Why use beam & block for upper floors?

It’s not the norm – I know that. Look, don’t get me wrong, we know it’s a hard sell. We know there is a lot of convincing to be done.

Let’s look at the use of an upper floor in domestic situations. What is it there to do? Well of course, provide a structural footing in the first instance. Does timber do this? Yes, no doubt. Does concrete do it? Again yes, no doubt. What is next? Safety -surely it’s got to be fire rating? Well it is simply not up for debate. Concrete has a far greater fire rating than timber. Next – acoustic performance. We all want to be in a situation where we don’t have to hear everything going on upstairs don’t we? Again, concrete floor beams top the polls when it comes to sound transmission.

Are there benefits to timber at all? Of course there are. We would be foolish in thinking otherwise. What this article will try to do however is try and play devil’s advocate and make you think twice about doing the norm and specifying something you’ve always specified (for exactly that reason).

Let’s begin to assess the main areas to think about when specifying a floor. Starting off with Acoustic Performance. The most common complaint of noise in domestic properties is squeaky floors caused by timber – this is eradicated with concrete. But there isn’t just that to consider these days. 30 years ago, yes it probably was a big issue. However, with the ever-evolving world of technology, we live completely differently these days. How many families have children who love to play on games consoles? Gradually ‘Virtual Reality’ is becoming more and more common. This means instead of sitting down playing on an Xbox using a controller, they are banging and clattering about as if they are living their game. Do you want to hear this downstairs? Do you want to specify a product that could protect this? It’s not just games consoles that generate noise. Most house builders put TV Sockets in at least the main bedroom as standard now. 5* house builders put them in every bedroom! Wireless speakers are another one. How many of us stream music out of our phones via a portable, wireless speaker? And let’s face it, they are getting better and better! I know for one, I am guilty of blasting out a bit of Bruce Springsteen Born to Run and being told to turn it down (or off, depending on who you speak to). It is not uncommon for people to convert integral garages or spare rooms into a Gym these days. We are all becoming more self-conscious. If you drop a weight you don’t want your sleeping child to be woken up (this isn’t even thinking about the structural problems this could cause). A tick for concrete I feel.

Fire Rating for me is a topic that doesn’t need to be overplayed. It goes without saying that concrete has a far greater fire rating than timber. Safety is key. We all know that using concrete certainly reduces the risk and to that note should indeed decrease insurance premiums. It is a topic that has very much come to the forefront in 2017. Let’s just try our very best to make everyone is as safe as we can.

When it comes to Structural Qualities I think it is fair to say that both products are more than adequate, suitable and tested. Does concrete have a little more tolerance? Yes possibly. Would you feel safer, more structurally sound on concrete? Yes probably. But there is certainly no argument whatsoever to say that either far surpasses the other. Both are designed in line with either British Standard or EC2, and are deemed satisfactory.

I think Services Adaptability has always been a secondary thought, and when thought about, most people assume timber to be more suitable. Yes, they are probably right. That said, all Beam and Block suppliers will supply ‘Ceiling Clips’. These ceiling clips sit on the shoulder of the floor beam, dropping beneath the level of the floor and are suited typically for a 50 x 38mm batten. This will leave a void area between the soffit of the floor and the top side of the batten, allowing services to run to the underside of the floor.

Contentious issue – Ease of Installation. Fixing any product at height is a worry and should only be carried out by qualified installers. Is fixing beam and block any more dangerous than fixing timber? Look everything carries risk, but risk can be limited. It goes for concrete, the same goes for timber. What I would say is; use the experts. Use the companies that have a good track record of doing this. All members of the Precast Flooring Federation adhere to their Code of Practice. The Code of Practice is a fantastic document that has been compiled by the best in the world of Precast Health & Safety.

The Thermal Performance of concrete is exceptional. Due to the properties of concrete it is conducive to retaining heat during the day and slowly dispersing that exact same heat during the night. Do you get cold at night? Are your heating bills going through the roof? Do you care about your carbon footprint? If the answer to any of the above is yes – then concrete is a viable option for you! The government is pushing more and more for a fabric first solution. Defining fabric first means that we get the most out of all products in the building before relying on secondary sources in the home. In this case, using a material that will provide the greatest thermal performance before requiring the need for fuel to heat the property.

This one isn’t even up for debate; Material Longevity. Timber has an average lifespan of around 60 years. Compare this to concrete at 150+ years. Look, if concrete doesn’t last more than 150 years -come and talk to me about it!

I do not want to dwell on the next topic really – Material Cost. I would always advocate that you go away and do your own maths. It is the only way you will trust what works best for you. I can give you guidance on Beam and Block. If you would like to put it into your analysis though; beams are typically £10.00-£15.00 p/m² and blocks are £8.00-£11.00 p/m² depending on where you are in the country. Is timber cheaper? Yes it probably is, but only marginally. Could you make this money back by building a better, more desirable home? Would people pay the difference for all of the points mentioned thus far? I would pay it alone not to hear televisions on all the way through the house! If the price of your house was increased by £300.00 for arguments sake, when you came to buy it – would you? Surely if you were told this, you would massively reduce the sound transmission throughout the house.

Installation Costs, I cannot disagree here. Timber probably is cheaper to install. One out of nine is not bad. I don’t know how you build, but surely you can find a way to incorporate the efficient use of small all-terrain cranes across your site without having to allocate the whole cost to the beam and block floors? If you can; are the installation costs as far out as you think?

beam block upper floors table

We will be carrying out CPDs on this subject in the new year. If you wish to attend, please contact us and let us know. To conclude, I think there is a very good reasoned argument to say that concrete is a better option than you probably thought. I certainly think if you are a 5* house builder, self-builder, a regional house builder or someone trying to build the more ornate stand out property that people are willing to maybe pay an extra few pounds for, then consider concrete. Seriously do.

Thank you for reading.