Innovative Uses of ICFs

Posted on June 11, 2020

Early on, insulated concrete forms (ICFs) found acceptance among commercial architects and builders. For example, Kentucky’s Richardsville Elementary School became the nation’s first net-zero school in 2010. The project demonstrated how widespread use of ICFs met critical criteria in modern construction. Storm-resistant ICF construction was vital in a region subject to tornadoes.

They reduced sound transmission between the gym, cafeteria, media center and the classrooms. ICFs also ensured a tight building envelope, essential to the efficient use of the projects solar panels and geothermal system.

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ICF Advantages in Residential Applications

Today, the special qualities of ICFs make them a great resource in residential applications as well. A report by Mordor Intelligence highlights the strength of the residential ICF market. The organization’s analysts project a compound annual growth rate of more than 13 percent through 2024. The report suggests that ICFs are most often used for residential basements/foundations. Although ICFs are more common in multi-family and upscale housing, they are also making inroads into general single-family construction.

ICFs deliver the strength, durability, energy-efficiency and sound attenuation coveted by today’s residential builders. Updated building codes drive the use of energy-efficient ICF construction. In many instances, residential codes also demand continuous below-grade insulation. This is something ICFs are well-positioned to deliver. They stop thermal bridging without adding additional steps to the construction process.

Taking ICF Construction to the Next Level

ICFs are an increasingly competitive option in a variety of other residential applications as well. They are increasingly a cost-competitive option for interior walls, floors, roofs, safe rooms and pools.

Interior Walls

Residential builders increasingly extend ICF advantages to interior walls. They add structural integrity while reducing sound transmission. They are also pest and mold-resistant. True, gypsum board is incompatible with interior ICF wall construction. However, builders have other code-compliant options available. Earth clay plaster and PlasterMax are two examples.

Floors

ICFs are often used in combination with in-floor radiant heating systems. ICF garage floors are an ideal option when there is living space below. Sometimes, regular deep earth excavation for a foundation is not possible. ICF-based frost-protected shallow foundations (FPSFs) are a solution. High water tables and the use of landfill sites are two examples. Permeable fill prevents the heaving of FPSFs. Studies suggest that FPSFs cost 15-17 percent less than regular foundations.

Roofs

It's common knowledge that ICFs are good for foundations and exterior walls. However, they are also used in the construction of energy-saving sloped roofs that resist the state’s worst weather threats. According to BuildBlock, ICF roof panels are at least six inches thick. They can span up to 40 feet. They deliver the strength and energy-efficiency required under earth-covered green roofs as well.

Safe Rooms

ICFs are an excellent option for safe rooms. The value of a residential safe room was highlighted on Easter Sunday. Andrew Phillips is a volunteer firefighter who purchased his home in part because of its concrete safe room. As severe weather bore down on Moss, MS, he tracked it online and with the aid of his fire radio. As he realized a tornado was about to strike, he and his family made it into the safe room with only 20 seconds to spare.

The next day, nationwide news services published the stark image of the safe room. It still stood tall. Otherwise, the home's concrete foundation was stripped bare. Phillips, his wife, their two young children were all safe.

Pools

When summer arrives, Pennsylvania homeowners look forward to enjoying their pools. ICF radius blocks are perfect for pool construction. Quad-Lock profiles a homebuilder who added an ICF pool to his ground-to-roof ICF home design. As one ICF manufacturer puts it, “Build faster, extend your pool season with an insulated pool without sacrificing design options.”

Innovative ICF Uses: Case Studies

Here are a few examples of innovative residential ICF construction in Pennsylvania and beyond.

Luxury townhomes

Windom Hill Place is a luxury townhome development on Pittsburgh’s south side. It emerges from a hillside high above the Monongahela River. Thickly insulated walls deliver energy savings of up to 60 percent. At the same time, the structural integrity of the ICFs is ideal for the hillside construction.

Safe room

Wisconsin’s Eco Village is home to an ICF safe room built to FEMA 32 standards. The St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity project is LEED Platinum-certified, with HERS scores ranging from 17 to minus five.

Residential pool

Gregg Yanke, a builder in North Vancouver, BC, constructed a pool with ICFs as he built a 3,000 sq-ft ICF home. Yanke spoke of the ease of ICF construction. “I had a two-man crew who had never worked with ICF before, build my forms faster than any wood-framed house could be done,” he observed.

Final Thoughts

ICFs offer architects and builders an increasing array of design and construction options. Builders often see lower construction insurance costs as well. Homeowners may enjoy reduced insurance premiums when they invest in ICF homes.

ICF construction also addresses periodic shortages of skilled tradespeople. Traditional concrete foundations demand placement and removal of the forms. Traditional stud walls atop those foundations require framing crews. With traditional construction, vapor barriers and insulation add further to labor costs. By contrast, relatively fewer workers maneuver lightweight ICF forms into place in less time.

About Us

The Pennsylvania Aggregates and Concrete Association (PACA) serves industry participants across the state. SpecifyConcrete.org keeps the industry up-to-date about emerging trends in ready-mixed concrete.

For guidance in locating additional ICF resources, please contact us.