The construction industry sees advancements in technology and safety each year. Some of them stick, some become perfected over the years, and some even drop off. One of these creations is the insulated concrete form or ICF for short. Concrete Insulated Forms (as it is also called) is construction with climate control efficiency in mind. This in part is their largest selling point, and it was the original intent from its design inception.
History of ICF
Researched and studied earlier, but finally patented in the early 1980s by Jean-Louis Béliveau, the ICF was created with the driving factor to study climate control and the elimination of moisture and mold within temperature swings of a building. The first home studied was in Florida. From the late 1970s to the early 1980s Béliveau worked with the University of Iowa and Stan Bober from BASF to perfect the heat/loss results and conclusion. In the late 1980s they began perfecting the design and patent of the ICF prototype.
Following many years of efforts, finally, in 1999, the company Nudura was established to be one of the market leaders in the ICF world. Today there are dozens of regional and European ICF manufacturers.
What is ICF?
The Insulated Concrete Form is a system of formwork for reinforced concrete usually made with a rigid thermal insulation that stays in place as a permanent interior and exterior substrate for walls, floors, and even roofs. The forms are interlocking modular units that are dry-stacked and filled with concrete. The units lock together somewhat like LEGO® bricks and create a form for the structural walls or floors of a building. ICF construction has become commonplace for both low rise commercial and high-performance residential construction as more stringent energy efficiency and natural disaster resistant building codes are adopted.
There are numerous blog posts, weblinks and study options online for CIF/ICF. Here are a couple to get you started.
Nudura provides a basic introduction:
And there is an automated assembly version:
Is this design option right for me?
Some of the ICF design and operation feature strengths are:
- Approximately 58% higher R-Value than traditional construction. The higher the R-Value – meaning the resistance of heat to transfer through the material – the better.
- High wind wall load capabilities, some as high as 200 mph.
- Noise reduction to outside elements with a sound transmission (STC) rating in the mid-50s.
- Concrete and foam do not decay or degrade.
- Air-tight construction with less dirt and dust migration than other building methods.
- Fire ratings up to four hours.
- Cost or price point. Expect to pay 5-10 percent more for your entire project using this method vs traditional wood frame construction. Some argue the efficiency of heating/cooling can help overcome that initial expense. Pay-back studies should be considered.
- Remodeling can be challenging. For instance, if you would like to add a window, cutting through a concrete wall is required and more challenging than modifying lumber and adding wood headers.
- Minor issues include humidity, which is usually temporary, and insects in the foam, which can be treated with insecticides, but this too can add to the cost.
Insulated concrete forms provide a simple and effective alternative to the traditional work of building walls or a foundation. Once a builder is accustomed to the steps that are necessary for a successful experience, a form can go up quickly so that the pouring process can begin. Then the form stays in place as a permanent interior and exterior substrate for walls, floors, and roofs. ICF construction has become commonplace in the commercial construction industry as more stringent energy efficiency and natural disaster resistant building regulations are required.
Insulated Concrete Forms are here to stay. More construction teams are becoming proficient in their installation requirements, and the manufacturers of the forms are finding stronger, quicker, and more effective solutions to the installation process, as well as the fit and finish of the final product. Considering an ICF for your project is a wise choice. A great amount of data is available, and design teams are more versatile with the characteristics of the product.
About the author
Tony Godlewski has been with Shingobee for over 30 years and is currently Vice President in charge of the St. Cloud office. He has managed hundreds of retail, financial, convenience store and other projects, and oversaw construction of two buildings using ICF construction: the Four Winds School and Onigum Community Center.