Energy efficiency is the new must have! One of the biggest current trends in custom home construction is incorporating energy efficient elements into the design, and this is something that more and more of our clients have been looking for too. The focus on energy efficiency is no surprise – having an energy efficient home can help save you money on your heating and cooling, electricity consumption, and help reduce your carbon footprint.

If you are looking for ways to make your new custom home energy efficient, why not start with the bones of your house? A great way to add energy efficiency to a new home is to have a custom home builder insulated concrete forms, or ICFs. In a nutshell, ICFs are concrete walls which are cast in place between layers of insulation material. The walls themselves are made from many interconnected ICFs, which then create a solid, permanent structure. From there, regular finishes are applied to the interior and exterior faces – drywall in the interior and siding, brick, stucco, or another finish on the exterior. Once completed, buildings constructed using ICFs look similar to more traditional buildings, only with slightly thicker walls. This method of constructing walls is extremely strong and is known to be energy efficient. ICFs are common in many residential and commercial low-rise buildings as they are a practical way to save energy.

More About ICF

ICFs have been around since the 1940s, but have definitely changed and evolved over time. The ICFs that you will see in buildings today are more advanced than the structures that were originally built, but they still have some resemblance to the older versions. When ICFs were first used, construction companies were not familiar with the system, and this led to a large group of people lacking the skills and expertise to properly install ICFs. Constructing ICFs was pricey and it was a difficult process to have ICFs approved against the building codes. To help fix these issues, the Insulating Concrete Form Association (IFCA) was created in the 1990s. Their goals included researching ICF techniques, promoting product approvals, developing new tools and technologies to make ICF better, and helping ICF find its place within building codes.

With the help of the ICFA, ICFs started to be included in more and more construction projects, and many construction companies learned to properly build ICFs at a more reasonable cost. Today, ICFs are found in a range of structures such as custom homes, mid-price homes, apartment complexes, and even hotels. The ICFA estimates that around two thirds of buildings with ICFs are residential, which means that homeowners are taking advantage of these energy efficient structures. Using ICFs does not just benefit homeowners, either. Many contractors and construction companies use ICFs to qualify for energy credits or energy efficiency certifications such as LEED, which helps build company reputation.

Types of ICF

ICFs replace traditional masonry, wood, or concrete walls, and they can be constructed in different ways. The three major types of ICF system designs are: flat systems, grid systems, and post and beam systems. No matter which system is used in your home, you can rest assured that all three systems are accepted by building codes and have been tried and tested in a variety of construction settings.

Flat systems have similarities to conventional poured concrete walls, and they include one thickness of concrete through the entire wall. This solid piece of concrete is then layered with insulation on both sides. Grid systems use a waffle pattern which makes the concrete piece thicker at some points and thinner at others. Finally, post and beam systems use horizontal and vertical pieces of concrete that are completely surrounded in foam insulation. These columns of concrete form the ‘bones’ of the wall, and the foam insulation adds extra integrity.

Costs and Savings

So, you know by now that ICFs are energy efficient, but just how efficient are they? The energy savings that come from using ICF to build your custom home are pretty significant. Due to the lower amount of energy needed to heat and cool your new home, you could see energy savings of 20 percent or more! This is because the insulated walls help your home stay at a steady temperature rather than losing heat or letting heat in. Compared to homes with traditional wood frames, homes built using ICF walls can save considerable amounts of energy.

When it comes to paying for ICFs, you could expect to pay $3-$5 more per square foot. While this is more expensive upfront than more traditional methods such as wood framing, the savings in the long run may be worth it. If you choose to use ICFs in your custom home, you will easily see the initial investment returned in a relatively short period of time.

Advantages of ICF

Here’s some benefits of using ICFs compared to other methods:

  • ICFs can be used in buildings over 40 feet tall. If you have had your eye on a custom home design with vaulted ceilings or an impressive great room, height should not be an issue for your ICF walls.
  • Walls built using the ICF technique must follow the same code regulations as regular concrete walls, so they are reviewed just as rigorously and cause no more hassle than any other wall would.
  • ICF walls offer more insulation, which means that you spend less energy heating and cooling your custom home. This translates to savings on your energy bills!
  • Unlike other walls, ICF walls are resistant to mold, mildew, weather, rotting, and insects.
  • The greater amount of insulation also means that ICF walls are more sound resistant and act as a better moisture barrier.
  • ICF walls are extremely strong.
  • The forms themselves can be cut directly with electric hot knives or routers, and any new pieces can be reassembled.
  • Constructing ICFs is fast and easy, which makes for a reduced construction schedule.
  • ICFs can also be adapted to a variety of measurements, so they can work with many different designs.
  • Shipping and transportation is easy due to the lightweight nature of ICFs.
  • ICFs are compatible with carpenter trades.
  • Finally, ICF walls are air tight, especially when compatible windows, doors, and roofs are installed alongside them.

Disadvantages of ICF

There are also some disadvantages that you should be aware of if you are considering ICFs for your custom home:

  • The initial cost of ICFs is typically higher than other methods. That being said, the long term energy savings can balance out this cost.
  • If any remodeling is done to your home in the future, you may need to cut into solid concrete walls. This can be complicated and requires extra time. This also means that proper planning of plumbing and mechanical systems is necessary to avoid having to cut into walls later.
  • ICF walls are thicker than traditional concrete walls, which may impact the amount of floor space available in your home.
  • If your ICF uses polystyrene forms, there is a risk of insects and water damaging the foam. This means that foam needs to be waterproof and treated with insecticides, which comes at an extra cost.
  • There may be a rise in humidity while the concrete in the ICFs cures. Once it is fully cured after a few weeks, humidity levels will return to normal.

Insulated Concrete Forms are a great choice for your custom home as they can increase the energy efficiency of the structure and come with many other added benefits. If you would like to discuss how ICFs could work in your custom home design, or you want to know more about the benefits of ICFs, contact our team today!