Closeup on the internal composition of an ICF block before the concrete is poured

Insulated concrete form (ICF) blocks are becoming very popular these days.

Many homeowners chose them over traditional wooden frameworks for new construction because these blocks have sustainable, energy-efficient, and time-saving benefits. You can use them to build walls and foundations. 

ICF blocks offer significant value for the price even though they have a higher upfront cost than standard bricks. 

This article highlights how ICF blocks work and whether they are a worthy investment. 

The Premises: How Do ICF Blocks Work?

ICF block construction create an insulated structure when stacked together. ICF blocks are hollow, unlike rock-solid bricks. These blocks are also composed of expanded polystyrene (EPS), intermeshed foam bricks used for their high durability and sustainable design.

Science Direct defines polystyrene as “a liquid hydrocarbon” or monomer styrene sourced from commercially-produced petroleum. ICF blocks are solidified versions of this aromatic polymer bound by plastic or metal connectors.

The blocks comprise an interlocking layout that you can stack together without any adhesive or bonding materials.  The hollow cavities are filled with concrete poured into these empty spaces. Steel reinforcements are attached to the cavity to provide stability during this process.

Unlike wooden frameworks, builders do not remove ICF blocks after pouring the concrete. As a result, the forms become part of the walls and foundations.

This process creates a stronger, more durable, and well-insulated framework for your home. 

The Process: How Are Houses Built with ICF Blocks?

Construction begins with the first floor, where walls are built with these lego-like blocks. Next, the builders pour the ready-mix concrete, then allow it to dry. Once that happens, the construction crew moves onto the next level of your home or begins building the roof. 

Specialists are required for this job to minimize risks. These professionals need to carefully direct and vibrate the concrete when it fills to avoid inconsistencies in the structure.

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

In addition, structural openings and spaces in intersecting sections of the walls are filled correctly to promote higher strength. Filling in the gaps maximizes insulation and airtightness. 

These factors eventually construct weather-safe walls that are less likely to crumble in a natural disaster. It includes extreme environmental conditions like hurricanes, tornados, and snowstorms. For this reason, ICF blocks are starting to receive more traction and provide higher return-of-investments (ROIs) compared to conventional residential frameworks. 

The Cost: How Much Do ICF Blocks Cost? 

HomeAdvisor calculated the ICF construction cost and came up with an estimate of $300,000 to $320,000 for 2000-square foot residential properties. That means it can cost approximately $150-160 per square foot. Alternatively, ICF blocks can cost around $200 per linear foot.  

If you are building ICF walls, you might find them cheaper than conventional materials for concrete walls. These installations cost $7 per square foot. 

That said, these are tentative figures. The total cost of your ICF project can change depending on your geographical location and industry prices during purchase.

Is the price equivalent to other insulation forms?

Most contractors charge a similar fee for poured and removable forms.

We strongly advise homeowners to weigh the relevance, benefits, and environmental goals of their property. Going over the budget before finalizing the concrete form you want to use will result in a more cost-effective choice. 

Price Points – Which Variables Change the Cost of ICF Blocks?

Your project complexity, raw material usage, and geographical location can cause the cost of construction to increase or decrease. Good contractors focus on reducing expenses to keep things sustainable for you. 

Here are the primary factors that can increase or decrease the cost of your ICF project: 

Project Goals  

Project complexity plays a pivotal role in determining the cost of construction. If your sole focus is on ICF blocks, consider the aspects that impact their installation. Then, look at the accessibility, size, storage space, and other relevant logistics. 

Questions to ask:

  • How many ICF blocks will you need for each level of your new home? 
  • Is your residential property accessible, or is it in a remote area?
  • Do you want ICF blocks for your walls or foundations? 
  • Where will you store the material? 
  • Will your ICF blocks need waterproofing? 
  • What’s your budget for this construction project? 
  • How much do structural engineers and contractors charge for your project size? 

The last question helps you decide whether ICF blocks are a cost-effective investment or not. Then, you can choose alternative blocks and adjust your construction plan accordingly. 

The Material  

Besides the cost of concrete forms, homeowners need to compare the price of different concrete mixes used for filling the ICF block cavities.

Four walls connected using ICF block construction, showing concrete filled in the middle for strength

The varying prices can impact the total cost of your construction project. For example, cement costs relatively more than its substitutes like fly ash or limestone mixes. 

The weight, size, and ratio of raw materials you need to complete your ICF project can affect the overall construction costs. Contractors might also charge an extra fee if the selected material isn’t manageable. 

Your Location 

Your residential area and the market rates within the region can impact the cost of ICF blocks. 

For example, ICF block installations will cost more if local service providers do not offer these specialized services. Moreover, transport costs can also change the final price of your ICF construction project. 

Benefits of ICF Block Construction

The rapid increase in popularity indicates that more and more homeowners are leaning towards sustainable ICF blocks for new constructions. We have rounded up the benefits of ICF blocks to assess whether ICF construction is worth the price. 

In short, here’s why you should invest in ICF blocks: 

Insulated concrete forms offer higher reliability and better protection from environmental elements (like snow, moisture-buildup, and strong winds). They are also highly durable and converse energy better than traditional concrete frameworks. 

Here are the primary benefits of insulated concrete form in more detail:

Maximum Strength 

The ICF blocks are airtight and maintain more strength than conventional concrete forms. In addition, they are integrated with a strategic interlocking layout that keeps their shape intact.

Consequently, they can withstand more pressure than wooden concrete frameworks. 

Therefore, using ICF blocks for cement work increases the strength of your home’s foundation and wall. It also makes them less damage-prone compared to weaker structures and frameworks. A strong and sturdy foundation is a plus point for homes located in colder regions. 

A Cost-Effective Investment 

The interlocking structural design of ICF blocks doesn’t require as much concrete mix as conventional wooden forms. In this way, you cut down material costs significantly compared to standard cement forms’ pricing.

The only setback is that these forms have a higher upfront cost than typical bricks and cement forms. For this reason, many homeowners hesitate to invest in ICF blocks.  

However, if you compare the payback value of these insulation blocks over traditional cement forms, you might change your mind.

ICF blocks provide a sizable return on investment by reducing utility bills and lowering maintenance costs. In turn, integrating them into your construction plan can save thousands of dollars in the long run. 

Higher Durability 

You extend the longevity of your foundations and walls by introducing this interlocked structure into your design—wet cement will not crack or leak when encased in cavity-filled ICF blocks. 

Homeowners pour and shape concrete in a backyard DIY ICF pool

The extra layer of protection and airtight construction prevents cold air from entering the concrete wall. As a result, the barrier minimizes the risk of frost formation, moisture build-up, mold infestation, and other environmental threats that can weaken other cement structures.

The cement mix composition plays an equally important role. 

Always ask your contractor to select a mixture that supports the high retention capabilities of ICF blocks. 

Energy Conservation via Thermal Insulation 

ICF is known for its thermal insulation capabilities and high energy efficiency. These interlocked concrete forms maintain heat energy to an optimum level.

ICF-constructed residential properties require less than 44% of energy for heating during winters. Moreover, they need 32% less energy to cool down than traditional wooden houses. 

Besides this, your HVAC system performs better and is less likely to go into overdrive. Optimum performance of heating and air conditioning systems reduces home maintenance risks too.

These are some reasons your utility bill doesn’t spike when you live in ICF-constructed homes. 

Versatile and Flexible Design 

ICF blocks are adaptable and customizable to some extent. They work well for various architectural styles and layouts.

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

You can use them in apartment buildings, condos, suburban homes, and even vintage-inspired residences. The possibilities remain limitless when you hire a cooperative contractor that can accommodate your creative vision. 

An Eco-Friendly Construction Solution 

ICF is an environmentally-safe and eco-focused solution for constructing new homes. These blocks do not require an extensive amount of energy, nor do they use large quantities of wood. 

Instead, your construction crew manages to conserve forests and prevent water wastage. It also limits landfill accumulation by ensuring that you have sustainable options for concrete forms. 

These are the eco-friendly benefits of ICF blocks: 

  1. ICF blocks can minimize landfilling construction wastage. 
  2. They can reduce timber usage, automatically save plants and prevent deforestation as more homes move onto this sustainable, lumber-free construction technique. 
  3. Energy conservation lowers carbon dioxide emissions too and inhibits global warming factors. 
  4. No adhesives or sealants are utilized when stacking ICF blocks, meaning it’s less toxic and harmful to the environment. 

In short, ICF blocks are a cleaner and greener approach for building and constructing houses.  

Time-Effectiveness

Homes are built faster and better with ICF blocks due to their ease of use. Stacking these interlocked bricks and filling their cavities with cement takes less time than constructing using wooden cement forms. 

Moreover, the cement dries faster and stays in shape more quickly since immovable EPS layers surround it.

What Are the Drawbacks of ICF Blocks? 

The main drawbacks of ICF blocks are their higher investment price and lack of surface resistance to water.

Besides the typical cost of these insulation blocks, you will need to place a waterproofing layer on the surface. These blocks can’t withstand high levels of water exposure even if the internal interlock structure holds the moisture back. 

You can opt for a DIY hack if you don’t have enough budget for a professional waterproofing service.

Use customizable precut peel-and-stick water-resistance material to cover your home’s foundations and exposed walls. Ensure that this waterproof layer stays intact and look for signs of wear and tear after a storm.

In most cases, you won’t have any trouble dealing with storms when you have waterproof ICF blocks incorporated into your foundations and walls. 

Final Verdict: Are ICF Blocks Worth It?

Yes, ICF blocks are definitely worth the investment. They are a modern, hassle-free, and cleaner solution for the construction process. The simple stack-pour-and-dry method makes them a more manageable and less tedious way of building residential properties.

You can also use them for different architectural designs without compromising structural integrity.

However, we can’t deny that the initial investment isn’t cheap. But, you receive a significant amount of money back when considering the lower utility bills and maintenance cost values after the ICF block modifications. The material costs and deductions are also not as extensive.

For these reasons, we believe that ICF blocks provide a higher value and a more sustainable future for your homes.

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