Whether you’re building a home or a multi-level commercial structure, you can’t beat the rewards of building with Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF). ICFs provide a lightweight, high-strength alternative to using conventional wood frame construction.
What are insulated concrete forms?
Insulated concrete forms (ICFs) are hollow styrofoam blocks which are stacked into the shape of the exterior walls of a building, reinforced with steel rebar, and then filled with concrete.
ICFs combine one of the finest insulating materials, Expanded Polystyrene (EPS), with one of the strongest structural building materials, steel reinforced concrete.
The result is a wall system of unmatched comfort, energy efficiency, strength and noise reduction.
Insulating Concrete Form Structures are Comfortable & Quiet
When planning a new house, consider the greater well-being that comes from living with more even temperature, sharply reduced drafts, and noticeably greater quiet.
When surveyed, over 80% of ICF home owners mentioned the great comfort of their home, compared with just 22% of frame home owners.
The high thermal mass and minimal air infiltration of insulating concrete form walls create a more uniform and stable temperature throughout your home. You’ll have no more hot spots or cold drafts.
ICF walls reduce air infiltration by 75%: The effects of hay fever, asthma, and other airborne allergies can be greatly alleviated as a direct result of the reduced leakage of outside air, which brings dust, pollen, and other pollutants. Indoor air pollution is a great health concern today.
ICF walls are non-toxic. The measurement of air contents of actual ICF houses shows an almost complete absence of any emissions.
Quieter Insulating concrete form homes provide unparalleled peace and quiet and true protection from outside noise. In sound transmission tests, ICF walls allow less than one-third as much sound to pass through than regular frame walls.
Insulating Concrete Form Structures are Energy Efficient
Energy efficiency is the core feature of insulating concrete form construction because so many owner/ occupant benefits stem from it.
Actual studies show that homes built with ICF exterior walls require an estimated 44% less energy to heat and 32% less energy to cool than comparable wood frame houses.
However, homes and structures built with the proper complement of windows, doors, HVAC systems, and methods, generally accomplish at least a 50% savings in heating and cooling. And in some cases, depending on the area and climate, homeowners experience as much as an 80% decrease in energy use and costs.
At a time when energy costs are soaring, many building owners are deciding it makes more sense to spend money on a safer, longer lasting, and more energy efficient structure than to spend that same money on utility bills.
The Total Effective R-Value performance of Insulated Concrete Forms consists of three factors:
(1) the R-Value of the expanded polystyrene,
(2) the thermal mass of the concrete, and
(3) the enormous reduction in air leakage (infiltration).
First, the R-Value of polystyrene alone is R-22 – R-30, compared to wood frame’s R-9 to R-15. So ICF walls are expected to cut the conduction losses through foundation and above-grade walls by about half.
Air leakage accounts for as much as 40% of the heat load requirements of a wood framed structure. Nothing blows through solid concrete! ICF walls reduce air infiltration by about half, compared to wood frame.
But ICF walls do more than cut down on the biggest types of energy loss. The concrete gives them the heat-absorbing property “thermal mass.” This is the ability to smooth out large swings in temperature.
It keeps the walls of the house a little warmer when the outdoor temperature hits its coldest extreme, and keeps the house a little cooler when the outdoor temperature is hottest.
As a result, with the combined performance of these three factors, ICF walls actually perform as high as R-50 in some areas of the country.
Insulating Concrete Form construction is Affordable
A home built with insulating concrete forms is more affordable than you may think! The old saying goes: “It takes money to make money.” It also takes money to save money. Insulating concrete forms cost a little more — about 5-15% on average — than traditional stick wall construction, but that additional investment is quickly recouped by the tremendous savings in energy, interest, and insurance costs.
Then consider the reduced maintenance costs and higher resell value and you can see why insulating concrete home structures are actually more affordable than wood construction!
How much does an ICF house cost?
Typical new custom home in Ontario costs $150-200 per square foot. Building walls of ICFs adds in average 10% to this figure. But since ICF houses are more energy-efficient, the heating and cooling equipment can be smaller than in a frame house.
Increased Home Value
Not planning on staying in your home for more a than few years? A recent study conducted for the EPA Energy Star Homes Program concludes that home value increases by about $20 for every $1 reduction in annual utility bills.
This means you can profit by investing in energy efficient homes even if you’re uncertain about how long you might stay in the home. You’ll enjoy positive cash flow for as long as you live in your home and can also expect to recover your investment when you sell the home.
Because ICFs are included in the masonry construction class, they qualify for a lower premium than a home in the traditional wood frame class. Also, more and more insurance providers are recognizing the fire and natural disaster resistance of insulating concrete form structures and are offering special discounts on top of those lower premiums.
Because of the proven energy savings, certain mortgage companies offer “Energy Efficiency” Home Mortgages which take into consideration the decrease in energy costs. This allows you to qualify for a higher mortgage payment. That means you’re taking that same money which would be going to the utility companies and instead putting into your home!
Insulating Concrete Form structures are Safe and Strong
For many people, the greatest benefit of an ICF home is the peace of mind that comes with being surrounded by the strength of concrete and steel. Insulating Concrete Forms create a monolithic concrete wall that is 10 times stronger than wood framed structures.
Insulating Concrete Forms are Fire Resistant
In fire wall tests, ICFs stood exposure to intense flame without structural failure longer than did common frame walls. The extremely low flame spread and smoke development make ICF walls safer from the hazard of fire.
Built according to good practices, concrete homes can be among the safest and most durable types of structures in an earthquake. Homes built with reinforced concrete walls have a record of surviving earthquakes intact and structurally sound.
Tornado and Hurricane Resistant
In severe weather, the walls of your ICF home provide protection for your family that is far superior to wood frame construction. A Texas Tech University study proves that walls built with Insulating Concrete Forms (ICFs) withstand the damage and projectiles launched by tornado and hurricane strength winds. A Safe Room is the perfect complement to an ICF home.
Fire Resistance of Concrete Homes
Of all construction materials, concrete is one of the most resistant to heat and fire. That fire resistance gives houses built with insulating concrete forms certain safety advantages. And those advantages give builders and buyers yet another reason to consider using ICFs for their next project.
How well do ICF walls hold up in a fire?
Unlike wood, concrete does not burn. Unlike steel, it does not soften and bend. Concrete does not burn until it is exposed to thousands of degrees Fahrenheit — far more than is present in the typical house fire.
This has been confirmed in so-called “fire-wall” tests. In these tests, ICF walls were subjected to continuous gas flames and temperatures of up to 2000°F for as long as four hours. None of the ICF walls ever failed structurally. All of the ICFs tested were of the “flat” or “uninterrupted grid” type, having no significant breaks in the concrete layer [like BuildBlock ICFs]. In contrast, wood frame walls typically collapse in an hour or less.
Concrete walls have also proven more resistant to allowing fire to pass from one side of the wall to the other. This is especially of interest in areas with brush fires that could spread indoors.
The fire wall test confirms this rule for ICFs once again. Part of the test measured how well the wall slows the passage of heat and fire from the side with the flame to the other side. The ICF walls tested did not allow flames to pass directly through.
They also did not allow enough heat through to start a fire on the cool side for 2-4 hours. In contrast, wood frame walls typically allow both flame and fire-starting heat through in an hour of less.
The foams in ICFs are manufactured with flame-retardant additives. These prevent the foams from burning by themselves. If you hold a match to the material, it will melt away.
Of course, in a house fire the foam may be subjected to constant flame from other materials burning nearby (wooden floors, fabrics, etc.).
The “Steiner Tunnel Test” measure how much a material carries fire from an outside source. In the test, technicians line a tunnel with the mate- rial, run a fire at one end, then measure how far the flame spreads. The flames travel about one-fifth as far down a tunnel lined with ICF foams as they spread down a tunnel lined with wood.
Can the foam give off harmful emissions?
Practically any organic material, be it wood or plastic, gives off emissions when it is subjected to intense heat or flame. The Southwest Re- search Institute reviewed the numerous existing studies of fire emissions and concluded that the emissions from polystyrene foams are “no more toxic” than those of wood.
Concrete Homes Stand Up to Earthquakes
In reinforced concrete construction, the combination of concrete and steel provides the three most important properties for earthquake resistance: stiffness, strength, and ductility.
Why Buildings Survive
Studies of earthquake damage consistently show well-anchored shear walls are the key to earthquake resistance in low-rise buildings. Optimal design conditions include shear walls that extend the entire height and located on all four sides of a building. Long walls are stronger than short walls, and solid walls are better than ones with a lot of open- ing for windows and doors. These elements are designed to survive severe sideways (in-plane) forces, called racking and shear, without being damaged or bent far out of po- sition. Shear walls also must be well anchored to the foundation structure to work effectively. Properly installed steel reinforcing bars extend across the joint between the walls and the foundation to provide secure anchorage to the foundation.
Why Buildings Fail
Low-rise buildings most vulnerable to earthquakes do have the necessary stiffness, strength, and ductility to resist the forces of an earthquake or had walls that were not well anchored to a solid foundation, or both. Three types of buildings sustained the most significant damage:
Multi-story buildings with a ground floor consisting only of columns: Most of these buildings were 3 to 4 stories tall with a parking garage or a living area with many large windows on the ground level. The columns may have been strong enough to hold up the structure, but did not provide an adequate amount of racking resistance during a seismic event. When the earthquake shook the building side-to-side, the upper stories sometimes tipped over to one side. Whether built of wood, steel, or concrete—they all suffered damage.
Wood-frame houses with weak connections between the walls and foundation: Wood-framed buildings are inherently ductile (flexible), which is an attribute during an earthquake. However, the shaking sent some of these houses sliding to one side. Frequently, the shear walls were strong enough, but the connection to the foundation was a weak point that gave way.
Un-reinforced masonry or concrete buildings: Masonry or concrete walls not reinforced with steel bars were not ductile enough to be effective shear walls. And if there is no steel connecting them to their foundation, the joint between walls and foundation can be a weak point.
Why reinforced concrete is safe
Reinforced concrete walls are a composite system: Concrete resists compression forces, and reinforcing steel resists tensile forces produced by an earthquake. The concrete is cast around the bars, locking them into place. The exceptional ductility of the steel to resist tensile forces, coupled with the rock-like ability of concrete to resist compression, results in an excellent combination of the three most important earthquake resistance properties: stiffness, strength, and ductility. A study at Construction Technology Laboratories revealed that even a lightly reinforced concrete shear wall has over six times the racking load resistance as framed wall construction. It’s no wonder that modern reinforced concrete buildings were found to survive these recent earthquakes with rarely any significant damage.
Flying Debris Tests
The Wind Engineering Research Center at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, tested 6-inch insulating concrete walls and several other wall systems to determine their resistance to flying debris during a tornado or hurricane. The tests were performed using a compressed air cannon to propel a 15-pound 2×4 wood stud (missile) at over 100 miles an hour at the test walls. (It should be noted that the standard tests for building materials used in hurricane regions is a nine (9) pound object traveling at only 34mph!)
The 6-inch insulating concrete wall performed with flying colors while the wood frame and steel frame walls failed miserably, even when covered with brick.
Insulating Concrete Form structures are durable
History attests to the permanence of concrete. The cementitious structures of ancient times are comprised of only a crude form of the highly refined concrete we have today, yet they’ve stood the test of time.
The high-mass walls of an insulating concrete form structure give it a remarkably solid feel. And make it a remarkably solid investment, too. While wood structures are expected to last decades, it only makes sense that a building made from steel reinforced concrete and high-density foam will last centuries.
The permanence of concrete construction increases the value of your investment, whether it be your personal residence, a multi-family dwelling, or a commercial structure. When you build with concrete, you build for keeps.
Neither polystyrene nor concrete will ever rot or rust. Reinforcing steel, buried deep inside and protected by concrete’s alkalinity, does not corrode.
After years of service, an ICF structure can be completely refurbished with new interior and exterior finishes to achieve an updated style or new use.
Insulating Concrete Forms are Adaptable
ICFs are extremely adaptable to your design, making them an architect’s dream! An ICF house can look just like a traditional home if you want. Or, because of the innate flexibility of the foam material, you can have unique footprints, arches, angles and curves as part of your design at a lower construction cost than with traditional building methods.
ICF homes can be designed in any style, and will accept any traditional exterior finish including vinyl or wood siding, stucco and brick.
It seems to be the new buzzword in the construction industry. And with good reason. The construction practices of the past are simply unsatisfactory for the world of today – and tomorrow.
It’s more important than ever that we conserve natural resources and reduce waste and pollution. There are countless reasons why we should do every we can to protect the environment. ICFs not only offer the owners and tenants unbeatable benefits, but they’re also environmentally responsible.
• Building an ICF home instead of traditional stick frame home saves at least 10 trees.
• The enormous reduction in energy use — up to 70% — saves our natural resources.
• The energy savings also result in less carbon monoxide being released into the atmosphere on an ongoing basis.
• ICF blocks result in less construction waste.
• ICFs contain no HCFC, formaldehyde, asbestos, or fiberglass, and no harmful CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) are used in their manufacture, nor is there any degree of “off-gassing.”
Now it’s your turn to build a house!
If you are like most folks you’ve taken hundreds of pictures, visited countless models, spent endless amounts of time searching the internet for ideas, and have talked the ears off of your friends and family.
Finally, the waiting is over and it is time to get started. It’s your turn to build a house and you want it to be perfect.
But, where do you go from here?
It is our hope that you’ll take a few minutes to read about a construction technique that fundamentally alters the entire building process from start to finish. It’s a construction technique that does not require any design constraints to how your build your house and is a system that ends up giving you a safer, stronger and less expensive home than one built from wood.
Best of all, it is a construction system that reduces your costs to both build as well as to operate your home. It is one that will save you money from the start of your project.
It is a simple request to consider building your project using two time tested and proven building materials: Concrete and Steel, instead of wood.
We believe this building system simply “blows the conventional system of building with wood out of the water” and will not only provide you with a far better (we will explain what that means in a minute) home but it will get you into your home faster and provide you a home that will cost significantly less money to operate that a conventionally built home.
These look like Lego blocks with hollowed out mid sections. This block, available from a host of different manufacturers are the basic building unit and is known as an insulated concrete forms.
Inside this block, snapped into the webs, is re bar…the steel part of the concrete and steel. The rest of the block is filled with concrete.
What does this mean to you?
When your ICF home is completed you have a home that is:
- Less expensive to operate
- Qualifies you for significantly reduced home owners’ insurance as the risk of loss due to fire/termites etc are virtually
- Energy consumption in an ICF home is reduced up to 40% year over a conventionally built home.
- Safer than a wooden home as it resists combustion for over 4 hours vs the standard 20 minutes of wood. It mean in case of a fire, you have a lot more time to get your loved one’s out and to safety.
- Stronger than a wooden home. ICF homes are the only homes left standing in areas prone to bad weather and fires as they are rated to withstand up to Category 4 hurricane winds.
- Significantly quieter than a conventionally built home as the thick exterior walls prevent outside noises from entering
- Maintains much better air quality as less air infiltrates into the home resulting in a significantly reduced allergen load.
- Gives you the coolest house on the block…both literally and figuratively.
- The “Greenest” construction practice on the market today. You are doing your part to conserve the planets resources.
So if this ICF building system is so excellent, why aren’t more homes built this way?
Well, if you are like most folks when you get started on your house project chances are you’ll start by asking friends who have gone before you for advice and for guidance. If you are lucky maybe you will even get the names and numbers of the contractors who helped them and then hopefully you’ll be on your way.
Alternatively, you may not know anyone who has built a home themselves but perhaps you’ve seen a new home go up in your neighborhood or on your way to work. So, next time you drive by those projects you write down the contractors number from their sign and then give them a call. Maybe you’ve seen an architect sign around town so you give them a call directly.
The problem is that most building professionals have had little to no exposure to the ICF industry. Most contractors know what it costs them to build a house, what their margins are and are happy doing the same thing over and over again. In their minds, why change if what you are doing works?
The reality of today’s housing market is that homes are fundamentally built the same way today as they were 100 years ago…and therein lies the problem.
Slowly, as more and more architects, designers and builders realize the incredible opportunity in front of them more and more people are starting to embrace this revolutionary ICF building system.
Choosing the right builder is like choosing a life mate – only harder.
Most people date for at least a few months before they pop the question these days but unfortunately, when you sign on with a builder seldom do you have more than couple of dates before you have an agreement before you for one of the most expensive items you will ever buy in your life.
Done right, nothing can match the pride you will feel once you’ve finished the project and the contractor hands you a key to your new house. Done wrong and you might end up spending more of your money in court that you did on your house.
The other most important thing to remember is that the lowest price doesn’t always get you the best value. Not a day goes by when I don’t hear about a homeowner telling me about how such and such gave them a great price on their project in order to win the bid only to watch their price rise every time a nail did not go where it showed it on the original plans.
Undoubtedly, one of the most difficult part of this job is working with people who know the cost of everything but the value of nothing.
That said, building a beautiful home will cost you a lot of money…and here is where it gets important. For most folks a lot of money means a lifetime of savings plus a big fat new loan they just got from the bank for a million plus dollars.
For the lucky few the money may represent a lot of options that just vested or the proceeds from their latest start-up. Either way, no one want to spend money where they don’t need to and certainly, no one wants to get ripped off.
So, what goes so wrong in so many contractor engagements?
As with most things in life, unmet expectations are at the heart of most conflicts. Either explicit or implicit, when deadlines are missed, money gets tight or materials are late showing up thus throwing you off schedule, plans change.
Needless to say, effective planning is a crucial first step towards the successful execution of any project but, even the best laid plans “mature and evolve” as a structure takes shape.
Knowing how to balance these “IN PROCESS CHANGES” against the realities of time lines and budgets is what differentiates us from our competitors…and is typically the root of all problems in a construction project.
Department of Housing – Office of Policy Development and Research: COSTS AND BENEFITS – INSULATING CONCRETE FORMS FOR RESIDENTIAL CONSTRUCTION
And that is why we believe the best project are those where the homeowner chooses their contractor early to work with their chosen design professionals to collectively figure out the best way to tackle the job ahead.
Designers and Architects are only part of a strong building team but the best teams and the best projects happen when the contractor building the project gets involved from the start and helps the homeowner and design professionals figure out a strategy to help keep costs under control while still delivering or most likely exceeding the home owners original expectations.
Be it state of the art chilling units vs traditional condensing units to minimize AC costs, self-draining foundation forms, radiant heating systems vs ground source heating and cooling to maintain optimal internal temperatures, Styrofoam flooring, Spray foam insulation, heat exchangers, IT systems, home automation and computer controlled lighting etc.,
Building a great home means understanding the project as a series of interdependent systems, each working in harmony with the other, each optimized to perform to the best of their design specifications.
We believe our job is to present homeowners intelligent time saving options that minimize both construction costs and operational costs…not because they are “new”, “sexy” or “cool”… but because it is building innovation at work.
What this means is simple: our clients get a significantly better home at a greatly reduced overall cost. It about helping our clients get exactly what they want in timely manner each and every time we work with someone.
Part of this process involves us helping our clients understand the difference between the cost to build a structure and the cost to operate this structure.
Our willingness to integrate state of the art building techniques and materials into our projects allows us to innovate faster than our competitors and results in our ability to improve against industry standard benchmarks.
And that is why we believe using ICF forms are the best option for today’s homeowners. They create the best overall value and do so in a way that brings long lasting benefits to the homeowner.