I’On homes made of concrete
By Jessica Johnson
The Post and Courier
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Four new homes on I’On Canal were framed with a material that some builders have never heard of.
Autoclaved aerated concrete blocks, another mix in the concrete building trend, have been used in Europe since before the Great Depression. They are just beginning to show up in American residential construction.
Mark Lipsmeyer, chief operating officer for I’On Group, said I’On Build, the new construction division of I’On Group, decided to give the blocks a try despite some of their challenges.
The material is more expensive than wood and poses a new set of challenges for the mechanical trades, but the concrete makes up for that in energy efficiency, moisture resistance, and insulating and sound-deadening qualities.
“They have a number of positive characteristics,” Lipsmeyer said.
Walls built with the blocks withstand 150-mph winds and are termite-resistant.
“It has a lot energy-efficient qualities,” he said. “It’s a good product for this part of the country.”
A company from Charlotte promoted the blocks throughout the area two years ago.
“We were intrigued by the product,” Lipsmeyer said.
Lipsmeyer said he sees and feels the difference in quality when walking into homes built from autoclave blocks.
“You notice consistency of room temperature. (The houses) don’t have hot and cold spots,” Lipsmeyer said.
The blockmaking process includes adding aluminum powder to cement, lime, water and finely ground sand and causes the mixture to expand and foam. The mixture is then hardened in a mold and placed in a steam chamber.
Lipsmeyer said the only difficulty in using the blocks was forming the holes for electrical wiring, plumbing and the heating and cooling system.
The company that supplied the block also offers special tools to carve out spaces in the concrete walls, easing the process.
Phillip Ford, executive vice president of the Charleston Trident Home Builders Association, North Charleston, said he is not aware of anyone who is using large numbers of the concrete blocks in housing developments.
But concrete homes are growing in popularity on a national level.
Nearly 20 percent of all new homes built in 2006 were made out of some type of concrete, up from just 3 percent in 1993, according to figures from the Portland Cement Association.
After using the blocks in four I’On homes, I’On Group has decided to use the material in its proposed North Charleston neighborhood in Park Circle called Mixson.
In the North Charleston neighborhood, I’On will expand further on energy conservation in home design. Lipsmeyer said the neighborhood is hoping to become certified by the U.S. Building Council for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEEP) by following their requirements for a green building system.
Reach Jessica Johnson at 937-5921.