How could America improve building efficiency?

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Living in a land with so many natural enemies to buildings as the US makes me wonder why we are not better utilizing existing construction technology to manage the impacts of natural disasters better. Hurricanes, tornados, floods, mass forest fires and other disasters almost always result in mass destruction of our “stick built” construction mentality. Even more puzzling is that we choose to continue to do the same thing over and over again without making improvements or changes. This phenomenon is approached through my personal experience; keep on reading this blog to discover how precast construction technology can solve some of these problems.

In any other industry, if you have a design flaw you make changes to correct the weak points and avoid same problems. Why doesn’t the construction industry follow the same principle? In September of 1989, I rode through Hugo in South Carolina, USA. Hugo was a category 4 storm packing winds of 140-mph, caused 9.4 billion dollars in damage and took 61 lives. Needless to say this was an eye opener for someone from the Mid-West US and who had never seen such devastation. Fortunately, all my family and friends survived without any major problems.

In more recent history, 2018 brought two major hurricanes; Florence and Michael. Both of them made landfall as category 4 storms. The combined estimate of damage was over 25 billion. The storms destroyed nearly every structure in their path turning homes, restaurants and shops into piles of rubble and debris. However, one home – known to its owners as Sand Palace – with two tiered balcony remained unscathed whilst everything around it was flattened. The building materials used were reinforced concrete. So, when one ponders the question about how we can improve building efficiency, the answer is quite simple. Shift away from the building structures with sticks and start utilizing a better and more durable solution such as precast concrete.

Some may argue that precast concrete construction is more expensive, however, I would like to ask the neighbors of the Sand Palace what is their opinion of more expensive. Certainly mass destruction, clean up and total reconstruction can’t be less expensive! Not to mention loss of service and the stress of losing your home and personal belongings.

There are other natural enemies besides hurricanes that structures must resist such as fire, termites, freeze / thaw and seismic activity. Again, precast concrete is the answer in the palm of our hands, let’s use it! Did you know that precast comes only harder during years, it doesn’t burn, melt or rot? The technology helps in making buildings sturdier through the design of connections and reinforcements of precast elements. High quality precast does not breed any harmful microbes, either. Thus, I can say that precast concrete technology enables constructing truly durable buildings, which will better last the test of time. Even though, we have this existing solution to improve building efficiency and durability, there’s a lack of knowledge about the benefits of it. People need more knowledge about precast concrete not only in the USA, but also in global context.

When most folks think about a concrete structure, they think of a cold grey square box. It’s simply not the case anymore – product development in precast concrete has come a long way and it will only develop further in the future. Nowadays, we can provide eye pleasing architectural details that weren’t available 15 years ago. There are varied facade options to choose from: graphic, colored and painted concrete, window shaping, brick surfaces and white & black pigmentation. To exemplify, in Finland there is a building called “Flooranaukio Apartments”, which facades have been decorated with curved porcelain pieces that were attached to the precast panels at the precast plant. Another way to make precast buildings pop is to use 3D facades, which enable creating interesting sculptures.

In other words, precast is not only durable, but also a versatile construction material, which can look anything you can imagine!

Matt Cherba, Vice President

Elematic Inc.

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