Insulated Concrete Forms or ICF, is a concrete forming system that is ideal for house basements or for your entire house.
Chances are that the house you currently live in consists of a cement block or formed concrete basement below ground, and wood framed walls above grade. In fact, most production houses are built this way today. This is because home builders, for the most part, control how the house is built.
Sure, the house must conform to local building codes, and comply with architectural and engineering specifications. However, these codes and specifications dictate only minimum standards of quality. However, that home builder does not have to live in the house or pay the heating / cooling bills.
I get it…home builders are running a business, and increasing the quality and energy efficiency of a house does not necessarily translate to higher purchasing prices. When real-estate agents are showing a house, they rarely talk about what is under the drywall or brick. Instead they are directing your attention to the vaulted ceilings, gormet kitchen, marble flooring, ten foot ceilings, and custom doors and trim.
If these same home builders were building their own home, the home they are going to live in forever, I suspect the quality of construction would be much different than the homes they build for other people. In fact, I suspect many of them would be using ICF for their basement, if not the entire home.
Well, if you are planning a custom home or an addition to your current home, you do get to control how the house or addition is built. You are going to be the one living there and you will have to pay the heating / cooling bills. Are you going to build it to minimum standards or are you going to put more emphasis on quality and energy efficiency?
At first, most builders and contractors challenged the performance of ICF, not wanting to accept change from their traditional construction methods. However, today few builders and contractors question the significant benefits ICF offers. As a result, the use of ICF has exploded in custom homes and additions, where the home owner is in control of the materials selected. The big production builders may take a little longer to change.
One of the big arguments against ICF was the price. Builders were convinced it added 10% to the price of the basement or house. However, initially many builders were comparing the ICF price to the unfinished concrete foundation estimates. Once they started comparing ICF to the finished building costs, including framing and insulation, the costs started to balance out more.
5 Reasons to Consider ICF for your new home or addition:
1. ICF walls are Stronger than framed walls
The walls are concrete! What is stronger than concrete…well reinforced concrete is. Vertical and horizontal rebar reinforcing makes the walls even stronger and less prone to cracking. In fact, a 6” ICF wall is approximately 800x stronger than a 2x6 wall).
We have all seen the effects extreme weather is having: hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, flooding, forest fires… it seems like hardly a week goes by that there is not another natural disaster somewhere. Often when disaster strikes, the ICF houses are the only structures left standing. In many places it is being mandated that government building be built from ICF so they can be used as disaster relief centers
2. ICF Energy Efficiency
Energy Efficiency is the main reason people choose ICF for their home or addition. People joke about being able to heat your home with a candle, but it is not far from the truth.
While the measured insulation value of most ICF products is between R-22 and R-24, you would need to build a wall that is approximately R-50 to match the actual tested performance of ICF. This is because ICF has “thermal mass”, created by the concrete core being sandwiched between two layers of thick styro-foam insulation.
Thermal Mass is what keeps caves cool on hot summer days and igloos warm on cold winter nights. The concrete core, while not contributing to the measured insulation value, is the perfect storage area for heat. The concrete absorbs the solar heat from the sun all day long, and then slowly releases this heat as the temperature drops at night.
ICF also offers continuous insulation, preventing temperature transfer into our basement floor slab, floor joist cavities and around windows and doors. The insulation in wood framing is installed between the framing, allowing some heat loss via thermal bridging around each piece of wood framing.
3. ICF offers great Sound Proofing:
Even though ICF houses and additions look the same as traditionally framed houses, with exception to the wall thickness, one of the most noticeable differences to visitors is how quiet the house is. The insulated concrete wall blocks out a significant amount of outside noise caused by road traffic, lawn mowers, and wind.
Visitors often comment positively about the deep window wells created by the thicker ICF walls. It reminds them of windows in old farm houses.
4. ICF is Environmentally Friendly:
Although concrete is usually not considered very environmentally friendly, ICF construction is. Firstly, ICF homes require significantly less energy to heat and cool, thus reducing the energy demand and the negative effect of producing that energy. Secondly, ICF home have a significantly longer life expectancy than traditionally framed homes. Tearing down a house contributes a lot of waste to our landfill sites.
5. ICF is Construction Friendly:
Compared to framed houses, ICF walls tend to be straighter, plumber and squarer making finishing the house easier. Whether hanging cabinets, tiling a floor, installing trim or measuring for counter tops, the truer the walls the easier the work.
ICF blocks contain snap ties just under the surface of the styro-foam. These fastening stripes are every 8” apart and in all corners, making it easy to install drywall and exterior wall products. Hanging drywall is faster since you don’t need to worry about framing backers or ending on a stud. Exterior stucco does not require the Styrofoam layer, saving you time and money.
Running electrical wiring is quick and easy, since it does not require and drilling holes through framing and pulling wire. Using an electric chainsaw and expansion foam, wiring can be done is half the time.
The peel and stick waterproof system gets applied quickly and reduces any chance of leakage.
ICF makes is ideal for winter builds. Not only does the insulation protect the concrete from frost damage while it cures, but it also allows you efficiently heat the interior space right after the concrete is poured. It is much nicer working is a heated space when roughing in plumbing, duct work and electrical.
To learn more about ICF, our friends at uptokode.ca have some interesting videos on the benefits of ICF construction. Check them out. ICF Construction vs. Precast and SIP Panel Systems and 20 Advantages to an ICF Building.