Posted on January 21, 2021
ICFs are gaining traction in the market due to increased awareness among industry professionals and the public. Both groups find tremendous appeal in reduced energy consumption and disaster resistance.
Architects, designers and engineers see the benefits of ICF construction. These include safety, energy savings and longevity. For many projects, a cost-benefit analysis of ICFs is more persuasive than ever.
An Expanding Market for ICF Construction
Delaware-based Global Market Insights estimates that the global ICF market exceeded $1 billion in 2018. It forecasts a 5.25 percent CAGR to 2025. By then, the market will grow to $1.6 billion.
Analysts expect polystyrene foam to continue to dominate the ICF market. The combined market for EPS and XPS should exceed $1 billion by 2025. Polystyrene foam possesses key properties vital to ICF applications. It is lightweight, rigid, impact resistant and recyclable. Air concentration exceeds 95 percent, making it an effective insulator.
According to McKinsey, construction represents approximately 13 percent of the global economy. As awareness of ICF advantages grows, so will global market penetration. ICF awareness is already quite high in both North America and Europe. Awareness remains somewhat lower in Asia and South America.
In the U.S., upscale homes were the first significant market for ICF construction. Today, entire developments of mid-price homes feature ICF walls. By 2026, the Portland Cement Association says 18 percent of U.S. single-family residences will include ICFs.
Early on, about 70 percent of ICF projects were single family residences. The other 30-percent were commercial and multifamily projects. Today, the range of projects grows as contractors embrace ICF tall-wall techniques. ICF construction is more common in hotels, retail centers and movie theaters.
Origins of ICFs
The history of ICFs dates to the 1940s. Common building materials were in short supply. Resourceful builders fabricated walls from blocks of treated wood fibers and concrete. In the 1950s, chemical companies developed plastic insulating foam. In the 1960s, Canadian and European inventors further refined the concept.
Reasons for the Growing Popularity of ICFs
ICFs are a simple solution to today’s more demanding energy mandates. Lightweight forms ship flat at modest cost. Erection of the forms is fast and easy.
ICFs with six-inch concrete cores typically have STC ratings of 50 and higher. Sound transmission is about one-fourth to one-eighth that of traditional wood-frame construction. ICF sound-blocking ability is quite an advantage in schools, residences and offices. ICF walls deliver superior resistance to the things that may plague wood walls. Rot, mold, mildew and insect infestation are all examples.
ICFs walls resist natural disasters better than typical wood-frame construction. They are also about twice as strong as their CMU counterparts. Resistance to high winds, floods and earth tremors are big pluses.
ICF walls resist flooding water far better than their traditional counterparts. The Weather Channel discusses the tremendous force of moving flood waters. Water moving at four mph can damage wood-framed walls. Water flowing at seven mph exerts as much surface force as EF5 tornadic winds.
Finally, resistance to hurricane-force winds is well-documented. Consider an ICF home in Marsh Harbor, Bahamas, that survived Dorian in 2019. The Cat-5 storm pummeled Grand Abaco Island with hurricane-force winds for 36 hours. Wind gusts exceeded 200 mph. The home survived it all.
To achieve the desired airtightness, wood-framed walls need extensive taping. Also, it must be meticulously applied. An ICF wall is a continuous concrete plane between layers of insulation. This monolithic structure is inherently airtight. Furthermore, the airtightness of a wood-framed structure may degrade over time. The integrity of the ICF wall remains intact, decade after decade.
One study commissioned by the ICFMA examined 49 ICF homes. Average airtightness was 1.26ACH@50. Compare this to an average air changes per hour (ACH) of 4.8 for the wood-framed homes in the study.
Throughout the United States and Canada, demands for verification of airtightness are growing. lower tests for new construction. ICF construction meets newer, more stringent codes with ease. A blower test is often required.
ICFs are known for their energy savings. Compared to traditional stud walls, they often deliver energy savings of 50 percent or more. Even a modest-sized ICF home generates significant energy savings. Compare a 2,000 square-foot wood frame home with an ICF home of the same size. A study commissioned by the Insulating Concrete Forms Manufacturers Association (ICFMA) estimates savings. In more northern climates, researchers estimate savings of $140-190 per month.
There are net-zero homes and zero-energy-ready homes. Net-zero homes have renewable energy systems that generate all energy requirements. Zero-energy ready homes can offset most or all energy needs with the addition of a renewable energy system. Utility credits and federal tax rebates often reduce the net cost of a zero energy ready home. ICFs deliver the return-on-investment (ROI) that stakeholders seek.
In the future, mandates for net-zero construction will only accelerate. ICF technology is well-positioned to deliver the energy savings demanded by more stringent codes. It complements renewable energy systems, including solar, wind and geothermal. ICF construction offers one of the cleanest paths to the coveted zero-energy-ready status.
A battery stores electrical energy and delivers it as needed. Similarly, an ICF wall absorbs heat energy and releases it later. An ICF wall is a “thermal battery” that resists temperature changes. The more pronounced the temperature change, the more helpful the effect.
As energy costs rise, “hours to equilibrium” becomes more and more important. ICF Builder graphs the differences between different kinds of exterior wall construction. The referenced test calculates 4.8 hours to equilibrium for a 2x6 wood stud wall. Compare this to the 144 hours to equilibrium for an ICF wall.
In one experiment detailed by Logix ICF, an R-24 ICF wall separated two sides of a test chamber. The temperature of one side was 70 degrees F, the other side, minus 31 degrees F - a 101-degree difference! The heat on the 70-degree side never cycled on for two full days.
SpecifyConcrete.org is a website of the Pennsylvania Aggregate and Concrete Association (PACA). Contact us today for further guidance regarding ICFs and energy-efficient construction.