Ed Trinkle hasn't found an insulated concrete form (ICF) angle he can't work. This custom builder from Blockwood, N.J., has been constructing high-end custom homes in the area exclusively with ICFs for four years—and he can't keep up with demand.
“Before I built with block, I used the Timberstrand framing system,” notes Trinkle. “I've always been interested in building super-efficient homes. I have high standards. I will only deal with people who want quality.”
Of course, many builders talk that talk and with various degrees of success, but Trinkle has an intensity that makes you take him seriously. And his projects speak for themselves. He builds in the $500,000 to $1 million range, with an emphasis on the latter, so he can afford to do things right.
“I have several homes in various stages of development right now,” he says, “and I'm working on a big project that will either be nine or 70 homes, depending on whether the the financing comes through.”
In each township of New Jersey that Trinkle has built ICF homes, he has had to present the system to local building officials. He shows them specifications and code details, and he makes them feel comfortable about the material.
“So far, I have held back from expanding my operation,” he notes. “But I am on every jobsite with the subs. The way I look at it, each home is a work of art that's going to be around forever, so you can't rush things. All you have is your reputation.”
This builder's ICF system of choice is Nudura, a Canadian brand that boasts an interlocking “T” detail, as well as radiused walls for building towers and other curves. The company has a close relationship with Woodbury Cement, Trinkle's local concrete supplier, an added benefit.
Labor is always an issue with a new system—finding people willing to learn the ropes. But Trinkle puts on the educator hat himself, he says, and coaches his construction crews, along with code officials, on how ICFs go together. And his hands-on involvement shows in some of the ICF details that go the extra mile.
For example, he specifies grade 4 rebar to reinforce the forms, which is heavier than required by code. He boldly pours complete below- and above-grade walls simultaneously, reaching a span of 10 feet, 6 inches. “If I'm going up from there,” he says, “I leave about 20 inches of rebar sticking out. If not, I recess the rebar about 4 inches from the top. That allows me to set a pressure-treated (2x6-inch) top plate inside the form. I use a laser level to set it during the pour. That's a thermal break, and it's a key energy saver. A lot of builders put the plate on top of the form, but then it's not insulated.”
With an experienced crew, Trinkle says, he can erect a Nudura building shell with dried-in roof in about eight days. With inexperienced workers, the process takes closer to two weeks. The interior framing process follows in short order.
“I set rim boards the following day,” Trinkle says. “Then on the next day I set the joists using Simpson Strong-Tie's two-part ICF hangers. They're embedded into the form and the concrete. I use open-web floor joists because they're easier for the other trades to put in their stuff. After that I apply my plywood floor decking and build up from there.”
Along with the ICFs, Trinkle strongly encourages homeowners to adopt numerous other energy-saving technologies, including radiant floor heating and low U-value windows.
“I won't use windows that have a U-value higher than 30, he says. “I like Marvin ... they offer lower U-value windows.”
Since he began building with ICFs four years ago, Trinkle says the demand has far outpaced his ability to put homes on the ground. He has done no advertising, and buyers typically come to him after visiting one of his finished homes. “People walk into my homes, and it's quiet and comfortable. They can feel the difference right away.”
“The ICF industry now stands on the verge of greatness,” Lyman claims. Jim Niehoff, with the Portland Cement Association (PCA), points out, “There has been a dramatic increase in the number of developers who are constructing small-and medium-sized subdivisions that feature ICF walls exclusively.”
As a result, PCA expects ICF systems to claim 8 percent of the residential market by 2006. Despite the industry's bright future, Lyman adds, “Training, awareness, and best practices remain top priorities of the industry—to ensure that ICFs are properly used in the design phase and on the jobsite.”