Insulated Concrete Form Construction vs. Traditional Wood Frame

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Have you ever wondered whether you should choose insulated concrete form (ICF) construction or rely on traditional wood-framed structures for your next modern home design? In this article, we’ll take a look at which is better for your next project. 

Energy Efficiency

As probably the most important feature besides structural integrity when considering building materials, the difference between energy-efficiency in ICFs construction and wood-framed builds is enormous. ICFs typically  have an R-value of 23 and exceeds ASHRAE/ANSI 90.1 energy code requirements. Wood, on the other hand, has a highly-variable R-value, dependent on construction techniques that don’t measure up to ICFs. In several studies, it has been show that buildings with ICF exterior walls typically require 32% less energy to cool and 44% less energy to heat than similar-sized wood-framed homes.

Resistance to Fire

Because wood is combustible, creating a wood-framed structure that isn’t treated with potentially-noxious chemicals can prove challenging to reduce the spread of flames. This is also true for buildings that are built slowly, as a lack of fire-protection makes wood particularly susceptible to fire damage. Popular brands of ICFs, being made from primarily concrete and rebar, have a fire-resistance rating (ASTM E119) of 2 hours for 4-inch blocks and 4 hours for the 6-inch blocks making fire resistant houses attainable.

Moisture Accumulation

Because wood is a porous organic material, wood-frame structures are prone to moisture accumulation in their wall cavities as well as in the wood itself. Therefore, steps to control moisture in the wall system of a wood-framed building is very difficult because effective methods that keep out moisture from entering a wall cavity also prevent moisture from leaving the wall cavity. ICFs, on the other hand, control moisture intrusion because of their solid continuous concrete wall that has a perm rating of less than 1.0. This quality in ICFs prevents mold, mildew, and rot—all of which can cause health problems and jeopardize the durability of the structure. 

Resistance to Pests

The clear winner for resistance to vermin, like termites and rodents, is ICF. Because ICFs lack organic material, they don’t are susceptible to infestation the same way wood-framed buildings can be. Wood-framed construction can be at risk for durability and energy efficiency, often resulting in thousands in repairs and control-measures (which is a $5 billion industry in the United States). 

Thermal Mass

Thermal mass is the ability of a building material to absorb, retain and store heat energy—which results in more stable indoor temperatures despite outside shifts in climate. This, in turn, helps regulate temperatures overall for maximum energy efficiency. Wood, unfortunately, has a low-thermal mass; ICFs, on the other hand have a much higher thermal mass, blocking out fluctuations in temperature and keeping indoors climates regulated. 

Soundproofing

Soundproofing a building can help make a building more livable, allowing for mixed-use facilities and a better quality of life indoors (especially important for living spaces). For wood-framed structures, it is mandatory to install some type of soundproofing, including expensive insulation, stud placement, air barriers, or extra mass within wall cavities to limit sound transmission. For ICFs, according to sound transmission tests, less that 1/3 of sound passes through ICF walls than wood-frame walls filled with fiberglass insulation.  

Durability

While wood-framed structures may have been chosen for their speed and availability of material, wood is ultimately weaker than concrete. ICFs are not only more durable than wood-framed buildings, but they’re also disaster resistant. In many tests, ICFs have been show to withstand tornado and hurricane winds exceeding 200 MPH and projectile debris traveling over 100 MPH. Often, it has been shown that all that remains after a natural disaster is the reinforced concrete of ICFs in the wake of destruction and rubble.
As you can see, when comparing icf vs wood frame construction, insulated concrete form construction is superior to traditional wood-framed construction in nearly every metric. ICFs feature an easier installation, greater energy-efficiency, higher durability, and significant resistance to noise, moisture, and vermin. The choice is clear for which is the better building material. Therefore, choose ICFs in your next building project to modernize your next building project.

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