There are two things that everyone wants to save: time and money. Insulated concrete forms (ICFs) help you do both.
This guide will share everything you need to know to maximize efficiency in your next commercial project using ICFs.
ICFs are an alternative to traditional formwork made from polystyrene foam hollow blocks held together with a webbing of plastic, metal, or additional insulation.
The material can either be expanded polystyrene foam or extruded polystyrene foam.
Concrete is poured into these forms to create a robust and insulated structure.
Unlike traditional wood-frame formwork that is used as a temporary mold for the concrete, these blocks interlock to create a permanent form that is not removed, becoming part of the structure itself.
There are several different categories of insulated concrete form systems that can be used to create an ICF wall.
Of course, ICF blocks will vary from one manufacturer to the other. Some may offer thicker foam — providing more insulation — but this is reflected in the price.
Other companies have taken the time to create a patented block system emphasizing ease of installation.
A flat ICF system has the same thickness of concrete throughout the wall. Although it uses more concrete than the other systems, flat walls offer a greater variety of rebar placement.
This means you can adjust your rebar to meet your required structural loading capacity.
Another benefit of flat systems is the simplicity of window and door frame insulation, since the concrete doesn’t change throughout the wall.
With a grid system, the ICF walls have a concrete thickness that varies in a waffle pattern. This technique, as well as the post-and-beam system, uses less concrete to fill. However, they require more skill to construct correctly and have more limitations.
As you would expect, this system consists of posts and beams of concrete encapsulated in foam insulation. Although this provides more EPS insulation, the lack of concrete reduces the thermal mass and strength of the structure.
ICF construction offers so many benefits that even homeowners are starting to look into it. However, it best serves the commercial sector for these reasons:
ICF buildings can withstand higher vertical and horizontal forces, creating a stronger structure than its alternatives.
In fact, ICF structures have been proven to survive more tornados, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Needless to say, ICF structures can easily meet natural disaster-resistant building codes.
For flat wall systems, you can even add more rebar to the interior of the ICF to provide more strength with reinforced concrete.
ICF blocks are also resistant to mold, rot, mildew, pests, and fire, which can’t be said about wood-frame walls.
ICF forms connect together fast and don’t need to be removed, cutting out steps for both interior and exterior construction.
Most brands are universally interlocking and reversible, meaning that it doesn’t matter which way the form is flipped. This saves even more time in construction over trying to find the right side to connect.
With ICF forms, there is no need to install an air barrier or vapor barrier. These are included in the blocks themselves.
However, below-grade ICF walls will require waterproofing, which is usually as simple as applying a peel-and-stick membrane.
ICF blocks are also light, making them easy to transport to the job site and simple to erect.
Steel weld or bolt plates can be installed into the formwork while the concrete is wet so that it is embedded and ready for steel floor joists.
Most poured concrete is difficult to cure in the wintertime. With ICF, you can pour any time of year.
Concrete pours cure faster in an ICF form to provide reinforcement for the rest of the structure, allowing construction to proceed earlier than normal.
Insulation protects the concrete while it cures, cutting out air bubbles and weaknesses that can cause cracks.
Due to the high amount of insulation, ICF walls provide a greater sound resistance than other walls. This results in a quieter building and offers greater privacy.
Hopefully, shouting won’t be a regular part of your business, but if you are working with loud equipment, ICF is one of the best construction materials you can use.
The air tightness, thermal mass, and insulation provided by ICF blocks create a higher thermal resistance.
The R-value of ICF is almost 60% higher than wood frame construction. Thicker forms with a higher R-value are available for colder climates.
Thermal bridging from the continuous insulation provides energy savings, which we’ll discuss in detail later.
ICF is made from non-toxic materials, reducing harmful emissions. These blocks are also resistant to mold, which is bad to inhale.
When installed correctly, ICF walls are air-tight, preventing the infiltration of:
All these factors make the air quality inside an ICF building healthier for humans.
ICF structures are a smart use of funds because the ongoing expenses to use the building will be cheaper. Since these buildings are so strong and durable, you save money on maintenance and repairs.
You’ll also spend less on concrete, since ICF requires less of it than traditional concrete walls.
ICF structures are said to last over 100 years.
Also, paired with solar panels, buildings using insulated concrete forms are considered net-zero, meaning that they produce enough renewable energy that it does not need to use non-renewable sources.
Not only that, but many ICF blocks contain recycled materials.
Plainly said, the initial cost of constructing an ICF building is higher than other options. However, this is usually offset by the savings you’ll see in energy bills alone.
Another disadvantage of choosing insulated concrete forms for your commercial building is that changing the structure in the future, such as adding another window or door, is more complicated.
Although ICF is a very versatile building material that can be used in almost every industry, there are specific fields that would benefit the most from its unique properties.
Hospitals, clinics, and treatment facilities benefit significantly from using ICF, especially considering their need for a sterile, quiet, and private environment.
The insulation keeps the hospital quiet from outdoor traffic, and the improved air quality helps to reduce the spread of toxins, pollen, and other air pollutants to patients.
Hospitals are often chosen to serve as community shelters during emergencies as well. When built with ICF, these shelters are even more protective than ever.
In warehousing where climate control is needed, owners often find it challenging to do so in such a large square-foot building.
As we’ve discussed, ICF helps to keep the internal temperature from fluctuating, saving business owners both costs in energy expenditure and loss of inventory due to inadequate temperature control.
In multi-family domiciles, such as apartments and hotels, ICF reduces noise transfer from one room to the next.
This allows for more privacy and the ability for comfortable and undisturbed sleeping. ICF also saves property owners on energy costs and makes residents or customers safer during a fire.
Schools, colleges, universities, and churches also greatly benefit from using ICF for their building material.
With so many people coming in and out, safety is always a priority. In the case of a natural disaster, students will be safer in the institution than anywhere else.
Also, the noise from so many individuals in different classrooms and settings will be controlled — not to mention the savings to heat and cool such a large space.
The initial preparation for building with ICF isn’t very different than that of a traditional concrete structure.
The benefits of using ICF in commercial construction are numerous and substantial. If you choose to do so, it is imperative that you find an experienced professional to be your builder.