When looking for an energy-efficient building solution that is also strong and reliable, insulating concrete forms is one system to consider. Also known as ICFs, these forms are created using layers of insulation that sandwich together cast in place concrete to create the form.
Insulating concrete forms have several advantageous uses, and the benefits are substantial as well. They can work for residential properties as well as industrial, commercial, and other low-rise establishments. They can also be applied in both interior and exterior locations, providing thick walls and traditional aesthetics upon completion.
Insulating Concrete Forms Overview
These forms are not new to the market. They have been around for several decades, dating back to shortly after World War II. The walls are a permanent creation that enclose a structure and add insulation.
Initially, these were created using plastic foams, but since then developers have designed foam blocks, which are more symbolic of what we use today to create ICFs. The first ideas came from Switzerland, Canada, and Europe, and innovation continues to improve the designs.
Sometime in the 1980s, American companies started learning more about ICFs and worked to improve the technology and manufacturing of the blocks, panels, and planks that could be used. The Insulating Concrete Form Association was founded in the 1990s to provide codes, regulations, education, and additional research for these innovations.
As they continued to promote and research the product, ICFA worked closely with the Portland Cement Association to spread the word about the possibilities of using insulating concrete forms in construction.
There were details to work through, including making sure builders truly understood the system, managing costs, using proper materials, and getting the right code approvals in place. Working through these details led to reliable products with better cost points and a market loaded with competition on the products.
Over time, new variations were created, and every company added their own system or unique innovation to the designs. Many companies later chose to consolidate and collaborate rather than compete against each other. At that time, the target market was high-end construction projects such as custom homes and premium construction. A high percentage of use for ICFs was primarily in residential construction.
However, in more recent years, these have become more understood throughout the industry, leading to increased affordability and a larger base for using them. Expansion has grown from residential use to a variety of industrial and commercial uses as well. This includes retail, condos, theaters, hotels, and more.
Benefits of ICFs
The advantages of using insulating concrete forms is numerous, and both building owners and contractors can appreciate their own benefits.
For example, contractors appreciate these benefits:
Flexibility of use and design
Lightweight materials are easier to transport and work with
Compatibility with various trades
More energy-efficient for energy codes
Quick, easy construction processes
And owners paying for construction or building projects appreciate these benefits:
Reduce outside noises
Create strong, reliable walls
More resistant to disasters
Resistant to pests, mold, mildew, and rot
Comfortable and efficient provisions to the structure
Energy efficiency produces reduced costs
Understanding Insulating Concrete Forms System Details
When it comes to using ICFs, there are varying details ranging from the total system to things like configuration, components, and the sizes that are used. Every project is different, so the appropriate details are determined by the professionals who help to create your projects.
Despite the differences in systems and designs, all systems are proven to meet field requirements and are approved by the proper codes. They are also professionally designed by engineers.
The different systems are placed together using connections and finishes as blocks or pieces are pieced together. This process is similar to masonry, building piece by piece to completion. Any necessary reinforcement is installed along the way, providing bracement and stability to the framework and structure.
Sustainability at Its Finest
The biggest advantage of insulating concrete forms is the sustainability factor. While so many construction materials can break down or deteriorate over time, these are far more lasting than some construction materials. They also provide much higher efficiency rates in comparison.
ICFs have been shown to last more than 100 years, and are dated with a service life of approximately 100 years by the industry.
In terms of the improved efficiencies, the numbers vary slightly. However, on average, you can anticipate anywhere from 10-30% improvements. These details may depend on things like the roofs, windows, and doors that are used in connection with the ICF details. Regardless, you’re looking at at least 10%+ in efficiency improvements.
The materials are airtight and insulated, providing a thick barrier to the extremities outside the walls, which is what contributes to efficiency. This improved efficiency supports CO2 preservation and usage as well.
Thanks to this preservation, you can contribute to sustainability through efficiency, as well as saving trees and reducing or eliminating the use of wood in the construction process. These products typically use a fair amount of recycled materials.
ICF Building Codes
Through the years, there has been extensive learning to help develop and better understand the ICF systems. North America created the ICFA, which is the association in charge of creating regulations and codes to ensure the safety and proper construction of materials.
These fall under different codes than something like wood framing or steel framing, because they are completely different materials. There are testing and reporting groups that work together to compile information, research, and develop appropriate codes to follow.
With the increase in knowledge, it has become far easier to get code approval for the use of these materials.
Building Dreams with ICFs
Insulating Concrete Forms are an intuitive way to think about the sustainability of the earth, while also improving our structures in many different ways. There are several safety and efficiency benefits that come with using ICFs.
Many homes and structures now put these to use, and for obvious reasons. It might just be the solution for your dream project.