Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF) Construction
Deciding what structure to use in the construction of your forever home can be quite overwhelming. This is due to the wide range of options available out there, ranging from concrete slab to wooden construction. However, such decisions are influenced by the building characteristics you desire and your budget. This post aims to show why insulated concrete forms structure is your best bet in terms of constructing an energy-efficient home that can withstand natural disasters, ultimately standing the test of time.
To help in better understanding why they are that desirable, this post will cover overarching topics ranging from;
- What exactly are insulated concrete forms?
- How they are different compared to conventional construction techniques?
- Why should I opt-in for ICF construction?
- How energy efficient is insulated concrete forms?
- How strongly do they withstand emergencies?
- How expensive are they?
- How are ICF constructed?
- Can you construct ICF yourself?
- An insider view: How it feels living in one.
- Recommendations for constructing ICF.
Okay, let’s begin our exploration of ICFs!
What is ICF Construction?
Insulated concrete forms (ICFs) are hollow blocks with foams that are stacked and locked together to model the structure of outside walls of a home or building. They are then reinforced in their internals with steel, and thereafter solidified with solid material.
The form stays in place and provides insulation for the building. They are then finished inside and outside. This idea was first conceived in the 1940s and has since evolved through the help of technology to provide stronger materials that are more energy-efficient.
Modern ICFs basically consists of two components that together achieve insulation and strength. The first component is Extended polystyrene (EPS) which is used in making the insulating panel which is about 2 inches thick. EPS provides insulation for the home and it is used to shape the concrete that is about 6 inches thick.
The second component is polypropylene plastic webs which connect the two panels together. They contain screw and attachment points for bracing and alignment during construction. They also contain an inner and outer plastic framework that can be drilled into and used to hold finishing structures such as bricks, wood trim, sliding and so on.
ICF can be used to construct a wide range of buildings from underground homes to multi-story buildings. They also offer a wide range of flexibility as they can be combined with other building techniques. For example, they can be used to build the foundation alone and then completed with other building techniques. Alternatively, they can be used in isolation to construct a building.
How Are They Different Compared to Conventional Construction Techniques?
ICFs differs fundamentally from other conventional construction in terms of how they are built. ICFs are in fact a more recent technology that is superior to concrete slabs and wooden structure.
Some of the basic distinguishing factors are detailed below.
ICFs offers high structural integrity in comparison to conventional construction techniques. ICF structures are so strong that they are able to withstand the toughest of natural disasters that are strong enough to level off the conventional structure. ICF are not only about 10 times stronger than conventional construction, they are also corrosion resistant making them very durable.
The hollow foam blocks in ICF are absent in conventional construction. This foam provides very efficient insulation for the building as air cannot infiltrate them. This invariably cut HVAC system cost substantially.
Resistance to Fire outbreak
Insulated Concrete Forms are 6 times more resistant to fire than conventional structural designs.
They are more expensive to construct than conventional techniques. However, in the long run, they offer savings in energy, maintenance which make them ultimately more economical.
Why Should I Adopt ICF Construction?
As highlighted at the beginning of this post, the goal is to construct a Forever home. This means that we construct a building that will offer the most benefit in the long run. Criteria to be considered include durability, cost, energy efficiency, resistance to fire and so on. ICF outperforms other conventional construction technique in relation to these criteria. This makes them the absolute choice in the construction of our forever home.
Energy Efficiency of ICF construction
As mentioned earlier, ICF structural designs are energy efficient, but the question remains, how efficient are they? Efficient enough to cut your energy expenses by 40%. The answer to this efficiency level lies in the presence of the foam wall that covers the concrete both on the inside and outside. The foam structure in air-tight this further improves their insulation when compared to other structures like wood which allows air penetration.
The thick layer of concrete gives the structure a high thermal mass which is responsible for its temperature holding characteristic. Coupled with the insulation foam, heat is contained in the concrete and makes the temperature even across the board.
According to a research carried out by Concrete Network.com on 58 single-family homes spread across U.S and Canada, “By building your home with ICF, you will require about 44% less energy to heat up your home and about 32% less energy to cool your home when compared to a similarly sized wood structure”. Home users eliminate an average of 38% on their energy budget.
Bringing this to perspective, by using ICF construction, your home is placed in the top 5% of energy-efficient homes per square footage in the United States.
How Do They Withstand Emergencies?
Durability is one of the true tests of structural integrity. ICF structural designs are very durable. Countless accounts exist in scenarios where ICF structures have proven to be very durable. One such account is of a family in which a truck ran into their home. Surprisingly, the truck was totally damaged, but the building suffered only minor damages. The assessment didn’t even amount to 5 hundred dollars. Some of the situations in which ICF structure tend to be immune to includes;
Natural Disasters (Storms, Tornadoes, and Hurricanes)
Natural disasters are the nemesis of buildings; they level up areas filled with buildings in just hours accruing in damages that are worth millions of dollars. However, ICF construction provides immunity to such destruction. There are stories of tornadoes wiping outbuilding yet ICF constructed buildings remain standing. What a tough guy!
The event of Fire Outbreak
Even though the home contains a lot of flammable materials, concrete in itself is not flammable. This means that in case of a fire outbreak either due to electrical fault or gas leakage, the situation can be easily managed as fire cannot be concealed inside a concrete wall.
Exposure to Radiation
Due to the gradual damage being done to our ozone layer, more harmful solar radiation is penetrating into the earth on a constant basis. Such radiation can increase our chances of having skin cancer. ICF structural designs contain concrete; a very sturdy material. Concrete can stop all forms of radiation, including alpha, beta, and gamma-ray. This means they provide a safe place against radiation.
ICF structures provide resistance against pets (Or do you know of any insect that can chew its way through concrete?). However, the foam can be used by termites as nest material. To prevent this, the foam should be pre-treated in termite-prone areas.
Reaction to Seismic activity
By constructing reinforcement to match the seismic activity in your area, ICF construction can withstand earthquakes, landslides, soil creep, and other natural disasters.
How Expensive Are They?
As a rule of thumb, ICF construction costs more than wood buildings. This is due to the high cost of the materials themselves and the cost of additional labor required. It is important to note that the cost varies with time as the cost of material fluctuates. The actual cost depends on the requirement of the building you desire such as strength, size, and so on.
As the benefits of ICF constructions are getting widespread, their adoption is ever increasing especially in areas prone to natural disasters. Even though they are more expensive to set up, they are more economical in the long run as they cover up the cost by helping you save energy.
How Are ICFs Constructed?
As mentioned earlier, ICFs are hollow foams which are reinforced with steel in their internals and solidified by pouring concrete in it.
The wall of the building is framed with ICF forms. Windows and doors are framed using “bucks” (This helps to box out the space required by the window to fit in).
Once the ICF form is completed, a lift is used to pour concrete into the hollow space. This stage of the process is very cost-intensive and it takes a considerable part of the overall budget together with installing rebar.
The desired height floor is attained by raising it up with layers. Header/ hanger is installed to support inside trusses and finally, the roof trusses are held by hurricane ties.
Plumbing and Electrical in ICF Construction
Unlike conventional homes, Plumbing and electrical installations in ICF constructions require more detailed planning. Electrical wires are installed by cutting through the insulation. The wires are then placed in the cute and then sprayed with foam insulation to cover it back. However, it is not advisable to install pipes in a similar fashion. Plumbing in ICF constructions is executed as though it is a conventional home, running them inside the frame and trusses of the building.
Finishing an insulated concrete forms Home
A wide range of finishing exits for the interior and exterior of an ICF constructed house. Ranging from siding, paints, carpets, tiles, etc. All these gives your house the beauty of a conventional house with the added benefits associated with ICF constructions.
Can you Construct ICF Yourself?
There are many resources that offer help on how to construct ICF by yourself. However, this is not recommended for an average person. This is because highly specialized materials are required and trust me, you don’t want to screw things up. A lot of things can actually go wrong; improper aligning of the ICF, coupled with an improper pouring of the cement can drastically decline the structural integrity of the building. Furthermore, a wrong cement mix poses its own set of problems- too loose: you risk blowing up the wall, too thick: you risk having air pockets in the finished structure.
On the other hand, dedicated ICF builders know how to avoid these common pitfalls and construct a building that will stand the test of time.
However, if you are constrained by money and you cannot afford outsourcing construction, you can opt to construct an ICF safe room. A safe room is a small room lacking windows usually built in the garage or shell of the home that is primarily used for safety purposes when the need arises.
How it Feels Living in One.
Living in an ICF constructed home offers so many benefits and a lot of testimonials exists to support that claim.
Due to their energy efficiency, they reduce your energy bill and offer no extra charges on our utility bill due to heat loss and heat replacement. During winter, once the house is heated, the insulation prevents heat loss to the surrounding that is extremely low. A heat loss that would otherwise be experienced in conventional buildings. They also retain coldness during summer.
In addition, the house is free from pests and termites, mildews nor molds. Truly, a very wonderful experience.
Recommendations for Constructing an ICF.
ICF construction requires special consideration before being set up. Some of the most important recommendations that will maximize your benefits from ICF buildings include;
Ensure you plan for ventilation
This is because ICF buildings are tight and you definitely don’t want your home to be stuffy.
Employ the Services of an ICF Structural Designer
The reason for this has been covered in the last two sections. Use durable windows & sills: This is to ensure that the windows and sills can tolerate wider temperature fluctuations.