Every now and then I have the fortunate experience of running across rare and unique forms of construction at inspections. Recently, I had the pleasant surprise of coming across a concrete beam and block suspended ceiling at a house I inspected. Most people have never heard of (let alone seen) this type of floor system, and I’d like to describe it so – if nothing else – you can share in my fascination.
Nearly all suspended residential floor systems throughout the U.S. are made of wood, and we have come to view wood floor construction (wood girders, joists, and subfloors) as the norm. In some other countries, though, concrete is a more common building material than wood for many applications. A friend of mine grew up in India and told me he was amazed when he first moved to America and discovered that all the houses were “built of flimsy sticks.” He was used to homes being built with mostly concrete.
Concrete beam and block foundations like the one I recently saw have gained popularity in the United Kingdom and some other Western countries. The system consists of concrete beams in the shape of a T, known simply as T-beams, and the “T” is inverted so that the top side of the T shape is facing down. Concrete blocks are then laid perpendicular to the T-beams, side-by-side between them, on top of the bottom lips of the beams and flush with the tops. The beams bear on the exterior foundation walls and interior support walls, and the concrete blocks are made to be lighter weight than normal so the load isn’t too great for the foundation to support.
There are several benefits to this type of floor structure. As you can imagine, it is very strong. Installation of the system is also relatively simple and is not weather dependent since, unlike wood, the concrete is not very susceptible to water damage. It is also good at resisting damage from water and pests and is suitable for radiant floor systems since the concrete is a good radiator of heat. Unlike wood floors that are prone to bouncing and squeaking, those issues are virtually non-existent with a concrete beam and block floor system.
It’s not likely that the long-standing, traditional construction practices here in America will change any time soon. Still, it’s pretty exciting to occasionally run into oddities that are rare and different. If you’re looking into building a home, you may want to consider the option of a suspended concrete beam and block foundation, provided you can find a contractor who knows enough about the system’s design and installation requirements. In any case, it’s interesting to know about different building practices that are common elsewhere but rarely seen in our own country.
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