Why build with ICF
First, ICF stands for Insulating or Insulated Concrete Forms. Basically, these are stay-in-place concrete forms used to build exterior walls of homes or buildings. The forms consist of a middle section, which many times houses metal webs used to stabilize and strengthen the concrete that will eventually be poured into this section to fill all gaps. Each side of the form, which will ultimately be the interior and exterior of the walls, consists of insulating material. Many times this insulator is two to four inches of foam insulation. So, in the finished product, your exterior walls have a concrete core wrapped with insulating foam.
ICF systems are most often used for exterior walls only. There are a few reasons for this. First, there is not a need for thick, insulating interior walls. Second, if you want to reconfigure interior walls, this would be a huge chore if your walls were reinforced concrete. There has been a trend, however, in building a "safe room" on the interior of a home or office which is housed by concrete walls on each side. This room can be used for a storm shelter or safe haven like that in the movie, Panic Room.
ICF systems can be applied below or above grade. They can also be used in multi-story applications.
One common misconception about ICF systems is in how the final product looks. Since ICFs stay in place, there will be a need for siding, brick, rock, etc. on the exterior and drywall on the interior. The final product is a home that looks like a traditional home, if the home builder so chooses to finish it out that way.
Benefits of ICF Systems to the Homeowner
- Energy Efficiency - The most common sited benefit of ICF wall systems is that it is superior in energy efficiency. Not only does it keep the cold or hot outside air from coming in, it keeps your air conditioned or heated air from going out. Suddenly, your air conditioner and heater barely have to run to keep your interior air at your optimal temperature. What does this mean for you? You can save 50-80% on your energy bill, depending on the doors, windows, roofing, etc.
- Strength - ICF wall systems are rated to withstand extreme weather conditions, including tornados and hurricanes. They can endure winds in excess of 140 miles per hour. In addition, they are rated safe for earthquake zones (up to zone 4), as well.
- Durability - These walls will not settle, crack, warp, rot, mildew, rust of even vibrate when you slam a door. They do not provide food for insects (like termites, for example), mold, or vermin.
- Quiet - ICF wall systems decrease the amount of sound that comes in from the outside by over half. It is the quietest building material on the market.
- Comfortable - ICF wall systems result in an even temperature distribution throughout the house from floor to ceiling. There is less than two degrees Fahrenheit variation in an ICF home, compared to conventional homes that vary anywhere from five to ten degrees Fahrenheit. According to ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers) points to uneven temperature distribution as a leading factor in people feeling uncomfortable. The "feel" of an ICF home is unsurpassed in comfort.
- Cleaner Air - ICF systems prevent draft and air infiltration, meaning they prevent airborne contaminants. This is great for a homeowner because not only does it reduce allergens but dust, as well.
- Environmentally-Friendly - Aside from it reducing energy consumption due to heating and cooling, it also reduces construction waste. Each and every form will remain on the home or building. There is no construction waste resulting from this system whatsoever aside from the small amounts of packaging. So, not only are they a pleasure to you, but they are a benefit to the environment.
- Fire Retardant - ICF systems can resist fires for up to four hours. Even when it starts to burn, the smoke is less toxic than burning wood.
- Bullet Proof - Standing behind a concrete wall will shield you from any flying objects, including bullets. Sure, the chances are slim, but this is an added bonus.
- Possible Premium Reductions - Many insurance companies offer a premium reduction for homes with ICF system walls.
Arguments Against ICF Systems
- Cost Too Much - The ICF systems cost anywhere from one to five percent more than conventional framing. However, with energy savings, in addition to premium savings, this extra construction cost is paid off rather quickly. Also, costs associated with ICF systems are about the same as "super-insulated" framing or advanced framing techniques, yet ICF systems outperform these other systems in energy efficiency, strength, durability, comfort, and indoor air quality.
- Limited in Options - Absolutely not! Forms are made for all sorts of shapes and sizes. Arches, curved walls, odd angles, etc. are all possible with ICF systems. If your builder says it isn't possible, insist they look at different form manufacturers or switch to a builder that can do these things for you. Also, these walls are great for high ceilings and multi-story applications.
- Stuck with Home Size - This one holds some weight. Concrete walls make it more difficult to add on to an existing concrete home. However, it definitely can be done.
- Ugly - The ICF walls are faces with traditional building materials, including brick, rock, siding, stucco, drywall, etc. Therefore, you cannot tell the difference between ICF walls and traditional walls aside from wall thickness.
- Too Air Tight - Because the ICF wall systems are so air tight, it may be necessary to install air exchangers and/or humidity regulating systems. This allows you to still enjoy an allergen-less, dust-less home.
- Can't Build in Cold Temperatures - Wrong. The insulating foam actually allows you to build in cold weather. Also, in Flolrida, any temperature is suitable for building these walls. The only time you might consider time of year is in sub-arctic areas where temperatures get extremely low. Building with ICF is appropriate for the Tampa area.
- Limited Floor Plan Options - Wrong again. You can take any floor plan and have it engineered for ICF wall systems. Also, there are many floor plans available that are already engineered for ICF systems.