Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) Buildings: How Tall?

Posted on August 03, 2023

The use of insulated concrete forms (ICFs) continues to expand around the world. Mordor Intelligence sees global residential ICF revenue expanding at a 4.91% CAGR through 2028. During the same period, the firm projects commercial ICF revenue increasing at a CAGR of 4.72%. Institutional revenue should expand at a 4.43% CAGR.

Two factors drive demand. First, a need for more resilient construction in an era of climate change. Second, increased energy efficiency that saves money and reduces emissions.

ICFs consist of two rigid EPS panels sandwiching a core of reinforced concrete. Advantages include:

  • Continuous insulation - no drafts or hot spots

  • Thermal mass

  • Reduced sound transmission

  • Often costs less than CMU or steel-stud construction

  • Storm and seismic resistance

Reduced sound transmission is an advantage that is often overlooked. Four-inch ICF walls typically deliver an STC of 50 and above. Thicker ICF walls and/or the addition of gypsum wallboard can drive STC’s to 70 and higher.

There are many uses for ICFs. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Single and multifamily real estate

  • Mixed use developments

  • Low and mid-rise commercial buildings

  • Hotels and universities

  • Storm shelters

Tallest ICF Structures in the World

When one thinks of ICF structures, one to four-story structures quickly come to mind. However, ICF’s are far more versatile than that.

Student Residences in Ontario

In 2017, Laurier University opened a new ICF residence hall in Waterloo, Ontario. The contractor completed the 25-story structure with Nudura ICFs. Four years earlier, contractors used Fox Blocks ICFs to build “Luxe Waterloo II.” It was another student dorm in the same city.

Another way to discuss large ICF structures is total square feet of ICFs. In 2009, contractors used 1,511,800 sq ft of Amvic ICFs to build the Shershni Community in Chelyabinsk, Russia. The Siberian city is home to more than a million people. It was the 2009 ICF Builder Awards “Multifamily Winner.” Construction of the massive multifamily development took three years.

Tallest ICF Structures in the United States

The success of tall ICF construction in Canada may have impacted the acceptance of tall ICF buildings in the United States. made taller ICF buildings a reality in the United States as well. Here are two examples: a mixed use development in New York and a hotel in Tennessee.

42 Broad – Mt. Vernon, NY

As Concrete Homes says, “While a handful of ICF buildings exceeding 16 stories have been built in Canada, 42 Broad Street is reported to be the tallest ICF building in the United States.”

42 Broad is a 16-story luxury transit-oriented development in Westchester County, NY. Trains whisk residents to Grand Central Station in 30 minutes. The structure features 249 luxury rental apartments. Tenants enjoy a heated swimming pool, library, and fully equipped gym. The mixed use development also offers 20,000 sq ft of retail space.

ICFs arrived at the jobsite as custom panels up to 50-feet long. Weld plates, bucks, and lintel rebar are added at the assembly plant. Panelization shortens construction times, allowing for earlier occupancies that generated more rent. “Passive house” construction eliminated the need for a conventional heat source. Some designs achieve 90% energy savings.

Drury Plaza - Franklin, TN

Drury Plaza is less than two miles from downtown Franklin and Cool Springs Galleria. The 8-story, 130-foot hotel offers 338 guestrooms and suites along with 7,000 sq ft of meeting space. The contractor used xxxx of Amvic ICFs.

In addition to tall ICF structures, there have also been very large ICF projects, as well. In Kentucky, South Warren High School and Middle School required 299,787 sq ft. In Lubbock, TX, construction of a Texas Tech dormitory consumed 244,000 sq ft of ICFs.

Tallest Unsupported ICF Walls

It is possible to construct unsupported 40-foot ICF walls. Ironically, that limit is due more to limits inherent in construction techniques. It does takes expertise to brace the walls and to provide a proper working platform for placing concrete. To cope with loading, it is necessary to specify appropriate thicknesses. Available options range from four to 12 inches.

St. Philip the Apostle Church, Flower Mound, TX

St. Philip the Apostle Church was an ICF Builder Award winner - heavy commercial. It is the tallest ICF structure in the state of Texas, with the tower’s ICF wall plate 106 feet above the ground. It took 14 months to build the 26,000 sq ft structure. The $13 million project used 41,000 sq ft of ICFs. Installation took 70 days.

Maine Molecular Expansion, Saco, ME

This Amvic ICF project was a 2022 ICF Builder Award winner in the Heavy Commercial category. It represented a 34,200 sq ft expansion to the company’s existing facility, also built with ICFs.

It was Amvic’s first project built with the help of Virtual Design & Construction (VDC). The lab and manufacturing facility includes “several 36-ft. tall free-standing exterior walls.” The contractor used more than 2,500 Amvic ICF blocks and placed 2,761 cu yds of concrete. The project was completed 24 days ahead of schedule.

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