ICF Homes: Building Energy-Efficient Homes
Using Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF) in custom home building has been a growing trend over the last several years. There are a few reasons for this including the demand for more energy-efficient and sustainable construction, the sturdiness of these homes, and how they're able to save on costs in the long run. ICF meets all of these demands, which we will cover in this blog.
What Are ICF Homes?
Building with insulated concrete forms is not a new construction process but the actual implementation has been a slow process. The first true ICF home was built in 1969 in Oakville, Ontario, but grew in popularity in the early 2000s. Using ICF was most popular in the single and multi-family residential home industries until the early 2010s.
As an alternative to wood-framed housing, ICF has been one of the greatest green building technologies developed. This was especially true when the price of lumber went up as a result of COVID and ICF homes were a great alternative to the rising costs of stick frame construction. Now, as lumber costs have normalized a bit, using lumber to frame homes is popular once again. However, due to building codes requiring more energy efficiency, ICF homes aren't going anywhere.
ICF homes are great options for homeowners for a few reasons. First, they're extremely stable and strong. Instead of the home being framed with wood, the walls are built with interlocking styrofoam blocks. Once locked together, the blocks are filled with concrete from 6" to 12" thick. This limits heat loss going out and noise coming in, two incredible advantages of ICF homes.
Are ICF Houses Cheaper to Build?
We will cover more, but for a great explanation of how ICF houses can save costs long-term, check out our clip with Mike Simon (aka Dirt Perfect) about how he used to build ICF-certified homes:
As mentioned above, building ICF houses is typically more expensive than wood-framed houses. Especially now that lumber costs have steadied after the pandemic. According to some, ICF houses can cost, on average, anywhere between 5-20% more than wood-framed homes.
However, it's important to note that as ICF technology grows, sourcing will get cheaper. There are also fewer ICF contractors which drives up the costs with the lack of competition.
In the long-term though, your house often requires fewer repairs, able to withstand hurricanes, wind, tornadoes, fires, and major storms. ICF homes are also often built with stronger foundations, better materials, and more reinforcement.
And lastly, as Mike mentions in the video above, they are more energy efficient. This drives down the cost of your utilities per month and allows you to pay off your mortgage faster. Often, the return on investment of building an ICF home in the short term saves you money in the longer term.
Why Build Energy-Efficient Homes?
ICF, energy-efficient homes are great for a few reasons. It lowers your utility bills, decreases your environmental impact, and makes for stronger homes. With the concrete aspect, less air is leaking through the walls keeping the hot or cool air in, depending on the seasons. They also have two insulation layers, one on the inside and one on the outside, reducing the amount of heat lost.
The construction industry plays a large role in sustainability. Not only in the operation of equipment but also in the materials they use to build. By building more ICF and energy-efficient homes, even owners and general contractors are decreasing their environmental impact. And, you're saving your customers more money in the long run.
The Advantages of ICF in Energy Efficiency
Because of the insulation on both sides of the wall, temperatures in the house won't change much throughout the day. This gives ICF buildings a great R-value score typically around R-23. This R-value calculates how well buildings are insulated and how much heat they're able to keep in. A higher R-value is a good thing. For perspective, wood-framed homes have an R-value between R-9 and R-15.
Another benefit of ICF homes is how quiet they are. Because of how thick the walls are and the concrete used, very little sound gets into the home. This is great for homes in cities or busier residential areas.
ICF homes are also more stable than wood-framed homes. There are several pictures of ICF homes that are still in good condition after experiencing tornadoes, wind storms, wildfires, hurricanes, and worse.
The Disadvantages of Using ICF
One of the disadvantages of using ICF is the cost. Housing is already expensive and not getting much cheaper. While the long-term savings of ICF homes are ideal, the upfront cost may not be worth it for many homeowners.
Another issue people are running into is the number of contractors who don't work with ICF. While they are growing, many contractors prefer working with wood. This is because they're more comfortable with lumber, can build homes more quickly, and because they require fewer permits to build.
ICF homes also require floor plans to be designed and engineered with this concept from the start. You can't just easily switch from ICF to lumber or vice-versa. They require completely different floor designs including the thickness of the walls, where conduits and wiring will be, and overall floor plans. When building homes with ICF, giving yourself more footprint and property to use is better because the usable square footage of an ICF home will be smaller than a wood-framed house, even if built in the same space.
How does ICF lower energy consumption?
Building homes with ICF has become incredibly popular in countries like Canada which require homes to have net-zero carbon emissions. Although the United States doesn't have the same requirements for home emissions, ICF is growing in popularity here too.
As mentioned above, ICF has a higher R-value meaning that the insulation is better and produces less emissions than their wooden-studded competitors. Because of the double insulation, they also don't require external sheathing. Data has even suggested that one ICF-built home has the same emissions as three homes built with wood.
Incorporating ICF in Your Construction Project
Building with ICF is not always easy, however. They often require more permits in order to get built and not every contractor has experience with the process. If you're looking for a contractor to do a custom home build for you, it's best to hire a company that has experience specifically with ICF.
When it comes to sourcing suitable materials, it is important to go with quality ICF manufacturers. More and more companies specializing in ICF products are starting, especially as it becomes more prominent, so it's vital to do the right research.
Real-life Examples of Energy-Efficient ICF Homes
There are several examples of ICF homes that have thrived. First, there is the YouTube channel Lake Lot Build which documented building their ICF house. Then there are the examples that Mike Simon shared on our podcast, Building Builders. There are also examples of homes that have survived wildfires, hurricanes, and more.
ICF homes are safe, secure, durable, and cost-saving. Any money you spend upfront to decrease the number of investments over the course of ownership will save you money long-term.
If you need to rent construction equipment to build your next ICF home, you can find construction equipment rentals with DOZR. Keep your projects on schedule and under budget by comparing rental prices from different rental companies in one spot.