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Building Energy Efficient with ICF Forms

Building Energy Efficient with Insulated Concrete Forms

Building a home with Insulated Concrete Forms may be different but it is not difficult. When searching for an ICF contractor, you may want to start at http://www.cement.org. This site has information on builders and local concrete companies. If there’s not an ICF contractor in your area, try talking to form manufacturers. I used Xillix forms from Fox Blocks Products http://www.foxblocks.com It was called Tritex at the time but Fox Blocks has bought them out. The block manufacturer helped me by working with a local contractor, making my concrete dream home a reality.

What about house plans? A common misconception is that ICF homes have to be built from ICF home plans. That’s not the case. I built a Mediterranean Style house and my plans were for a conventional framed home. My contractor adapted and adjusted the dimensions. It is easier for a builder to use ICF home plans, but if you already have plans, your contractor can change the interior or exterior dimensions.

An ICF home can be built on any kind of soil. However, you will need to know what type of soil you are building on in order for the reinforcement of your home to be accurate. After the site is prepared, construction begins. Like any other home construction with a concrete foundation, the footings are poured and the forms are stacked on top of the footings. Engineered steel reinforcement is then vertically spaced and set according to each individual project.

The ICF forms I used were 48 inches long, 16 inches tall and 9 ¼ inches wide with a 5 ½ inch concrete center. The General Sales Manager for Fox Blocks Thad Tobaben says, “It takes a crew of 3-5 people to build with ICF: a leader, right hand person and labor.” Tobaben explains the process, “The forms are placed first in the corners, working toward the middle of each wall. The walls must be straight and plumb and a bracing system utilized. The forms are stacked and interlocked like large Lego blocks on top of each other. Rough openings for windows and doors are created with lumber or vinyl material.”

Windows can be set either inside or outside of your thick concrete walls. I chose to have my windows set out in order to use the inside as a window sill.

Next, vertical and horizontal rebar is added according to job specifications. Before the concrete is poured, the contractor will need to make sure all of the walls are straight and plumb and they meet the layout specs. The forms are then braced and the concrete is poured into the blocks. According to Tobaben, “In an average home of around 1500 sq. feet 25-30 yds of concrete will be used depending on the size of the concrete core.”

After the foundation walls are installed the below grade portion of the wall is waterproofed. Once the wall is set, it’s time to install electricity and plumbing. This is a simple process, the electrician and plumber cuts directly into the exposed polystyrene to install both electric and plumbing components.

An ICF home can have any type of code approved interior or exterior finish. In my house, I used ½’ sheetrock. Attaching sheetrock to ICF forms is easy. ICF blocks have furring strips every 6” on center. The sheetrock screws go directly into the furring strips. For the exterior, I chose brick, but EIFS or stucco can be applied directly onto the polystyrene.


There are several products unique to the construction of my ICF home. First, because my house is a concrete “castle” and my front door jamb is a bit larger than a normal jamb. I decided to get a door from a specialty company called Castle Entries. Castle Entries hand made wrought iron doors to your specifications. Unfortunately they are no longer in business but I found a company in Alabama who offers the same style Iron Door called Jemison Window & Door. http://www.jemisonwindowanddoor.com/iron-doors/

With a beautiful front door, I needed a decorative entry. So I started looking online for mosaic tile designs. I ran across an eBay store that had exactly what I wanted: a 36 x 60 mosaic tile inlay hand made by Jerry Dryer. Mosaics are cut by hand and assembled on a mesh backing from a combination of natural stones, like granite, marble & slate. Jerry’s store on eBay is called Discount Marble & Tile. If you simply type in Home Décor Marble Mosaic you will find a lot to choose from.

Continuing the concrete theme, I had custom concrete counter tops made for my bathrooms and kitchen by concrete artist Jennifer Soehren. But if I had it to do all over again, I may rethink the concrete counters. While, they are extremely beautiful they cost more than any other style counter. They also will stain very easily as it is concrete and has pores. But what I dislike the most about my kitchen counter, is that you can’t put anything hot on it. Concrete can crack. So while they are very pretty and I have cool fossil art in them, they are not practical for everyday use.

Energy Efficiency

Another advantage to building ICF is energy efficiency. This is even more important now that electricity, natural gas and propane prices are high but I’m also using several other products to help cut costs, like a geothermal heating and air unit.

Before purchasing a geothermal unit, call your electric company and ask about rebates. I purchased a Trane Command Air and my electric company issued customers a $600.00 rebate per ton for buying a geothermal unit. Geothermal units can cost up to $1,500.00 more per ton than a conventional heating and cooling unit.

Geothermal units are environmentally friendly and can save up to an additional 50% in energy costs. The geothermal heat system consists of three parts and each part has its own job to do. Underground, there are loops of piping that carry water, or a mix of water and antifreeze, from the geothermal heat pump through the earth and back to the pump. The water evaporates as the cool air passes through the warmer earth. This type of heat pump works on the same principle as a regular unit. Coils remove the heat from the evaporated coolant, condense it back to liquid and pass it back to the underground piping loops to be warmed again. Moving warm air from one room to another is more efficient than heating or cooling the air in a room.

The geothermal cooling process involves taking heat energy from the air. Instead of blowing cold air into a room, geothermal cooling units take the warm air out of the room. This is accomplished by using a series of coils to condense and evaporate water or a water and antifreeze mixture.

The hot water system I selected is also energy efficient. I am using a Rinnai tank less water heaters. This system provides hot water on demand. Conventional hot water heaters heat water 24 hours a day, even when it is not being used. A tank less water system only uses energy when you need it. Conventional hot water heaters also have a limited supply of hot water. Tank less water heaters continue to heat the water for as long as you need the supply. I purchased my geothermal unit and tank less water heater from Northwest Supply in Prattville, Alabama. You can visit their website at www.northwestsupply.com. I can tell you this is by far one of my favorite things about my house. I highly recommend tank less water heaters.

You can also get tax deductions for building and remodeling with energy efficient products.

An ICF home has so many advantages. They are energy efficient, sound proof and they can withstand up to 225 mile an hour winds. That is a CAT 5 Hurricane or T5 Tornado. The building process is simple. I guarantee you in the future ICF construction will not be an alternative, but rather the norm. So if you are looking to build, look into building an ICF home. It will cost you about 25% more to build but you will recoup that cost in 5-7 years in energy bills.

By: Lori Cummings [email protected]

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