Masthead Background Image



July 20th, 2020 | Concrete, Construction

Monolithic concrete construction

Monolithic concrete construction is one of the most innovative forms of concrete construction available to companies today. In some situations, monolithic concrete construction is a highly attractive form of construction that can get the job done faster than other methods. As you consider concrete construction services, learn more about the history of monolithic concrete construction, along with its advantages and disadvantages.



Monolithic architecture refers to a type of building that has been cast, excavated or carved from one piece of material. Historically, monolithic buildings were built by carving rooms and other features into rocks. Monolithic concrete construction is a kind of monolithic architecture. Specifically, it refers to a structure made out of concrete that casts all of its components at one time.


Monolithic concrete construction dates back a thousand years, if not more. Some of the most well-known early monolithic construction examples come from the Zagwe dynasty’s monolithic churches that were constructed during the dynasty’s rule from approximately 900 to 1270 A.D.

It’s believed that these structures were inspired by one of the Zagwe kings, Lalibela, who hoped to create a “New Jerusalem” in a mountainous region of Ethiopia. Based on this vision, laborers and craftsmen created 11 monolithic churches by carving them out of rock. In the creation of these churches, they found large blocks of rocks and then began to chisel these blocks out. Through carving the rocks, they were able to craft roofs, windows, doors, columns and other features.

Each church is impressive in its own right, with beautiful ceremonial passages, functional drainage ditch stems and catacombs built into them. Standing out from the pack, the Biete Medhani Alem is estimated to be the largest monolithic church in the world. Other monolithic buildings around the world have survived the centuries, with the Indian Shore Temple, built between 700 and 728 A.D., being one of the most impressive examples.

There weren’t many developments in the field until 1908 when Thomas Edison made a major advance in monolithic architecture when he filed for a patent that covered the construction of buildings using only one concrete placement. These buildings required a complex mold and expensive equipment to create, so it was hard for Edison to convince others to buy into his concrete homes. Though the buildings were marketed as being fireproof, easy to clean and affordable, they were hard to sell to buyers.

Though they were difficult to sell, some concrete buildings were built in New Jersey, with a few of them still standing today. History would largely deem Edison’s foray into concrete construction a failure, with his cement company losing millions of dollars. However, it did reveal monolithic architecture’s ability to be used for residential purposes.

Since Edison’s initial attempt to create monolithic concrete homes, the method has caught on, with it being a great method for times when the demand for housing spikes. The fast and easy construction method makes it an attractive option for some today. For example, India’s Central Public Works Department uses monolithic construction technology to create office complexes and large housing projects. You can expect to continue to see monolithic concrete construction used around the world where speed and quality are needed.


Step-wise construction is the most common type of construction method. A step-wise construction project is completed in distinct stages, rather than all at once. In contrast, monolithic concrete construction refers to a construction process completed all at one time. Since monolithic concrete construction is most commonly used with foundations, the following will compare the two different foundation construction methods.


Traditional concrete foundations rely on step-wise construction. This process comes in three main parts:

  1. Transferring loads to the underlying soil
  2. Constructing foundation walls
  3. Pouring a slab

The first step to building a foundation using step-wise construction is the placement of footings. A footing refers to an area of concrete that has been placed deep in the soil. Usually, these footings are quite wide, as they are designed to spread a structure’s weight across the ground. By spreading the weight evenly, there’s less chance of a building moving or cracking.

Buildings and structures in colder climates can also benefit from them, as footings can prevent frost. Since footings are installed deep into the ground below the frost line, they prevent a structure from becoming damaged. Without footings or those that are improperly installed above the frost line, water can go through a cycle of thawing and freezing, which can result in cavities forming under the foundation that can cause the foundation to crumble and harm the building’s structural integrity.

After the footings are laid, the next step is to construct the foundation walls, which are placed on top of the footings and connect the whole building. You can often see these walls in unfinished basements.

The final component of step-wise construction is the slab, which rests on top of the footings and in between the foundation walls. Typically, this slab is your subfloor or basement floor and is made out of concrete.

With all of the steps it takes to complete a step-wise constructed foundation, companies often have to plan to spend a significant amount of time to pour and cure each element of the foundation. The extra time spent installing the foundation can lead to higher costs and a loss to productivity, leading some to look for more efficient methods.



Monolithic construction for foundation slabs is one of the most common alternatives to step-wise foundations. Instead of breaking up the foundation into multiple pieces, monolithic slabs combine the concrete slab and the foundation footings into one item. You’ll pour your slab and footing at the same time, which will help you complete your projects faster.

In comparison to more traditional foundations, monolithic foundations end up being much thinner. Typically, the footings for these foundations will only go about 12 inches from the base to the floor, and the foundation will only be about four inches thick. While some specialized digging equipment can be used to dig into the earth to make the job faster, you can also typically handle the digging by hand since you only have to dig a few inches into the ground.

With monolithic slabs, you’ll also find that they rest on top of a gravel bed, designed for proper drainage. The slab will also feature wire mesh or rebar to strengthen the slab and lower the chances of any cracking. In especially cold climates, you can add a layer of insulation that surrounds the foundation and provides internal heating. The insulation layer will push the frost line away and keep your structure safe from thawing and freezing.


Monolithic construction is often a much faster method for laying down the foundation of homes and is popular for developments where lots of homes need to be built quickly. There are a few other benefits to monolithic concrete construction, but there are also some disadvantages, leading companies to sometimes choose step-wise construction methods over the monolithic alternative. Before choosing a concrete service for your needs, learn the positives and negatives of monolithic construction:


Though monolithic construction comes with many benefits, there are some downsides to using this method. Since monolithic structures don’t go deep enough to get under the freeze line, they’re not well-suited for colder climates, where freezing and thawing will be more likely and often, leading to concrete cracking. Besides not being well-suited for cold weather, there are a few more potential negatives to using monolithic concrete:

  • Not as versatile: Monolithic construction isn’t ideal for some projects. For example, it’s not available in times where the home has lots of fill dirt underneath it. You’ll often find a great deal of fill dirt in sites where many holes have had to be filled. Placing a monolithic slab over fill dirt can raise the likelihood that the concrete will crack. Step-wise construction, in contrast, can adjust to fill dirt and other conditions.
  • Carbon intensive: One of the most significant downsides to monolithic concrete construction is that it’s the most carbon-intensive of all building construction methods. The embodied carbon found in monolithic concrete structures tends to be quite high. This level of carbon isn’t environmentally friendly and can cause some builders not to use it as a result.
  • Expensive for certain homesites: At times, monolithic concrete construction can be far more expensive than other options. Homes on slopes will require far too much concrete for a monolithic pour and end up being too expensive.
  • Cracking due to excess weight: Monolithic construction isn’t a great choice for times when you have significant weight loads on your structure. For example, block exterior walls can cause the perimeter to crack if it was built via a monolithic pour.
  • Can’t be used for elevated homes: Sometimes, local regulations cause a home to be elevated, such as when a home is being constructed in a flood zone. Since monolithic foundations are often much shallower than others, they won’t be able to elevate the home properly to meet the local safety codes or appearance regulations.



Despite the negatives of monolithic concrete, some benefits make it ideal for particular projects. There are plenty of monolithic construction successes that have left houses standing for a long time, and it can be a great choice for many projects. Learn more about the following advantages to monolithic concrete construction:


One of the most well-known benefits of monolithic concrete structures is the speed in which you can complete them. Instead of step-wise construction where you have to lay the footings, slab and walls in three individual steps, monolithic concrete construction only requires a single pour. Since you don’t have to wait for your footings to cure after pouring, you can get structures built faster. A monolithic pour means that you don’t have any delays. You only have a single pour and curing process, allowing you to get started on other project elements faster.


Since monolithic slabs are often thinner than traditionally poured slabs, construction companies often worry that the slab isn’t strong enough for their needs. They don’t want their foundation to end up cracking, reducing the structural integrity of the home. One of the primary advantages of a monolithic concrete slab is that it’s very easy to reinforce with steel mesh. With the mesh and other reinforcements, you can end up strengthening the slab and making it ideal for times when you need extra durability.


In a traditional foundation construction pour, footings have to go deep into the ground. This need to place the footings far into the ground requires the builder to drill deep, leading to extra costs, equipment and time. If you’re in a region where the ground is hard or rocky, digging becomes even more difficult. In times where the ground is especially hard, monolithic construction can be much easier. Since you don’t have to dig so deep, you can quickly put down the foundation. Harder and rocky soil won’t be as much of a problem, making it the ideal construction method for many construction companies who operate in areas with difficult soil.


With step-wise construction, there are many more steps that a team has to follow to get the job done correctly, leading to an increase in the likelihood that mistakes are made. It’s harder to maintain consistency with all of the steps required for step-wise concrete construction, leading to problems where the slab ends up not being as stable or strong as it needs to be. With a monolithic pour, you get a simple, short process that doesn’t leave the door open for mistakes. Your team has to maintain their focus for one action, rather than multiple, so the chances that a mistake is made lessen significantly. As a result, you’ll often see a much more consistent final product.



At R.J. Potteiger Construction Services, Inc., we offer a wide variety of concrete services that can help you build a long-lasting and attractive structure. Our concrete service division is prepared to handle several types of projects and provide you with the ideal construction service. We complete most of our projects with a negotiated team managed approach, leading to better coordination and communication. You can be certain your project will get done efficiently and economically when working with us. Find out more about our concrete services. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us online or call our office at (717) 697-3192, and one of our friendly representatives will be happy to speak with you.