Realising the potential of concrete upper flooring

// the building envelope

Concrete separating floors are a common feature in multi-occupancy accommodation areas; from hotels and apartment blocks to flats and student accommodation. So why does it feature so infrequently in housing? Executive Director of The Concrete Centre, Andrew Minson explains why this relatively small market has true potential for specifiers and manufacturers within the housing sector.

Despite precast concrete offering a multitude of benefits, the current market share of upper concrete floors in housing is surprisingly in single digits. The potential of concrete separating floors are widely recognised by house builders and wealthier property owners, but the higher cost has reserved the method to the more premium end of the housing market. Here are just a handful of reasons why concrete should be considered across the industry regardless of cost:

  • Concrete upper floors provide improved performance. The enhanced fire resistance of concrete makes concrete a safer option. In terms of performance however, it isn’t just in safety where it excels. With acoustic separation, non-squeaky floors, improved thermal opportunities and increased energy efficiency, concrete easily outperforms other options in terms of performance. It can also offer the opportunity for use of masonry partitions on upper levels which enhance performance, and offers longer spans that open up the potential of how space can be used below.
  • Concrete upper floors are readily available. The precast solutions currently supplied and installed for the majority of ground floors are perfectly suitable for upper floors too. These are typically supplied by UK manufacturers. Most housing developments have a manufacturer within 30 miles. Manufacturers have the capacity to increase production and have access to increased volumes of constituents – which are also available locally.
  • They are easily implemented into existing designs. Concrete upper floors are structurally and architecturally very straightforward to incorporate into design plans. Over 85% of housing in Great Britain is of masonry construction and this has the load bearing capacity to support concrete upper flooring. In some cases the inner leaf block specification may require changing, but there are no fundamental adverse knock-on effects that would jeopardise structural or architectural integrity by choosing concrete flooring over other lightweight alternatives.
  • The sustainable option. Concrete upper floors are sustainable. Performance benefits and local availability discussed above are both excellent examples of how this option offers maximum sustainability. A third aspect is the whole life environmental impact. This aspect warrants a whole article in itself and readers are referred to The Concrete Centre website for more information on the production of concrete constituents and flooring products, longevity in-use and end-of-life re-use/recycling.

In brief, the industry has made great strides in reducing environmental impacts during the production process. By being durable, these impacts are spread over many years and at the end of life precast units are crushed and recycled into aggregate for future use.

Concrete upper floors are buildable. It is common practice to install precast separating upper floors in multi-occupancy accommodation and precast ground floors in housing. Precast upper floors are also installed in premium housing. Therefore it is evident that there is no particular barrier in terms of buildability. Furthermore there is an HSE endorsed code of practice for the safe installation of flooring to provide guidance and help CDM compliance when choose precast upper floors.

Performance benefits in brief

Fire resistance: Particularly above kitchens, the choice of precast flooring to provide enhanced fire separation has clear advantages. Building regulations only require fire resistance periods that are sufficient for safe escape (life safety), but due to the inherent fire resistance of concrete, precast floors also provide the additional benefit of property safety.

Acoustic separation: The density of concrete allows it to minimise noise very effectively. So much so, in fact, that implementing them within your project negates the need for pre-completion acoustic testing entirely.

Non-squeaky floors: 48% of homeowner noise complaints to NHBC for detached homes were attributed to creaking floors. Precast floors do not creak.

Thermal comfort/energy efficiency: Precast upper floors give the opportunity for reduced heating bills and can help to create a cool and comfortable living space in the hotter summer months.

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