Why is concrete fire resistant?

The Cost of Concrete

All things considered, concrete holds a great deal of promise for homes of the future. Currently, approximately 17 percent of new homes built in the U.S. are framed in concrete [source: International Association of Certified Home Inspectors]. According to Omar Garcia, President of SOGA Construction in Washington, D.C., a home made of concrete is going to last much longer than a wood-framed home.

"There would probably be many more homes made of concrete in the U.S. if they weren't so expensive to build," he says. The Portland Cement Association, the national concrete industry's trade group, estimates that the cost of a new house built using insulating concrete forms (the most common type of cement construction) costs 4 to 7 percent more than a similar house with a wood frame.

"There is a substantial jump in price based on the cost of material when you frame in concrete," says Garcia. "But the real increase comes when you factor in the additional labor hours for the installation of steel reinforcement and forming and for pouring the concrete."

However, with a concrete house, you do experience savings in the form of lower heating and cooling bills and lower home insurance policies.

"Considering how vulnerable wood is to rot, fire, and termite infestation, it's surprising how long wood has persisted as the dominant structural material of homes," Garcia says. "If the cost of building a home in concrete continues to decline, it makes sense that consumers would embrace it as the material of choice."

It seems likely that, in time, concrete will probably shed its image as a second-rate building material. There is no denying its durability, and few materials compare to its incredibly fire resistance. Perhaps concrete just needs a good PR campaign to bring it on par with much-loved materials such as wood, stone, and marble.