Residential Construction

Multi-Storey Units or Single Homes – Concrete Builds Them Better

Safety – Comfort – Long-term savings


To ensure housing quality, compare the alternatives – use the right product for the job.


Fire safety

Concrete doesn’t burn.

Wood frame buildings are flammable. The majority of residential fires in Canada involve wood-frame buildings and usually involve significant property loss. Fire spreads easily in multi-unit wood residences, endangering occupants, their property, and firefighters.

Structural safety

The structural integrity of concrete provides added protection against earthquakes and severe weather.

Seismic design principles for concrete buildings of all sizes are well-established. Engineers, designers and construction crews are readily available, skilled and experienced in applying those principles to erect safe concrete structures that are known to stand the test of time.

Concrete is not moisture sensitive, is not subject to rot or to rain or wind damage.


With the exception of British Columbia, wood frame construction in Canada is restricted to four storeys or less because of fire safety concerns. Four-storey wood frame construction needs careful engineering. 

There are significant public health and safety risks in the use of wood-frame construction in buildings of more than four storeys. Wood’s natural combustibility must be offset by costly measures to mitigate the spread of fire. Active sprinkler systems must be installed and maintained, and a sufficient water supply must be maintained at all times. This places additional water demands on the municipality to ensure fire protection to these structures. 

Environmental effects on building envelopes increase with building height, and the design and construction of wood buildings to address these challenges is still evolving. There is a shortage of carpenters with the technical knowledge and experience to erect six-storey wood frame buildings, which rely on new design systems and materials for fire protection and seismic resistance.

All these factors affect building envelope stability and could compromise the safety and health of occupants, as well as leading to loss of value as the building ages.

Health and air quality

Most building materials and finishes are a source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are commonly found in indoor air. Many VOCs are toxic.

Concrete is not a source of toxic VOCs and presents no health risk to residents. It requires no protective finishes.

Furthermore, the solid construction of concrete buildings helps prevent the entry of pollen, dust and other airborne pollutants.


Wood is an organic material and supports the growth of mould, mildew and other potentially harmful microorganisms or insects. It is also vulnerable to rot and damage from moisture, wind and weather. For this reason, wood requires preservatives, sealants, stains and finishes, all of which are sources of potentially harmful VOCs.

Also plentiful in VOCs are the glues required to produce the plywood and chipboard used in wood-frame construction.

A wood-frame wall is a collection of components including studs, gypsum boards, sheathing and insulation. Each joint and connection is a potential air leak. These leaks can bring in pollen, dust, insects, spores and micro-organisms.

Long-term savings

Lower energy costs

Concrete residences are more energy efficient. The thermal mass of concrete allows concrete walls to act as thermal reservoirs. This means that, with the same insulation, a concrete home stays warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer than a wood-frame home.

Concrete construction forms an integral wall that is solid, continuous and airtight. Besides having the advantage of mass, today's concrete home building systems utilize cost-effective, highly efficient insulation to keep a residence dry and comfortable year-round, with lower utility bills.

The Cobalt Engineering Report shows average energy savings of 20% to 25% between light frame buildings (wood) and heavy frame buildings (concrete) in various locations across Canada when active energy systems such as hydronic heatings are incorporated in the structure. The Stantec Copnsultants Report compares annual energy use in a building constructed in the 1960s with one built using modern energy- efficient thermal mass concepts. The savings found through energy use monitoring are as high as 59%.

Wood-frame residences are lightweight, compared to concrete, and do not have the advantage of thermal mass. They require extra insulation to maintain comfortable steady state interior environments.

Because a wood-frame wall is a collection of components with many joints and connections, air leaks out, taking your heating and air conditioning with it. Air leakage accounts for a large percentage of energy loss from any home.


Lower repair and maintenance costs

Concrete is a natural building material that gains strength over time, with an effective 100-year service life that conserves resources.

Concrete is durable, which means few repairs, and lower maintenance costs – adding up to a solid investment.When it’s built with concrete, it’s built to last.

Concrete is an unappealing food source for termites, carpenter ants or rodents that often live in and dine on wood-framed walls, causing substantial structural damage.

Retaining property value is a concern with wood-frame buildings. Wood is less durable than other construction materials; continuous attention and timely maintenance are required to protect against weather damage, moisture infiltration, insects and moulds.



The solid construction of concrete buildings brings the added benefit of comfort and a greater sense of privacy in multi-residential buildings. Concrete walls and floors accoustically insulate you from your neighbours  outside traffic noise. Allergens don’t gain entry, and it’s draft-free living all year- round. The lower energy bills are comforting too.

Wood-framed buildings transmit sound much more easily than concrete, both from inside and outside the building. Drafts and allergens are also more common.

ICF Homes – Beauty That Lasts

Discover a home building solution that offers a healthier living environment, advanced design possibilities and lower energy bills. The difference is ICF (insulating concrete forms), a building process well established in North America. Approximately 40,000 ICF homes have been built since the early 90s. Currently about 100 distributors and manufacturers of ICF systems serve the Canadian market. For the custom homebuilder, ICF represents a real advantage. It's quick to use, easy to manipulate, and requires a small number of skilled labourers – a real advantage in today's marketplace, given the shortage of skilled framers.


With innovative concrete homebuilding systems, you can build a beautiful concrete home in any style with great benefits such as energy efficiency and added safety, as well as peace and quiet. Concrete is simply the best way to build a better home.

Beautiful homes, built to last. That's the beauty of concrete!

Space Age Insulation

Today's concrete home benefits greatly from the progress that has been made in home insulation over the past 20 years. Many insulated concrete wall systems use polystyrene blocks or panels as the formwork into which reinforcing steel and concrete are placed. These polystyrene forms are left in place to give your home an exceptional R-value. For concrete masonry homes, insulation choices range from foiled backed batts to polystyrene panels. Standard hollow masonry units can be filled with insulating materials.

For more information see: Insulating Concrete Forms

Smart Design = Savings

When designing today's concrete home, smart builders are able to realize considerable savings by using concrete's energy efficiency to justify smaller heating and air conditioning systems. This results in a comfortable home with correspondingly smaller heating and air conditioning bills. The bottom line - savings are realized up-front and throughout the life of a home.

For further information see: Concrete Homes Save Energy

Concrete Homes Save Energy

Building a concrete home with insulating concrete forms (ICFs) saves energy and money. The greater insulation, tighter construction and temperature-moderating mass of the walls conserve heating and cooling energy much better than conventional wood-frame walls. This reduces monthly fuel bills. It also allows use of smaller heating and cooling equipment, saving money in construction.

How much will I save?

Houses built with ICF exterior walls require an estimated 44% less energy to heat and 32% less energy to cool than comparable frame houses. The bigger the house, the bigger the savings. In colder areas of the U.S. and Canada, savings on heating will be greater and cooling will be less. In hotter regions, heating savings will be less and cooling savings more.

The smaller heating and cooling equipment needed for such an energy-efficient house can cut construction costs by an estimated $500 to $2000. The biggest equipment savings come with the houses that have the most energy savings.

How do we know all this?

The energy savings estimates are from a study of 58 single-family houses across the US and Canada. Half had exterior walls constructed with concrete using ICFs made of expanded polystyrene (EPS) or extruded polystyrene (XPS) foam.

The other half were neighboring houses with wood-frame walls. All houses were less than 6 years old.

The researchers compared the energy bill of each concrete house to its frame counterpart, carefully correcting for important differences to get an “apples-to-apples” comparison.

Estimates of equipment savings are actual numbers reported by contractors who build ICF houses.

Where do the savings come from?

Insulating values for ICF walls using polystyrene foam are R-17 to R-26, compared to wood frame’s R-9 to R-15. ICF walls are expected to cut conduction losses through foundation and above-grade walls in half. And ICF walls are tighter. In tests, they averaged about half as much infiltration (air leakage) as wood-frame homes.

The energy efficiency of ICF houses has been independently verified by other agencies. They compared the energy use of single family houses with various exterior walls including ICF, concrete masonry and wood framing. The results show that in almost all climates across the US and Canada, concrete homes use less energy for heating and cooling.

But ICF walls do more than cut down on energy loss. Concrete gives them the heat-absorbing property, “thermal mass,” the ability to smooth out large temperature swings. It keeps the walls warmer when the outdoor temperature hits its coldest extreme and cooler when the outdoor temperature is hottest. The walls “add back” heat or cooling, which contributes about 6% of the required energy for free.

Since the energy needed is less, furnaces and compressors that heat and cool can be smaller. And the more the energy savings, the greater the possible reduction in equipment size —and cost.

Estimating the size of heating and cooling equipment for concrete homes is complicated because the effect of thermal mass must be simulated in a computer program. But the software tool “HVAC Sizing for Concrete Homes” takes care of the difficult calculations. All you have to do is enter information about the house, like location, house size and wall construction.

What's the bottom line?

In planning a new home, you can estimate that building with ICFs will save hundreds of dollars per year in energy costs. You may also save hundreds or thousands of dollars in construction costs for heating and cooling equipment. Talk with an ICF homebuilder for estimates.