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Insulated Concrete Forms

Today, home buyers expect to get more from their new home. They want beauty that's more than skin deep. A home that fits their lifestyle of course - but also a home with solid, high quality constructions, greater comfort and security.

It's becoming harder and harder to meet their new expectations with the same old building technology - wood framing. So more and more builders and home buyers are turning to something new. A modern adaptation of a centuries-old technology using the most proven building material on earth. Concrete.

Insulating Concrete Forms (ICFs) give you all the benefits that have made concrete the material of choice for home building worldwide: Solid, lasting construction that resists the ravages of fire, wind, and Father Time. But ICFs do plain concrete one better - or rather, two better - by giving you two built-in layers of foam insulation.

This gives an ICF home some sizable advantages over an ordinary stick-built home. Greater energy efficiency. More peace & quiet. More sheer day-to-day living comfort. All wrapped up in a solid, high-quality building package that gives an ICF home an utterly remarkable feel that really has to be experienced to be believed. As soon as you step inside, you can tell that an ICF home is not an ordinary house. It's not just beautiful, comfortable and quiet. You can feel that it's solid, built to last.

So just how expensive is it to get all these extraordinary benefits? The truth is you can get superior ICF technology for a lot less than you'd think. ICFs are so efficient to build with and easy to use, that the cost of building an ICF house is comparable to that of an ordinary 2x6 wood-framed house. But you get so much more home for your money.

Energy Savings

Building a concrete home with insulating concrete forms (ICFs) saves energy and money. The greater insulation, tighter construction, and temperature-smoothing mass of the walls conserve heating and cooling energy much better than conventional wood-frame walls. This reduces monthly fuel bills. It also allows use of smaller heating and cooling equipment, saving money in construction.

How much will I save?

Houses built with ICF exterior walls require an estimated 44% less energy to heat and 32% less energy to cool than comparable frame houses. A typical 2000 square foot home in the center of the U.S. will save approximately $200 in heating costs each year and $65 in air conditioning each year.

The bigger the house the bigger the savings. In colder areas of the U.S. and Canada, heating savings will be more and cooling savings less. In hotter areas, heating savings will be less and cooling savings more.

The smaller heating and cooling equipment needed for such an energy-efficient house can cut construction costs by an estimated $500 to $2000. The biggest equipment savings come with the houses that have the most energy savings. How do we know all this?

The energy savings estimates come from a study of single-family houses spread across the U.S. and Canada. Researchers gathered data on 58 houses in all. Half had exterior walls constructed with concrete using ICFs made of expanded polystyrene (EPS) or extruded polystyrene (XPS) foam. The other half were neighboring houses with walls constructed of wood frame. All houses were relatively new (less than 6 years old) and built with modern methods.

The researchers compared the energy bill of each concrete house to its frame counterpart, carefully correcting for important differences to get an “apples-to-apples” comparison. Estimates of equipment savings are actual numbers reported by contractors that build ICF houses.

Where do the savings come from?

Insulating values for ICF walls using polystyrene foam are R-17 to R-26, compared to wood frame’s R-9 to R-15. So ICF walls are expected to cut the conduction losses through foundation and above-grade walls by about half. And ICF walls are tighter. In tests, ICF houses averaged about 1/2 as much infiltration (air leakage) as frame.

ICF walls do more than cut down on the biggest types of energy loss. The concrete gives them the heat-absorbing property, “thermal mass”. This is the ability to smooth out large swings in temperature. It keeps the walls of the house a little warmer when the outdoor temperature hits its coldest extreme, and keeps the house a little cooler when the outdoor temperature is hottest. The walls themselves “add back” heat or cooling to the house when it needs them most. This contributes about 6% of the needed energy to the house for free.

Reduced equipment costs result from the energy savings. Since the energy needed is less, the furnaces and compressors that heat and cool can be smaller. And the more the energy savings, the greater the possible reduction in equipment size—and the equipment cost.

What's the bottom line?

In planning a new house you can estimate that building the walls of concrete using ICFs will save you hundreds of dollars per year in energy costs. As shown in the graphs, the savings are greater the bigger the house. Heating savings are highest in cold climates, and cooling savings highest in warm climates. You may also save hundreds or thousands of dollars in construction costs for heating and cooling equipment. Talk with an ICF homebuilder for estimates.

More Information?

VanderWerf, "Energy Consumption Comparisons of Concrete Homes versus Wood Frame Homes". Portland Cement Association. 1997.

More reasons to use ICF walls
- Fire resistance
- Comfort and quiet

What’s the bottom line?
When planning a new house, consider the greater well-being that could come from living with a more even temperature, sharply reduced drafts, and noticeably greater quiet. These things are available with concrete walls built with ICFs. They effectively shelter the interior environment from the harshness of the outdoors. ICFs will provide a quiet, comfortable home year round.

More facts about Insulated Concrete Forms
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