If you’ve ever tried to nail down a hard answer on this subject, you’re probably already familiar with the broad range of estimates out there.
To determine the cost to build with Insulated Concrete Forms and to make your search a little easier, we’ve taken a look at the major reports on ICF costs throughout USA and Canada and boiled them down to the basics.
One thing that makes cost comparisons difficult is the fact that ICF blocks costs are usually measured in square feet of wall area while wood frame costs are measured in square feet of floor area.
So, How Much Does It Cost to Build With Insulated Concrete Forms?
Depending on the study, you might see ICFs converted to relate to floor area, so it’s a good idea to keep track of what’s being measured to avoid any confusion.
Another thing to bear in mind is that different studies use different costs. Some give what the general contractor paid (referred to as builder’s costs or total house cost) while others give what the general contractor charges to install ICF blocks (referred to as sales price).
Let’s take a look at some numbers:
A Portland Cement Association technology brief drawing from work done by VanderWerf, Feige, Chammas, and Lemay (Insulating Concrete Forms for Residential Design and Construction, 1997) concluded ICF blocks cost builders about 4%-5% per square foot of floor area more than wood frame houses of the same design.
At the time of the study, the typical US and Canadian homes cost the builder about $80-$120 per square foot of floor area, so using ICFs added about a $1.00-5.00 premium to this figure.
This held true only for homes built by experienced contractors (who’ve built at least 4 to 5 houses).
Along similar lines, the NAHB Research Center’s Demonstration Homes Project also evaluated the use of ICFs in residential construction in 2007.
They experienced up to 10% increase in total house cost, adding about 7%-8% to the final price for the buyers. The NAHB’s Tool-Base report found that ICF Blocks increased builder’s cost by $20 per square foot of floor area compared to wood frame construction.
These days in Southern Ontario prices range from $16.00 to $18.00 per square foot of finished ICF wall.
The Bottom Line:
So where do all those studies leave us? The bottom line is this: ICFs usually cost more than wood frame. But by how much? It depends. There are so many potential influences on the price that it’s tough to nail down a solid estimate.
Here’s why: concrete, lumber and foam prices, ICF form prices, lumber prices, exterior finishes, design features, crew experience, labor markets, and engineering all influence the cost of the intended project.
Results from the NAHB Research Center’s Demonstration Homes Project showed that total costs for construction of ICF foundation walls can be less than that for poured walls.
An added cost of $15.00 – $20.00 per square foot of floor area seems to be in the middle of most of these ranges. But take that figure lightly; construction with ICFs can increase builder’s costs much less or more. It’s easy to see why there’s been so much debate on this issue.
All this being said ICFs do have significant cost savings opportunities. Because ICF construction is more energy efficient, HVAC systems can be downsized, and those savings offset part of the cost difference.
Using Stucco as your exterior finish will also reduce some of the expense of the base styrofoam required for stucco installation is already set up.
Most builders report fewer customer service calls on their ICF homes
ICF homeowners enjoy lower utility bills, better sound proofing, and durability. Some have estimated that the monthly savings provide a good payback on the initial investment. And then you have the benefits of a stronger, quieter, more comfortable home.
The cost of ICF vs. more traditional methods of construction is typically more for the actual construction, but the cost of ownership of an ICF structure is significantly less than the more traditional methods. In nearly every documented case of the cost of an ICF structure, the return on investment (ROI) for the extra construction cost is within 10 – 15 years with many showing less than ten years.
Depending how costs are viewed, ICF blocks may cost a little more or significantly less to build and operate.