Buying or Living in a Mass Concrete House

Has anyone any experience of living in or buying a mass concrete house? Considering buying one that needs rewiring and insulation. We’re thinking we need to budget 15k for each job.

A friend of mine owned one, he was getting some electrical work done once and the electrician never stopped swearing the whole time he was there. Chasing cables isn’t a recreational pursuit in one of these. 1950’s build by any chance? Terraced? It’ll never fall down and it’s pretty much bullet proof against anything up to 20mm cannon if your the survivalist/Armageddon type :nin

If you go with external insulation you will have a huge thermal mass to regulate the temperature.

Spot on: 50’s terraced house. Seems solid, no damp to be seen.

We’re planning external insulation or internal wall insulation - someone said on a discussion board that you could chase the wires behind the insulation. It’s making me nervous that we’ll have to ecome experts on this type of wall. And find a sparks that is too… We’re first time buyers. Nervous ones.

Your main issue will be insulation (lack of) and thermal bridging (lots of) I’d imagine - plus the fact that old concrete is diamond hard.
The Casa Meself, while block-built in the early 50s, has two mighty concrete ring-beams with the density of iron that have cost me a fortune in drill-bits, kango chisellers and dust-masks over the years for chasing and the odd bit of wall fixing alone!
If your weatherproofing is sound; insulated internal dry-lining is your only man - it certainly was mine.
Do not skimp on this and use one of the Gypsum Industries Gyroc systems, preferably the metal framed ‘Gyplyner’ type that can correct a lot of background irregularities and give you a decent conduit chase behind the insulated boarding rather than the cheaper but less durable dab-fixed ‘Drylyner’ sort.
Gypsum Industries/Gyproc have a great website which shows you loads of installation progress photos as well as technical blurb - have a look-see.
Get a good dry-wall sub-contractor - there are a few left out there and with commercial experience where they do this sort of installation by the acre - thus the job will be done very quickly and very well. Have your drywall man liaise with your electrician for first-fix (conduit and terminal backplates) work prior to drywall framing and getting main cable-pull done prior to boarding is best.
This sort of lining job is not a DIY operation, nor something to be entrusted to a general handyman builder type - if anyone suggests timber lath as framing - take it that you are talking to the wrong person for the job!

Interestingly - my maternal Grandfather proudly built a concrete house in the late 40s - probably the first and last new house in the village for ten years. It has 12 inch thick outer and 6 inch inner walls - all solid cast concrete with nary a bit of insulation. It had ugly galvanised steel ‘Crittal’ windows and there was embedded gun-barrel piping as conduit for the little original electrics there were -lots of tacked on conduits for later stuff of course!
Strange - he included a spacious toilet in the grand design but built it as part of the adjacent garage/shed so you had to go out the back door and walk about ten meters in the cold and dark for relief - it was just automatically assumed that a toilet should be external then I suppose and most houses still did not even have that luxury inside or out!
Took him about four years to build with himself doing a lot of the grunt work, some help from family/friends - paid and unpaid etc and the place has some great roofing and joinery, by a very skilled local carpenter of the time, still in great nick.
All plastered up inside and out - dry as a bone as well so you only guessed its construction:
(a) In winter - when the place was utterly perishing.
(b) If trying to fix something to a wall.
Needless to say - it had an inside loo installed in the 70s and has been well dry-lined and insulated since the 80s!

Thanks Tis meself. A plan is starting to shape. I’ll follow up on those suggestions.

I’d be wary of external insulation in a terrace situation - unless both your neighbours do it as well you have cold-bridge flanks to each side and I am personally dubious of the long-term durability of the render systems they use for outer coating. I want to see these stand up to at least 10 years of wind and weather before final judgement.
If the existing terrace has any sort of uniform appearance or common decorative features the application usually destroys the effect and you are left with a visually awkward ‘return’ to the ends. Some of the detailing in recent external insulation work I have seen has been dog-rough around existing openings and stop-ends with very questionable weather-proofing provisions - no anti-capillary drips to soffit areas for example.
You will still have plenty thermal mass in the internal walls to help regulate the heat load with external dry lining and I would prefer to have my boiler just heating the air inside insulated rooms than be trying to get about 14m3 of dense concrete up a few degrees as well.

Lived in one for five years renting-even the stairs was poured. It was dry as a bone and always warm as a rental was fine but everything was off- the floors and all the walls were at bizarre angles. You couldn’t put up a shelf using a level as it would look crooked, had to always get a housemate to eyeball the shelf and put it up so you had the illusion it was straight!
Definitely not a job for a diyer to do drilling/fixing to the walls.
The floors were also out of skew, if you suffered from seasickness you wouldn’t have lasted long living there!
As far as I know the place was at least 50 years old when I lived there and there wasn’t a hint of damp or concrete deterioration, we always wondered on the origin of the place as it was mid terrace in a row of red bricks of an older vintage.

I’d agree - cold bridging would be my fear. One should really do the calculations before spending money - and assume that an external retrofit will probably not perform that well due to cold bridging.
A decent set of windows will reduce the draughtiness. You can internaly insulate some rooms and put a stove in for total comfort

For rooms that are not used much, has anyone tried the new IR radiant heaters? … 43bce33f4f

We’ve gotten by fine with a stove heating the downstairs, and a radiant heater for the kids room. We dont heat the whole house our our bedroom, so it doesnt matter to us whether the house is insulated or not
When you have efficient heating its hard to justify the price of external insulation

Generally this type of building will be be warm in summer and cold in winter. Professional advice on insulation is the key. Maybe be more expensive to insulate than a standard type constructed home of similar size , but on the plus side it will never fall down.

This question may just highlight my ignorance of the subject, but the house is pebble dash which might cause issues in relation to external insulation in any event?

My old Grandfather’s concrete house was actually very precisely set-out and constructed - he was reknowned in the home area for being ‘handy’ in any event -even the window cills were cast as part of the monolithic walling with all proper falls and drips etc.
One of my brothers lives there now; while extending as well as getting insulated and replacing windows etc over the years he is quite respectful of the old Grandad and his mates work - keeping a lot of features and maintaining the beautifully put together natural slate roof of the original block - the slates were recycled from some local big house that was going to ruin at the time seemingly.
Any trademen or builders the brother has ever had in have seemingly marvelled at the workmanship of it all - until they start trying to drill or chase that is!

Concrete seems to have had it’s day in the Irish sun as a common walling material between stone (not much brick used down my home way) and concrete block use - probably 30s to 50s.
I know there were a fair few farm buildings with concrete wall sections from that vintage around when I were lad - usually of terrible build quality let me add. We ourselves had a shed with two wobbly concrete walls, built for my paternal grandad, where you could see through gaps between the casting lifts. When said shed was knocked by my farming brother a load of scrap iron of every description was found as a sort of naive re-bar effort but that had really just destroyed the walls by corroding inside and splitting the concrete up.
I believe the first concrete blocks used down my home area had to be ‘home-made’ in any event - you bought some sort of casting grid and mixed concrete on-site to make them. The quality of these blocks, considering the need for proper mixing, compaction and curing, must have been variable indeed!
Pouring concrete between two planks to bring up a wall was probably the quicker and most foolproof option for quite a few years.

If you drive around East Cabra, where all the houses are mass concrete/ pebble dash - you will see quite a few houses with external insulation…it can be done.

What it does do is place your house front about 4 inches in front of your neighbours…but…no biggie…


Then there’s the haemorrhaging of energy from the internal walls to ground - given no insulation on internal concrete walls either. Given the build quality of houses and the difficulty in retrofitting other than leaky bucket insulation, I don’t see the point in thermal mass - natural losses will regulate you heat load for you in that you’ll need your heating on constantly, if at a low setting.