonfire under control than with everyone's favorite non-combustible building material? Custom built concrete fire tables ain't cheap (running more than $2,000 a pop), but some are constructed with propane gas piping from the home that allows that the user to control the size and duration of a fire. For outdoor cooking, a concrete barbeque provides a durable and stain-resistant surface on which to prepare and enjoy a freshly flame-broiled filet [sources: Quinlan, California Concrete Designs].
Inside a home, concrete can also be used to construct or upgrade an indoor fire place [source: California Concrete Designs].
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