Finding subcontractors familiar with ICF construction can be challenging, especially for electrical and plumbing work. “Finding and retaining quality subs is one of the most pressing issues I have to deal with,” says Matt McCoy, president of South River Construction. “I try to find guys that still have a passion for construction, someone that’s excited about doing good electrical work,” he says.
Mike Dye is a licensed electrician who has done the wiring on several ICF homes, including his own. “It’s a lot less complicated that most people think,” he says. “You don’t have that much of the work tied up in the outside walls of the house, and the inside walls are going to be the same.”
Conduit can be placed in the concrete prior to the pour, or cut into the foam one the bracing is removed. “It really comes down to the preference of the contractor and the timeline of the job,” says Pat Moore. “If you do run inside the ICF wall, it really bases off the timeline, and if you’re running on a tight schedule, it’s easier for the electrician to come back in and cut out the foam.”
Methods for cutting wiring chases seem to be as varied as the contractors themselves. “An electric chainsaw is really, really fast,” says McCoy. “Electric barbeque lighters that get hot work well too.” Dye uses a cordless Sawzall. He says it produces less mess, and cuts ties—plastic or metal—without problems.
Moore says a hotknife is the only way to go. Besides being safer, they eliminate the EPS blizzard saws and routers create. “It’s lot cleaner. The older ones were a little time-consuming, but the new SuperGroover from Wind-Lock is really fast. We just bought a couple of them and have been really impressed.”
Moore says that with the increasing popularity of ICF construction, it’s only a matter of time until most electricians are familiar with the material. “It’s a learning curve utility contractors have to adjust to, but they’ll have to adjust sooner or later.”
1930 German chemical manufacturer BASF invents polystyrene. 15 years later, Ray McIntire, a Dow Chemical engineer, creates expanded polystyrene (EPS) while trying to invent a flexible electrical insulator. Dow markets the product as “Styrofoam.”
Mid-1960’s Argisol, a Swiss company, begins marketing a "flat-wall" ICF with metal ties. Canadian Werner Gregori patents the first North American ICF, a screen-grid system named Foam Form. But by 1978, only one U.S. manufacturer remains. It is later renamed American Polysteel.
1986-1993 A number of new ICF companies are launched, including Lite-Form, ReddiForm, Greenblock, Conform, and ABB Bluemaxx (later renamed Arxx) Annual ICF homes construction hits 200. In 1994, Quadlock and 3-10 (later renamed Reward) begin operations.
1995 With the help of the PCA, the Insulating Concrete Forms Association (ICFA) is organized. By 1997, the number of new ICF homes skyrockets to 8,000.
1998-2002 ABB Bluemaxx undergoes a major restructuring, renaming itself Arxx Building Products. A host of competing companies spring up in the aftermath, including ECO-Block, Nudura, and Logix.
Another half dozen begin independently, including Amvic and Phoenix Systems.
2000 Lite-Form introduces Lite-Deck, the first EPS decking system to create insulated concrete roofs.
2004 The ICFA reports 55.4 million square feet of ICFs have been sold in the past 12 months.
The insulating concrete forms industry today is a far cry from what it was 20 years ago, when a handful of ICF manufacturers were trying to convince contractors that the technology was legitimate.
Pat Murphy, president of American Polysteel, credits the ICFA for getting “more code acceptability, more readily” than other building technologies. The Insulating Concrete Forms Association (ICFA), organized in 1995, is celebrating its tenth anniversary. All of the executives interviewed for this article unanimously agreed that without the ICFA, the technology would not be nearly so accepted or well-known.
In the early 1990’s there were less than half a dozen ICF manufacturers in North America. In 1993, they built an estimated 200 homes combined. With the help of the Portland Cement Association (PCA), the ICFA was officially organized in 1995. The PCA helped the new association get started in the right direction. By 1997, builders were erecting 8,000 ICF homes a year, and had a prescriptive method. Today, the organization has almost 500 members, and serves as a clearinghouse of information for contractors that erected 56.4 million sq. ft. of insulating concrete forms last year. » For the full length version, click here
In the quest to find the perfect home, buyers utilize a list of criteria to rule out home plans. Therefore, home designs with options are most likely to become contenders rather than outcasts.
Basement stairs. Most buyers in a slab or crawl space markets—half of America—pass over home plans showing basement steps. So, pre-designing your floor plan artwork to show an optional basement stair location doubles the potential market.
Formal dining rooms. Designs with a formal dining room have fallen out of favor. Label the space as a “den” or even a “flex room” and then show the option of that same space as a dining room to appeal to more buyers. Similarly, a covered porch or deck can be a wonderful outdoor dining area.
Guest suites. Most baby boomers consider aging parents living with them. But many are surprised to learn that 60% of male, and 50% of female college graduates expect to move back in with their parents following graduation! Or adult children may move back with parents following a failed marriage. The option of a guest suite with its own private ‘living room’ layout addresses these buyers’ situations.
Room to Grow The reality is that family situations change and our needs for space change too. Unfinished areas of the home allow families configure these spaces as the need arises, without affecting the mortgage payment.
Since developing a great ICF home plan requires a significant investment, the design phase shouldn’t be over until the design for “how the home lives” matches the mindset of the buyer.