Sinclaire Sparkman: Caring about concrete

Sinclaire Sparkman • Updated Jul 28, 2017 at 1:00 PM

I recently heard of a unique home in Lebanon that has quite the solid history. 

A blog written by Elizabeth Scruggs and shared with me through my connections in concrete tells the story of a doctor who built a home out of concrete materials. 

Read her blog post here.

Back in the 1960s, a doctor by the name of Charles Lowe was inspired by homes in Israel to build something a little different. In fact, he probably built the safest home in the county.

Concrete is usually not the first thing that springs to mind when asked what homes are made of in Tennessee. But we’re a little behind the times. Other countries have built dwellings from solid rock and concrete for thousands of years. Here, we’re still playing with sticks. 

Houses are slapped together with small stick frames, wooden beams and insulation. No mind is paid to the damage that could be done if the big bad wolf were to come and blow so hard, or if the earth were to quake and shake. We’d fall apart rather quickly with our stick houses and hope the insurance could cover the damage. In the Lowe house, the frame is concrete block filled with steel beams and solid materials. The people inside stay safe from storms, it costs less to heat and cool and bugs such as termites are a far-away nightmare. 

My dad is a concrete man, and the foundation of my future was set in concrete at an early age. He owned Star Concrete with my grandfather in my Kentucky hometown until they eventually sold it. My dad went on to be more of a businessman before finally settling in to the world of nonprofit, as the executive director of the Tennessee Concrete Association. Needless to say, I have an appreciation for all things concrete. 

Dr. Lowe’s grandson, Charles Thomas Lowe III and his wife, Dena, graciously offered me a tour of Lebanon’s concrete home recently. They live next door and now take care of the home after the passing of Dr. Lowe. 

The house built of concrete block is quite a marvel and certainly something ahead of its time. Lowe III said the house cost around $60,000 to build back in the early-1960s, and is now worth more than $1 million. The Lowes still use the house for family gatherings. 

Concrete homes are intuitive and generally a better idea than building with sticks. Not only do they keep the electric bill low, but they also provide better protection from fire and storms than traditional houses. They’re also fairly soundproof, meaning noisy neighbors and the passing motorcycle are not disruptive to the peace of those inside. 

Lowe III said there once came a tornado that ripped through the land right between his house next door and the concrete home. When he frantically went to check on his grandfather, he found him quietly reading a book, unaware that anything of the sort had happened right outside. Other concrete homeowners will also attest a storm can often pass without them hearing a thing. 

They’re also great energy savers. The solid concrete creates a barrier from the elements, meaning less power is used to heat and cool the home. The Lowe home even features an atrium with a glass ceiling, which helps with heat during the winter. When it gets cold outside, the Lowes will often open the doors to heat the house and enjoy the sound of the gurgling fountain. 

After the home was built, it was labeled as a certified fall-out shelter, as Lowe III remembers. He said the basement was stocked with food and the solid floors and ceilings were held in high regard for safety. 

A solid foundation is essential to creating a lasting structure, and the house stands today as a testament to the innovation of a Lebanon doctor who saved lives, delivered thousands of babies and created a solid home for his family.

Maybe his forward thinking will catch on and concrete homes can become the norm in Tennessee.

Sinclaire Sparkman is The Democrat’s news editor. Email her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @wilsoncoreports.

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