There is an up and coming type of construction being done commercially and for residential houses that are shaping building design today. It is called ICF or Insulated Concrete Forms. The ICF construction process uses foam blocks that are stacked to form the exterior walls of a building; envision ‘the guys’ playing with a giant set of LEGO toy blocks.
While this building process is becoming more popular, it is not a recent construction innovation to America. It dates back to 1960 and historically this type of foam block construction with cement then placed within the blocks began in Belgium approximately in 1937.
ICF Construction Vs. Traditional Wood Frame
The process of wood frame construction of homes and commercial buildings has been a part of the construction industry and serving homeowners well over 100 years. Wood frame construction uses less heavy construction equipment, fewer tools, and wood frame construction techniques are easy to handle for being lightweight, yet durable, and capable of being cut and molded to different shapes.
Some environmentalists say the cutting down of forests for timber brings an imbalance to the forest ecosystem. Others argue that wood is a significant renewable energy material in home and commercial construction.
In Germany and other Central European areas primary forests are very dense and with some planning of deforestation for construction purposes, these areas have resulted in new secondary young forests grown because the resources used do not exceed that which is re-planted to grow back. We will not be debating the ecological debate for wood-frame homes nor will we dispute that wood has had its advantages for construction through the years.
However, we want to bring into focus in this article that architects and builders are re-thinking the efficiency of wood as a building material source in consideration to ICF home construction for such obvious reasons as wood bringing:
- Fire Risk
- Labor Expense
- Increased Timber Cost
- Termite Infestation
- Wood Moisture
- Less Energy Efficiency
ICF Construction Benefits
When you look at wood frame construction vs. insulated concrete forms, it’s easy to see the benefits of ICF construction, like the following:
- Consolidated Construction Process: The work of building the construction foundation, a multi-step process, is now consolidated to fewer steps and less coordinating with the various skilled trades that are involved with each level of construction. This consolidation speeds the timeline for finishing of projects.
- More Energy Efficient: R-values in building material measures the heat resistance in a material, which is to say the degree of insulation that material provides from outside weather conditions. ICF homes have a higher R-value, and thus ICF homes require less energy to cool or heat.
- High Thermal Mass: Commercial buildings and homes constructed with ICF vs. wood frames are better able to manage the heat energy within the building material and keep temperatures stable.
- Stronger: ICF blocks are concrete blocks reinforced with steel, which means that ICF homes are capable of withstanding such natural disasters as earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes; or any debris that hits a building during such natural disasters.
- Less Organic Substance: The man-made nature of Insulated Concrete Forms means that there will be more hungry termites for lack of organic or natural substances that such vermin eat.
- Controls Moisture: ICF home construction has less moisture intrusion than wood frame construction and so the occurrence of mold and mildew are greatly diminished.
- Less Lumber Cost: When there are such alternatives as ICF construction vs. wood frame construction, architects and builders have better leverage in budgeting and bidding on projects, the ever-increasing costs of lumber are mitigated.
Benefits Of Owning ICF Homes
While the benefits to the construction industry of ICF homes and commercial buildings is obvious, the benefits are just as evident for the end-user, the home or business owner, who owns an ICF home vs. wood-frame home or commercial business. Those benefits include:
- Cost Efficiency of Heating and Cooling Bills: For the reason of the higher R-value in the ICF foam blocks that provide better insulation, the home temperatures remain stable.
- Adapts To All Home Siding Finishes: Any siding finish can be placed on the exterior walls of the home, including vinyl siding, steel siding, and many more.
- Better Return On Investment: While the purchase price of an ICF home is higher than that of wood frame construction; the return on the investment is more stable than wood-frame homes.
- Fewer Insurance Costs: In areas where earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and fires are more the norm than the exception; ICF construction can lower the necessary cost of insurance to protect one’s home investment.
- Lower Home Maintenance Costs: Lower risk of mold, mildew and dry rot lowers general maintenance costs for the homeowner.
- Special Low-Cost Mortgages: When considering the purchase of an ICF constructed home do not forget to ask of special EEM’s, Energy Efficient Mortgages, which will allow the home purchaser the opportunity to qualify for a higher cost mortgage due to savings on energy and other cost-of-living expenses.
Go for ICF Materials and ICF Construction
We hope that this article has brought clarity to the latest innovation in commercial and home construction, known as ICF — Insulated Concrete Forms construction. Some people confuse ICF home construction with modular or prefabricated homes that are built in a factory setting and brought to the lot site. We stress that ICF construction is done completely on-site.
Due to the thickness of the exterior walls, plumbing, HVAC, and electrical installations, as well as windows and doors, require more time and attention to install correctly. These construction challenges bring an increase to the purchase price and will increase the length of time, usually two or three weeks, for completion of the ICF home.
The quality of the ICF Construction process and the results of a lower cost-of-living to the end-user of such homes will make ICF homes worthy of the price and wait time.