The construction industry in the United States is enormous, and countless contractor crews are hard at work building today’s houses, offices, banks, libraries, and more. A wide variety of materials are used for this work, from wood to bricks to steel and glass. Many American homes are built from such materials, but there is another, more energy efficient option: ICF building blocks. These are “insulated concrete forms,” and houses built from them tend to be durable and energy efficient for years to come. They may be ranked among green building materials, since they make home insulation very easy and thus reduce strain on the power-hungry HVAC system. These energy efficient walls are a money-saver for the homeowner and reduce the need for pollution-heavy power plants to produce so much electricity. What is there to know about these energy efficient concrete forms, and how do they tie in with the energy bill?
The Nature of ICFs
First developed by ac Canadian contractor named Werner Gregor in 1966, these concrete forms have proven effective for building homes ever since, and many Canadian and American homes are now built with them. These are hollow concrete bricks that can fit snugly together, and they are so intuitive to build with, a crew can build a whole house frame out of them in very little time. Such bricks can be trimmed to a smaller size so that ends fit together, and once these bricks are assembled, they form hollow spaces inside the walls. This is not for decoration, or to make the house lighter. Those hollow spaces are put to good use during the house’s construction, and the space is useful for pipes, electrical components, and certainly spray foam insulation.
ICF bricks may be hollow and form hollow walls, but they are not fragile. In fact, such walls tend to be more durable than the wooden walls of typical modern houses, and this can be very helpful for a homeowner who lives in a storm-prone area. The Midwest often suffers from tornadoes during spring and summer, and the east coast and Puerto Rico experience powerful hurricanes during the spring and summer as well. Houses may be buffeted by strong winds and wind-blown debris in either case, and houses have been known to get their roofs blown off or the entire structure destroyed. However, a house built from ICFs will have no such trouble, and will probably be left standing after the storm has passed.
Utility efficiency factors into this, too. An ICF home is energy efficient as well as tough, since there is so much space for spray foam insulation inside. Better still, this spray foam is protected on both sides with sheer concrete, protecting it from anything that might wear it out or damage it. It should be noted that a home will dedicate nearly 50% of its electricity to the heating and cooling systems, or the climate control. If the house has poor insulation and leaks warm air in winter or cool air in summer, this forces the HVAC system to work overtime to compensate. The whole time, this is using up extra electricity, and that will reflect on the homeowner’s electric bill soon enough. Thus, a homeowner may rest easy when they have thick layers of spray foam in their ICF brick walls, and this foam keeps the house properly insulated in any weather. When such a house is almost finished being constructed, crews will apply spray foam into the hollow spaces, and the house is ready.
Spray foam in the walls is helpful to keeping the home insulated, but there are other components in the home to consider, too. The attic may leak warm or cool air if it doesn’t have enough spray foam, and roofs aren’t built out of ICF bricks. Thus, a homeowner should regularly check their roof insulation, and if it’s thin, they should either buy spray foam kits or hire professionals to reapply a new layer of foam insulation. Drafty windows and doors are also known for leaking warm or cool air, so contractors can be hired to fix or even replace old and faulty windows and doors. Blinds can also be installed to keep hot sunlight from warming up a room too much.