a backyard pool with light blue water and pool heating solar panels on the back of the home roof

Insulating concrete form (ICF), initially used for wall and basement construction, is currently being used to build energy-efficient, high-quality, low-maintenance pools.

ICFs are preassembled stackable high-density plastic and expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam blocks surrounding solid concrete. The walls are built by stacking ICF blocks, reinforcing them with steel, and filling them with concrete—it’s as if you are building with Lego blocks. 

ICF is an excellent construction method for community, below or above-ground, and small exercise pools as part of a custom home.

This article will look at the benefits of ICF pool construction and how it differs from conventional pool construction.

Is ICF Pool Construction Better Than Conventional Construction? 

Constructing a pool using ICF offers several benefits over conventional pool construction methods. They can be made faster, save 50% or more on pool heating costs,retain heat 60% better or more vs. conventional pools, are possibly better for sloped yard construction, and use more green materials.

Builders can often prefer ICF pool construction as it’s easier and faster than concrete pool construction, which helps save money and time. In addition, architects and designers appreciate ICF pool construction because of the design options it offers. 

Here is a more in-depth analysis of the benefits of ICF pool construction: 

1.) Higher Energy Efficiency

As per ICF Magazine, a swimming pool loses approximately 80% of its heat energy through its sides and bottom surface.

This heat loss ground conducts heat more quickly and efficiently than the surface air. Swimming pools constructed with ICF have continuous insulation on the bottom surface of the pool as well as its exterior and interior sides. 

According to the ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2013, continuous insulation is an insulation that’s continuous and uncompressed across all structural membranes without thermal bridges other than service openings and fasteners.

As a result, continuous insulation stabilizes the pool’s temperature and minimizes heat loss. 

2.) Ease and Convenience

You might want to construct a pool in a small backyard or on a slope. However, such placements can make the construction of pools challenging and problematic.

These are just a few places where heavy equipment won’t go. Insulated concrete forms are lightweight, making them easy to handle without heavy machinery. 

3.) Increased Design Versatility 

Insulated concrete forms are pretty accommodating to fancy pool designs, so you don’t need to worry about limiting your design capabilities.

For example, ICFs can be cut to create a curved wall radius. However, they are also available in radius and corner forms, making it easy to form shapes and curves without any hassle.

Thanks to the flexibility of ICFs, you can achieve arches, curves, and a host of other shapes to create the exact design and shape you want for your pool. 

A radius form ICF block
Courtesy of Fox Block

Moreover, ICFs are easy to cut and modify to install skimmers, electrical, plumbing, or other attachments you like. 

4.) Environment-Friendliness

ICFs do not contain harmful chemicals like chlorofluorocarbons or hydrochlorofluorocarbon. There is also no “off-gassing” in their production.

Moreover, ICFs are extremely easy to cut and shape, resulting in considerably less pollution and waste on the construction site. Nevertheless, any waste produced is 100% recyclable. 

5.) Durable and Long-Lasting 

ICFs are structurally better than most other building materials—buildings built with ICF have an expected lifespan of 200 years or more. 

What’s even better is that ICF pools require minimal maintenance, leading to lower maintenance costs. These pools aren’t just built to last; they’re built to be maintenance-free. 

6.) Smooth Wall Finish 

ICF pool construction also features smoother and more consistent wall finishes than conventional concrete pools. This characteristic makes applying finishes such as pool plaster on the pool walls easier. 

The plaster finish is applied directly onto the foam inside the swimming pool and has a thickness of almost half an inch. Pool plaster finishes over insulated concrete forms are pretty smooth and completely waterproof. 

7.) Faster Construction 

ICF construction allows for faster and quicker pool construction. Insulated concrete form blocks are pre-formed, and building with them is similar to building with LEGO blocks. Just stack, brace, and pour the concrete. 

ICF Pool Construction vs. Conventional Construction 

Not only is constructing a pool with ICF much faster and easier, but the finished ICF swimming pool features benefits that you cannot get with vinyl, concrete, or fiberglass. 

This section will compare ICF pool construction with conventional pool construction methods on various factors. 

1.) Energy Efficiency 

Insulated concrete forms are made using highly-insulating EPS foam surrounding concrete reinforced with steel to create high-performance swimming pools that outlast other construction methods. 

a picture of two ICF forms, with white styrofoam on each side of the picture showing connecting rods in the middle with a big gap to pour concrete in

ICF pools aren’t just faster, easier, and more cost-effective to construct, but the insulating foam prevents over 60% of the heat loss in the pool. Higher energy efficiency implies it is relatively cheaper to heat your pool.

Moreover, since ICF stabilizes a pool’s temperature, the length of the pool season can be increased over that of fiberglass or concrete pools. 

2.) Durability 

Swimming pools made with insulated concrete forms are designed to last. Walls made with insulated concrete form have been proven to withstand damage from earthquakes, high winds, fire, and other impacts.

The concrete structure reinforced with steel and surrounded by EPS foam creates a robust structural wall that outperforms other conventional pool construction materials and methods. 

3.) Ease and Speed of Construction

ICF pool construction is faster and easier than conventional pool construction methods. Both DIYers and contractors prefer the simplicity and ease of building with insulated concrete forms. 

ICFs come in radius forms, and they’re easy to cut and modify, meaning you can build any shape you like, which is not possible with conventional construction methods. 

4.) Cost of Construction 

ICF walls do not require precise excavations, unlike concrete pool wall systems. This characteristic helps to keep costs low. If excavation of an ICF pool is over-dug, the only extra cost is to backfill the walls once they’re in place. 

In addition, insulated concrete forms are lightweight, so constructing an ICF pool requires fewer crew members than conventional pool construction, significantly reducing labor costs. 

Steps Involved in ICF Pool Construction 

Regardless of the pool shape or design, you can construct a budget-friendly and economical pool. Certain manufacturers offer a range of curved radius forms, making even the most unique design easy to execute.

Note that all pools must be engineered to provide proper steel reinforcement. However, some companies even offer pre-engineered tables for various configurations and depths. 

Here is a list of the steps involved in ICF pool construction:

  • Step 1 – Excavation is the first step in ICF pool construction, including footings under the walls. In-ground pools should ideally have footings at least 20″ wide and 16″ deep, though they might be as much as 58″ wide to accommodate certain soil conditions.

    Local building codes and soil compressive strength will play a huge role in determining footings requirements. 
  • Step 2 – The next step entails forming the footings and adding the rebar. Rebar reinforcement for the bottom of the pool is generally tied to the footing using stirrups. 
  • Step 3 – In the third step, concrete is poured into the footing forms and finished to level out the surface for stacking the ICF blocks. 
  • Step 4 – ICF blocks are then assembled to construct the pool walls on top of the footings, with both vertical and horizontal rebar added as they are assembled.

    Electrical and plumbing fixtures are also installed in this step. High walls need bracing to make sure they stay plumb after the concrete is poured. However, short walls generally do not require support. 
  • Step 5 – The swimming pool bottom starts with a smooth, compacting fill such as sand. Next, a rigid foam sheet that combines insulation and waterproofing in a single product is placed over the filling.  
  • Step 6 – Next, you will have to install the bracing and reinforcement into the floor per the engineer’s specifications. 
  • Step 7 – Before pouring the concrete, ensure all the bracing, reinforcement, and strapping are in place. In addition, cover the drains and lights to prevent the concrete from seeping into the openings. 
  • Step 8 – The final step is to pour the concrete into the ICF blocks to complete the structural shell. 
Homeowners pour and shape concrete in a backyard DIY ICF pool
Courtesy of ICF Pools

Top ICF Blocks for Pool Construction 

If you have decided to opt for ICF pool construction, you will surely want to learn about the top blocks. 

1.) BuildBlock BuildRadius Wall & Pool ICF Radius Blocks Family

BuildBlock Building Systems offers one of the best ICF blocks for pool construction. The company was founded in 2004 by Mike Garrett.

He has been a top distributor for two other major ICF companies. In addition, Mike has spent over 12 years in ICF construction and distribution and another 15 years in small commercial and residential building. 

BuildBlock Building Systems is a range of ICF radius forms that create 2″, 4″, 8″, 12″, 16″, and 20″ arcs. All the blocks interlock into any BuildBlock 6-inch product line and make use of the regular BuildBlock webs.

Several images of BuildBlock radius ICF blocks shown horizontally
Courtesy of BuildBlock

Available in widths of 6-inches, these insulated concrete forms are built to ease and simplify the construction of high-quality, energy-efficient ICF pools and offer options for designing distinct areas in ICF houses. 

2.) One Series by Nudura

Nudura ICF forms are high-tech industry-leading insulated concrete forms that feature proven technologies for faster and easier building.

Nudura’s range of ICFs offers innovation exclusive to the company, which equips builders and contractors with the ability to design and build residential structures with higher efficiency.

Nudura ICFs are commonly used to construct swimming pools. The One Series by Nudura is perfect for swimming pools, and anywhere only one side of the foam is needed.

The One Series offers superior strength and insulation, lowering energy costs and maximizing durability. You can even use these blocks to create any design you like. Choosing Nudura ICFs for pools can also result in higher long-term cost savings.

3.) Fox Blocks Series

Fox Blocks has been making insulated concrete forms since 2005. As a leading ICF manufacturer, the company constantly strives to offer the best training and education, the most advanced BIM support, and the best service support in the industry. 

The company’s core product line, the Fox Blocks Series, allows you to build successfully in almost any configuration. 

The Radius Block in the Fox Blocks Series is a specialty block used to construct curved pool walls. These pre-molded blocks are 16-inches long, allowing you to build a curved pool wall of any length you want. The currently available radiuses include 5-10″ with only a 6-inch concrete core width. 

Last Few Words

ICF pools are durable, energy-efficient, low-maintenance, eco-friendly, and easily adaptable to even the most inventive swimming pool designs. ICF pool construction is also easy and quick, allowing you to save considerable money and time. 

Moreover, compared with conventional pool construction methods such as concrete, ICF performs better in several areas, including energy efficiency, durability, and construction costs. 

Nevertheless, when you purchase ICF blocks, invest in high-quality blocks, ideally from the manufacturers listed above. Doing this will help you get the most value for your money. 

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