Insulated concrete forms are essential building blocks for concrete wall reinforcement. These innovative wall forms also regulate interior temperatures of buildings, dramatically impact energy costs, and significantly reduce outdoor sound pollution. The one downside to using insulated concrete forms may not necessarily be due to the ICFs themselves, but rather how they’re installed and where they are used.
What Are Insulated Concrete Forms?
Insulated concrete forms (ICFs) are forms designed for cast-in-place, reinforced concrete walls that date back to the 1940s and 1950s. The initial conception of the ICF first occurred after World War II, when Swiss engineers began holding cement walls together with treated blocks of wood. After that, the idea was adopted by chemical companies who developed plastic foams. This was later further developed by Jean-Louis Béliveau to regulate the temperature in his parents’ Florida home. The purpose of these forms is to be permanent wall supports that create space to run wiring and plumbing, provide thermal and acoustic insulation, and be the interior side for exterior walls.
Essentially, an ICF is an H-shaped structure that allows for two concrete walls to be cast in-between layers of insulation whilst keeping an open-air channel between the two walls. These are strong and sturdy systems that can be particularly energy-efficient and used in a wide variety of buildings types ranging from residential to commercial to industrial. While the final product results in a slightly wider wall, the finish is often identical to typical construction.
If you are interested in upgrading the walls of a particular building or space and are considering insulated concrete forms, here are a few pros and cons that you should consider before constructing.
Adding an insulated concrete form has the primary advantage of strengthening a building’s walls. The poured concrete hardens around the ICFs, which then reinforces the wall and reduces its vulnerability to vertical and horizontal forces. Depending on whether the frame of the ICF is flat or grid, the wall can be made even stronger by the frequency and rigidity of the inner connectors. Unlike a normal cement fixture, the pockets and ICFs between the walls actually increase the structure’s strength and durability
One of the most appealing aspects of using insulated concrete forms is that it has the potential to significantly reduce the heating and cooling costs of a particular building. That’s also the most impressive feature of ICF walls; they can release heat in the summer and store heat in the winter. In some instances, ICFs are estimated to save about 20% of total energy costs.
As a comparison, the tightness around insulated concrete form walls is much tighter than those of compatible window and door frames. If your insulated concrete forms have a lifespan of 100 years, with no degradation, a single-family ICF home could save up to 110 tons of carbon dioxide compared to traditional wood-framed homes. CO2 savings that high would create a net positive carbon footprint for the cement and the ICFs.
Sound Reduction and Temperature Stability
Through a sandwich of materials, insulated concrete forms are able to act as a sound barrier, protecting the interior of the house from outdoor noises. When a massive material, in concrete, is combined with a light one like foam, fluctuations in temperature, air filtration, and sound are able to be dramatically reduced. The layer of foam that insulates the entirety of an ICF wall helps keep it the same temperature throughout – essentially eliminating “cold spots” that occur in frame walls between insulation gaps or around the studs. In terms of sound reduction, walls with insulated concrete forms allow for only one-eighth the amount of sound to be penetrated as that of a wood frame wall.
Saves on Material Costs
By integrating insulated concrete forms into various walls or parts of the construction process, you would be able to set walls and foundations with 10% less concrete. ICF, when delivered to the job site, often comes as straight-form blocks that have already been assembled. This can eliminate a couple of inches of thickness compared to traditional straight form builds, which in some instances could net you a 25% increase in savings on materials and expenses.
Don’t Work As Well In Cold Climates
In theory, these walls act as strong insulators of heat at colder exterior temperatures. However, this doesn’t account for the amount of heat that transfers outside. Insulated concrete forms are designed to transfer heat out of the structure so that outdoor temperatures don’t negatively affect the curing process of the concrete. Therefore, ICFs work much better in more tropical climates where the heat transfer and insulation can keep a home cool during the day while also making it comfortably warm at night.
Could Be More Costly Than Expected
The savings regarding insulated concrete forms is undeniable; however, that’s assuming you have the affordable labor to install it. If you decide to incorporate ICFs into your project’s walls or foundation, you might be looking at overall costs that are more expensive than conventional processes. Insulated concrete forms require specialized labor; if your worksite is located in an area with very few contractors capable of incorporating ICF, then you may want to switch to cheaper methods.
Some Projects May Not Be Able To Incorporate Rebar Reinforcement
A lot of the strength that insulated concrete form walls possess comes from the addition of rebar. These moldable steel wires are excellent for fitting between the seams of the interior grid and reinforcing the concrete. Unfortunately, many new ICFs include plastic connectors, which act as cheaper and more flexible reinforcement wires, which leaves very little space for the addition of rebar. This is more troubling on corners, where ICFs can be vulnerable to wall seams and other structural instability.
If you have access to specialty contractors or are indifferent to installation costs, insulated concrete forms are the ideal choice for any concrete wall or foundation. These forms improve temperature regulation, reduce material cost, dampen exterior sounds, increase wall strength, and save you massive amounts of energy. If you need help managing the specialty contractors required to design and install ICF walls, then check out eSub’s construction project management software. Just like ICF, eSub is a smart and essential investment for any construction job.