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Building With Insulate Concrete Forms

Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF)


I have been asked to make a presentation to The Council Of ICF Industries at The World of Concrete in Las Vegas in February so I thought I would try a dry run of my presentation here, comments and questions welcome!

RDC Fine Homes ICF Home

Building with Insulated Concrete Forms

We began using Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF) in 2003 (photo above) and I wish we had discovered this system much earlier. While it took a few years to make a complete switch, every foundation we pour today is done with ICF. 

While I see much greater adoption of this technology today than in the early 2000’s, I am still surprised that more builders, designers and engineers do not use it. As an industry we tend to get stuck with what we know, and can be very reluctant to try anything that might seem new. 

In reality ICF was a Canadian invention, patented in Canada by Werner Gregori in 1966 and in the US in 1968; it has been around for a long and has improved the durability, comfort and energy efficiency of homes for over 40 years.

Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF) are made from Expanded Polystyrene and unlike many of the materials used in construction, ICF’s and concrete are practically inert compounds, meaning they do not off-gas. Concrete is made up of natural minerals, and recycled materials, including crushed concrete, none of which change its inert nature. 

ICF blocks are not Styrofoam, a common misconception. ICF blocks are, in fact, made of expanded polystyrene; an important difference is that when ICF blocks are made, no CFCs of HCFCs are used in the forming process. 

The fire-retardant that is incorporated into the blocks will off-gas slightly in the factory. However, this process is finished before the blocks leave the factory, and long before a home-owner ever takes occupancy of their new ICF home.

RDC Whistler ICF Building

Here are the 5 top reasons you should consider building your next home with ICF:

1. Speed and ease of assembly

    • Lightweight materials
    • Easy to assemble reducing labour costs for assembly
    • No forms to strip after concrete in place
    • Better concrete curing resulting in higher strength concrete

2. Reduction of waste

    • Wood forming material is dramatically reduced resulting in a reduction of material sent to the land fill.
    • EPS waste can be easily recycled at your local recycle transfer station.

3. Warm, dry clean smelling basements:

    • The EPS material of the ICF form eliminates any moisture from diffusing through to your interior areas;
    • The diffusion of vapour is what can lead to that musty basement smell we all know and certainly don’t love about our basements.
    • Watch the video below for an explanation.
4. Durable:
    • By keeping the basement rooms dry there will never be any risk of mold or mildew growth. The new home smell will never be replaced with the damp musty smell of mold;
    • Better curing in the ICF form means less chance of cracking or failure as a result of a poor cure;
    • Concrete can safely be poured in cold weather as the ICF insulates the concrete against freezing – make sure to consult your engineer or batch plant before pouring concrete in below freezing conditions;

5. Energy efficient:

    • High effective insulation value – meets  the new energy requirements being introduced into building codes across North America. Effective insulation or real thermal resistance. R18-22 depending on manufacturer.
    • While many builders are having to build thicker walls or add exterior insulation to achieve the new standards being set through building codes and ICF wall will meet even the new city of Vancouver’s high energy efficiency standard.
    • Using ICF is likely to get you to a near net zero energy or net zero energy standard for your new home. (Net zero energy is defined as a home that is designed to produce as much energy as it uses)