A closeup on the end grain of some ICF blocks

Insulated concrete form is becoming a popular way to construct homes. This contemporary and innovative building material is typically made with polystyrene foam blocks with gaps in between to pour a concrete wall.

In the past, insulated concrete form (ICF) was mainly used to build foundation walls of commercial buildings. However, various builders are now going a step further and using it to build walls of one, two, and three-story homes. 

This article will take a deeper look at what ICF walls are and the benefits of using them.

What Are ICF Walls?

An insulated concrete form is a system of expanded polystyrene rigid insulation blocks separated by plastic webbing. It’s used as an integrated concrete form to pour a concrete wall rather than a plywood form or traditional wood plank. 

ICF blocks are available in interlocking sections. Thus, a wall system tightly fits together.

After the contractor positions the blocks in place, they will pour the concrete and attach finishes such as siding and drywall to fastener strips lodged in the insulation. 

Many parts of the construction process are done quickly, as the blocks come with fastener and insulation strips. ICF walls are generally between 6 inches and 12 inches thick. The thickness of the wall typically depends on the soil condition and the amount of support that the overlying parts of a building need. 

Benefits of ICF Walls

Insulated concrete form stands out for several characteristics, including its comfort and superior quality compared to more conventional building techniques. 

1. Provides Thermal Insulation 

ICF blocks keep the cold out and heat in with extreme efficiency. In addition, since ICF walls are so well insulated, they can effectively eliminate the need for conventional thermal insulation.

Being extremely energy-efficient, homes with insulated concrete form walls can easily attain an ‘A’ insulation rating. This high energy efficiency means less energy is needed to heat the house, lowering the energy bill.

In fact, owners of insulated concrete form structures achieve up to 60% reduction in HVAC bills because of this building material. Moreover, ICF walls can even allow you to downsize to a smaller HVAC unit.

In addition, ICF walls are resistant to moisture, mold, and rot. Thus, they are an excellent choice to construct a basement. The added thermal efficiency can even eliminate the need to have insulation around the basement, depending on how cold it gets in your area. 

2. Increases Building Speed

Constructing ICF walls is simple and not labor-intensive. As we mentioned above, ICF blocks are made with incredibly lightweight expanded polystyrene and are hollow in the middle. 

The blocks are designed with a grid that interlocks and allows for easy stacking. The entire construction process is very similar to building with ‘Lego’ blocks.

This fabrication style reduces a significant chunk of time compared to a conventional building style, as you can pour the concrete into the hollow blocks using a concrete pump. You also do not need to stress over stripping and cleaning the forms when you are ready to continue with the project. 

While this process can cost slightly more than traditional building techniques using concrete, the amount of labor you save using this process will generally make up the difference—particularly compared to the cost of other popular standard alternative insulation techniques. 

3. Uses Less Concrete 

You will generally notice ICF walls use a waffle-style blueprint as the design uses approximately 10 percent less concrete than if you construct a straight-form option. 

Even if you like straight-form blocks when developing a structure, you’ll get better strength with six inches of concrete instead of a traditional eight-inch wall. This braun allows you to potentially save nearly 25 percent of the cost and materials when using this method. 

4. Offers Structural Integrity 

Unlike other materials like wood, insulated concrete form blocks are incredibly durable.

They are resistant to insect infestation, moisture, rot, and other elements that can threaten the structural integrity of your house. Moreover, ICF walls stand up quite well to seismic activity and rough weather conditions such as strong winds. 

This durability is due to the steel ties that are specially designed and interlocked within every wall of ICF blocks. Such links solidify the structure and keep it intact even during extreme conditions. 

a close up of ICF blocks with rebar in the middle, showing the internal construction of it

Because of this, weather shelters and other buildings in several areas with a rough climate are now being constructed with insulated concrete form blocks. ICF buildings and homes have a successful track record of providing safety in such conditions. 

As a matter of fact, it is pretty common for homeowners to get lower insurance premiums after building an ICF basement or other projects as insurance companies are well-versed on how durable, safe, and efficient insulated concrete form construction is. 

5. Creates an Airtight Home 

One of the primary advantages of having insulated concrete form walls in your home is the degree of airtightness it offers. Insulation is uniform throughout an ICF building.

This consistency means there’s no way that the outside air will penetrate your house. Moreover, your house will also be free of drafts, and thus, you will have constantly controlled temperature inside your home. 

It also prevents warm and cold air mixing, known as cold-bridging, leading to condensation and mold growth. 

Nevertheless, homes with ICF walls should have a mechanical ventilation system installed to supply fresh air round-the-clock. 

6. Reduces Need for Acoustic Insulation 

Noise pollution is increasing quite rapidly because of multiple factors such as busier nightlife, more cars on the road, and a dense population. Realistically speaking, it’s impossible to avoid noise pollution.

Nevertheless, if noise is a problem in your area or you want to live in a city but still enjoy a peaceful home environment, ICF walls might be a good solution. 

Unlike other conventional construction methods that consider soundproofing an afterthought, ICF offers it naturally. The blocks used to construct walls create incredibly solid and thick walls which do not allow noise to permeate. 

ICF isn’t just a good option for residential buildings where peace and quiet are essential but also beneficial for commercial structures where soundproofing is vital to the primary function of the building. For instance, movie theaters usually use ICF walls. 

Thus, insulated concrete form doesn’t just eliminate the need for conventional insulation material but also prevent the need for installing acoustic insulation panels.

Four walls connected using ICF construction, showing concrete filled in the middle for strength
Constructing a pump house, pumping station, water borehole chamber from Insulating concrete forms ICF, concrete walls between polystyrene foam insulation.

7. Creates a Healthier Environment 

ICF walls are one of the best and most effective ways of ensuring a rodent-free home. This is because of the thick barrier of concrete that seals the structure and makes sure no insects can enter.

This quality is further enhanced because there’s no organic matter in the building material, meaning the insects don’t have anything to feed on. 

In addition, ICF construction is also exceptionally eco-friendly as there’s minimal waste involved, and you can recycle most of the ICF materials.

8. Has A Natural Appearance

One of the most crucial aspects of building a home is the design, as it’s the most personal to the homeowner. Therefore, when constructing a house, a priority for most homeowners is making sure the design is what they envisioned.

Fortunately, you don’t have to sacrifice your dream home with ICF walls as they don’t limit the exterior design. 

Since the concrete is poured inside of the foam blocks used for your project’s structure, you can design a natural and fantastic appearance for the exterior of your wall. Stucco, brick, rock, and most sidings are compatible with ICF walls. 

9. Allows for Easy Installation of Plumbing and Wiring 

Plumbing and wiring are not an issue with insulated concrete form. Since the foam is thick enough, a contractor can easily groove it out to install the necessary items.

The pipes or wires go through the wall like they would in any other structure. In addition, spray-foam insulation will help secure any possible leaks during the installation process. 

Last Few Words

When it comes to insulated concrete form walls, homeowners can benefit from increased comfort, energy efficiency, and safety. It also helps installers and builders build faster and improve their bottom line. 

Whether you are a homeowner, builder, or architect, it’s undoubtedly worth your time to take a deeper look at ICF construction.

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