No one likes to think about natural disasters, especially when you are building your dream home. However, as the number of natural disasters per year gets larger, choosing the right building materials is becoming increasingly important. Especially in natural disasters, concrete has higher rates of durability and overall resistance to the elements compared to other building materials. Not to mention, if you ever decide to sell your home, the concrete will stand out.
We created this article to serve as a resource for anyone considering alternative building materials. Highlighted below are various types of natural disasters and how concrete specifically will stand up to each. Then, following options for alternative cement mixes, we will discuss some specific examples of how concrete solutions stand up to the most severe forms of our natural elements.
In the case of flooding, concrete is the best choice for building material. In the short term, concrete is not damaged by water. Even in the long term, concrete underwater (for decades) will still have a meager rate of water damage or permeability. Please think of the Hoover Dam; it’s made of concrete and still doing fine! Concrete is also much less likely to budge against moving water, especially when you use high-quality, durable mixes. The naturally occurring chemical reactions in cement and concrete actually can make the structure stronger when surrounded by water.
While earthquakes are one of the scariest natural disasters for a structure to face, concrete remains one of the best building materials to stand up to the moving earth. Reinforcing concrete with steel will help anchor the building structure and create an even more stable home foundation. In most earthquakes reported, the majority of standing structures continue to be made of concrete, or at the very least, have foundations made with such. Concrete walls pre-cast to be one continual segment tend to be stronger than multiple segments being placed together. Think of it like bricks. What’s going to be harder to move, a bunch of bricks stacked up or one big brick?
Concrete also creates a solid structural foundation to protect residents from outside wind damage, flying debris, and much more. For smaller structures like residences, concrete remains the safest building material to protect against natural disasters. Typical wind speeds experienced during tornados and hurricanes offer little threat to walls made of concrete. Similarly, the impact of debris on concrete walls from high wind speeds also has a lower negative effect.
In the case of a fire, concrete can help protect your family and your home in a variety of different ways. This non-combustible product has been tested by industry professionals and found to be much preferred over wood or other building materials in the case of a wildfire. In addition, a wall of solid concrete will help slow the spread of a fire within a structure. If your home is made entirely of wood, it stands to reason that the fire will spread more rapidly.
Alternative Cement Creates More Durable Concrete
If you are looking for more durable concrete, consider using alternative cement mixtures. Talk to your contractor about the use of SCM’s or supplemental cementitious materials. These materials can replace a portion of standard portland cement and have different positive effects on your construction project. For example, SCM’s like slag cement or fly ash can achieve higher durability and create concrete with lower permeability. This means that using these products can make your structure last longer and reduce the rate at which your base erodes.
Beyond the structural benefits of these materials, they are also environmentally friendly. These materials are byproducts of other production methods. Slag Cement, in particular, is a byproduct of the Ironmaking industry. If these materials weren’t repurposed for the construction industry, they would be sitting in landfills. Additionally, Slag Cement produces concrete with a much lighter color, making it a more practical application for residential projects in look and reducing heating/cooling costs.
A case study from Build with Strength highlighted a home that was the only one to survive Hurricane Katrina in its neighborhood. Why? It was the only home whose structure was completed in concrete. The case study can be found here.
Another great example is a “dome home” in Florida. This beach home was designed to withstand the high winds and water damaged associated with coastal hurricanes. The structure is made of concrete and has already survived 4 past hurricanes. The case study can be found here.
Selecting the correct building material is very important. Depending on where you are building a residential project, you may want to consider the frequency and risk of natural disasters in that region before making any material decisions. Concrete can be utilized in various ways to reduce the impact various types of natural disasters may have on your home. Choosing a non-combustible, waterproof, and durable material seems like the best option when building a home that will pass the test of time.