Types of Home Construction & Home Insurance Prices
Before getting a homeowners insurance policy, you should know as much about your property as possible. With so many houses in the U.S., there are tons of different home construction styles. The type of house can impact your daily life and can increase or decrease your home insurance rates.
We will break down all the various types of home construction and how they impact your homeowners policy.
How Does Home Construction Impact Standard Homeowners Insurance Rates?
Your insurance company wants to mitigate risk as much as possible. The lower risk your house is, the less you will pay for protection. So, the building materials used to construct your property matter quite a bit. There are a couple of different ways that your home's construction will affect your rates, including:
- Fire Risk. Wood-framed homes are more flammable than concrete or solid brick-framed homes. Therefore, wood has a higher risk factor, and you will not get a discount on your home insurance premiums.
- Material Cost. Not only can the price of the materials themselves affect your rates but also the cost of rebuilding. For example, individual bricks are cheap, but bricklayers are expensive. Insurers factor in what it will cost to rebuild your home. Brick homes have a high rebuild cost and, therefore, higher rates. Although, brick scores you fire-resistant points.
- Foundation. The type of foundation affects elements like flooding, sinking, and shifting. For example, a basement may cost more to protect than a slab foundation because it is more susceptible to water damage. Or a pier-and-beam constructed home in a flood zone will get lower home insurance rates because it is lifted off the ground.
- Pests. Termites damage wood structures, but they cannot affect concrete or brick. Insurers exclude termite damage, so this does not affect your rates. But it costs you a lot to repair.
- Weather Resistance. Wood rots away over time, and masonry can crumble if left unchecked. That said, you can protect your home with external facades, like brick veneer or vinyl siding. Impact roofs lessen hail and wind damage. Also, wind mitigation helps prevent your roof from flying off during high winds or hurricanes. Materials that reduce weather damage lead to home insurance discounts.
Fire Classifications of Home Construction
When comparing different building materials, you will need to know how they are classified. There are five construction classes, each based on fire resistance (measured in hours). Level one is the best option, while level five is the least resistant. Here is a breakdown of each one:
- Level 1 - Fire Resistive. This class means that the materials have at least a three-hour fire-resistance rating for the exterior walls and frame. Examples can include concrete and steel frame structures. Fire resistive frames garner generous home insurance discounts.
- Level 2 - Non-Combustible. Builders separate this class into two categories: protected and non-protected. The term non-combustible means the building construction will not add fuel to the fire, but it will get destroyed.
Protected structures have a fire-resistance rating of one hour for exterior walls and frames. Non-protected buildings (i.e., garages or gazebos) have no fire resistance.
- Level 3 - Ordinary. This class is the most common for homes, and the level of fire resistance varies between materials. Again, this category splits into "protected" or "non-protected," depending on how long the structure can last in a fire.
- Level 4 - Heavy Timber. The wooden frame sections cannot be less than eight inches thick to qualify as heavy timber. This class has a fire-resistance rating of two hours for the exterior walls and one hour for the structural frame. But it has no resistance on the roof or joists.
- Level 5 - Wood Frame. As with levels three and two, this class is either protected or non-protected. Protected wood frame construction can last up to an hour.
One point to consider is Insurance Services Office, Inc. has developed its own building classifications related to fire safety. The ISO also offers risk ratings to fire departments around the country. It determines how well-equipped they are to put out fires.
Oddly enough, ISO building classes go from least to most fire-resistive. Frame houses land at the bottom end and masonry construction at the top. Click here for an overview of the ISO classifications.
Now that we know the different classes, let us dive into specific construction methods and how they affect your homeowners insurance policy.
Frame Construction Type
Framed houses are the easiest and most cost-effective to build, particularly when using wooden or stick framing. This construction process involves making an internal frame that acts as a skeleton for the whole building. From there, contractors can place various materials over the frame to complete the look. For example, some homes may have a brick veneer with an internal wood frame construction on the exterior.
- Wood Frame House. Also known as stick framing, this option is the most common for new homes.
- Wood Panels (SIP). SIP stands for structural insulated panels. Rather than building a frame and putting materials over it (i.e., drywall), builders can customize engineered wood SIPs. SIP construction uses wooden panels on the outside (typically oriented strand board OSP) and rigid foam insulation on the inside. Despite their flammability, SIPs are decently fire-rated.
- Timber Frame. As we mentioned, timber frames must be at least eight inches thick to receive this designation. Instead of using thinner wooden planks (i.e., 2x4), builders utilize thicker pieces for the internal frame structure.
- Log Homes. While timber and wood frames come pre-manufactured, log homes use full-size logs instead of boards and timber. Instead of building a structure out of boards, contractors will cut elements like doors and windows into the logs.
Because each option uses wood, they fall into levels three, four, or five, depending on the frame's thickness and fire resistance. Overall, wood-framed construction is a higher risk than other options, as we will see below.
Concrete Home Construction
Concrete is a cost-effective and versatile material, which is why it is used in so many buildings, especially commercial buildings. Although concrete block homes are not as ubiquitous as wood-framed properties, they do exist. Concrete construction comes in various flavors, such as:
- Insulated Concrete Form (ICF). ICF construction means that builders will pour liquid concrete between two walls made of insulated polyurethane foam. Once the concrete dries, it acts as a load-bearing wall. The insulation acts as a substrate for wall materials like drywall or stone veneers.
- Concrete Masonry Unit (CMU). CMUs are otherwise known as concrete blocks. Home-builders will place these in layers with mortar in-between, much like brick-laying. Concrete masonry units have holes in the center, which some contractors use for steel reinforcements.
In some instances, builders may pour extra concrete into the openings for added durability. Typically, CMUs get covered by other materials like stucco for better insulation and appearance.
- Reinforced Concrete Frame. This building type uses steel frames covered with concrete. Concrete frame structures work well for high rises and parking structures since it is exceptionally durable and weather-resistant. You likely will not find reinforced concrete in your home unless you live in a parking garage or skyscraper.
- Precast Concrete. Instead of pouring concrete onsite, builders will use casts to create cement pieces. Precast concrete construction can work well for prefabricated homes since it costs less yet maintains the same durability and weather resistance.
Since concrete is naturally non-combustible, a block home will usually fall into level one or two. The final level depends on the other materials used in the construction process.
Steel Frame Home Construction
While stick framing utilizes wood beams, steel frame homes use metal for the interior skeleton. These houses are less common than wood but can offer better resilience and a lower fire hazard risk. There are three ways to build a steel frame house, including:
- Cold-Formed Steel Home Construction. This process uses thin sheets of steel to form various shapes, such as c-sections. Cold-formed steel is relatively cheap and is not quite as durable as wood. Typically, builders use cold-formed steel for interior, non-loadbearing walls. The benefit of CFS, however, is that it is non-combustible.
- Steel Stud Home Construction. While this term may be a cool nickname, it refers to building walls with vertical studs and horizontal tracks. Light gauge steel works best for non-loadbearing walls, while builders use heavy-gauge metal for structural supports.
- Light Gauge Steel Home Construction. The gauge rating for steel indicates the sheet's thickness used for cold forming. As we mentioned, light gauge steel is ideal for interior metal framing. That is because it is not as durable as solid steel or wooden beams.
Thanks to steel's fire resistance, steel frame homes should get rated as level one or two. That means less risk for you, the homeowner, and better premium rates. You will save more with a metal roof as well since it offers wind mitigation.
Masonry Home Construction
Masonry refers to any stone construction, whether it is bricks, concrete blocks, poured concrete, or other rock types. Masonry can be load-bearing or decorative, depending on the exact materials used. Here is an overview of the possible types of masonry construction.
- Masonry Frame. Typically, masonry frames use concrete masonry units (CMUs) to create the building's skeleton. From there, other materials get placed on top for aesthetic and insulation purposes.
- Masonry vs. Masonry Veneer. Usually, masonry veneer is decorative, while masonry construction is load-bearing. An example of masonry veneer would be stone tiles. The tiles look good and can protect the materials underneath, but they do not hold the walls in place. In most cases, masonry gets covered by other materials, while masonry veneer is the outermost layer. Although, brick houses do not use a covering.
- Stone-Built Houses. For a quaint, cottage-style feel, some builders may use natural stone to build a home's structure. Instead of using manufactured masonry (i.e., CMUs or ICF construction), contractors will utilize rocks and mortar. While this design also works well as a veneer, stone-built houses use the stones for load-bearing purposes.
- Brick Home Construction. There are two types of brick construction: solid brick and brick veneer. Solid brick houses use two bricks and serve as both the load-bearing frame and the home's aesthetic exterior. A brick veneer house uses only one bricklayer over a steel or wood frame for the house's aesthetic siding. One point to mention is that a brick veneer is a real brick, not a fake substitute.
Masonry-constructed homes are highly fire-resistive, meaning that they should qualify as level one. However, if your house also uses flammable wooden joints and frames, it could get classified as level two.
Modular Home Construction
The term modular means "involving a module or modules as the basis of construction." So, modular homes work the same way. Instead of creating a full-sized frame and building around it, builders create individual pieces and stick them together. For example, each room could be a module, meaning that you can arrange them however you like.
Modular homes are becoming more popular these days due to their cost-effectiveness and versatility. Modules can use wood, steel, or precast products for their construction, making them durable and easy to make. Then, each module gets shipped to the final location for assembly.
Depending on the materials used in the modules, these homes would typically fall into levels two through five.
Green Home Construction
As homeowners become more aware of their impact on the environment, more of them turn to "green" technology. Green homes are structures that utilize energy-efficient construction methods to be more eco-friendly.
There is no standard definition for "green home construction," so the term is vague. That said, some organizations offer certified green options for houses and building codes. Some methods for building a green home include:
- Alternative Solar Energy Sources. Solar panels are excellent at providing electricity for the home without relying on fossil fuels.
- Recycled Materials. Some greenhouses may use recycled steel or wood pieces for their construction.
- Natural Lighting. Instead of relying on light bulbs, these buildings use sunroofs and large windows to capture as much natural light as possible.
- Passive Heating. A passive house does not use a central heating system. Instead, it captures heat from natural sources (i.e., sunlight) and redistributes it throughout the building.
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Hope that helps!
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