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Top 10 Reasons to Consider Building with Insulating Concrete Forms (ICF)

By on April 27, 2010
Top 10 Reasons to Consider Building with Insulating Concrete Forms (ICF)

With the current interest in “being green,” Insulating Concrete Forms or, ICFs are quickly becoming a preferred building method.  It’s  a mainstream technique throughout Europe and gaining traction within the United States.  If you’re not familiar with them, they are like oversize hollow LEGO blocks made out of expanded polystyrene (EPS) or extruded polystyrene (XPS) foam.  They are easily stacked, then filled with concrete.  After the concrete cures the forms stay in place resulting in walls with built-in vapor barriers and insulation on both sides.

So, in no particular order, here are the top 10 reasons why using Insulating Concrete Forms to construct your next home or addition would be a wise decision:

  1. Cost of Ownership – The bad news is ICF construction compared to typical stick built runs about $4.00 more per square foot.  The good news is, with the reduced cost of utilities, maintenance, insurance, etc., your cost of ownership is drastically reduced.  ICF homeowners usually realize a return on their investment within 5 years.  So, as long as you plan to stay in the house longer than 5 years, your total cost of ownership will be less.
  2. Comfort – With near zero air infiltration you’ll never feel a draft.  In addition, with all the added thermal mass, heat is absorbed and then released when it gets cold keeping a constant temperature throughout the house.
  3. Safety – Big bad wolf won’t blow this house down.   Consider the added resistance concrete walls have compared to wood against such things as hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes.  Additionally, concrete walls are fire rated for 4 hours at 2000 degrees opposed to 1 hour for wood framed.
  4. Health – Concrete does not have any CFCs, formaldehyde, or other toxic gases.  It is mold resistant, and with zero air infiltration comes the benefit of reduced allergens.
  5. Pest Control – Little creatures have no access through the continuous concrete barrier and termites aren’t attracted to it either.
  6. Energy Savings – ICF homes save about 30% to 40% off the typical energy bills of framed houses due to the increased R values and zero air infiltration.
  7. “Green”ness – No trees harvested, minimal construction waste, and reduced emissions from energy efficiency.
  8. Peace and Quiet – Thicker walls with more mass means less outside noise penetration.  I’ve read stories about neighbors requesting the unaware ICF homeowner to turn off their car alarm.  Or, neighbors kept up all night by fireworks that the ICF homeowner slept through.
  9. Reduced Maintenance – Nothing in concrete to “rot” translates into less maintenance.
  10. Quick Construction – As referenced before, it’s like building with LEGOs.  The forms are easily stacked, braced, and then it’s just a matter of pouring concrete.  The shell of the house goes up in just a few days.

Although there are certainly more reasons to build with ICFs than not, there is one major drawback.  With the methods “newness” it is difficult to find tradespeople familiar with the process.  A builder will have to cope with his or her subcontractor’s learning curve.  No worries, as time goes by, the use of ICFs should increase in popularity.  To stay competitive, contractors will be forced to learn this most sensible building method.