Tony Aina is a "Green Building Guru" for BuilderUp, a supplier to builders and concrete contractors. Aina built his own home with insulated concrete forms (ICFs).
Courtesy: Tony Aina Tony Aina is a "Green Building Guru" for BuilderUp, a supplier to builders and concrete contractors. Aina built his own home with insulated concrete forms (ICFs).

To view one way out of the labor shortages afflicting residential construction, take a drive about an hour south of Washington D.C.

Welcome to Mechanicsville, Md. One of the homes in this community of 1,500 demonstrates a surprisingly robust solution to environmental, life safety (think hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires), comfort, and constructability issues many builders face.

The home is built with insulated concrete forms (ICFs), a material so high-performing and easy to use some may wonder, “Is it too good to be true?”

Tony Aina understands. As owner of that ICF home in Mechanicsville and Green Building Guru at building supply company BuilderUp, he loves to set the record straight about ICFs.

What is an ICF? They’re hollow, lightweight paneled blocks of sandwiched plastic foam. The hollow center is filled at the worksite with reinforced concrete, creating a remarkably resilient and energy-efficient wall. ICF is a mature building process fully code-compliant with the ICC and CCMC.

“ICFs answer lots of questions. Let’s start with labor. Many builders and contractors are short-handed. ICFs helps solve the labor issue with light, easy to assemble panels that require only a small crew,” Aina explains. Labor costs and associated expenses like workers comp insurance are dramatically reduced.

If Aina stopped there, that might be enough for many residential builders and developers. He’s just getting started:

  1. Assembly Speed. “There’s a five-story Microtel building going up nearby. They’re using ICF. They’ll cut two months off the construction schedule. You know what that means for ROI,” Aina says.
  2. 6-In-1 Wall Assembly. ICFs serve as the building structure, furring, insulation, soundproofing, and vapor barrier in one pass.
  3. Energy Savings. ICFs deliver up to R-24 performance without the thermal bridges common to stick-built wall assemblies. “That’s the beauty of ICF. Once the blocks are stacked, the building is self-insulated,” Aina reports.
  4. Wind & Fire Protection. It’s become a post-disaster cliché that the only building standing after a wildfire, tornado, or hurricane are ICF buildings. ICF walls are fire-rated up to four hours. An ICF structure can withstand winds up to 250 mph – strong enough to resist an EF5 tornado or Cat 5 hurricane.
  5. Comfort. ICF walls achieve an STC of 50 or higher, about a 70 percent noise reduction from a traditional home. The thermal mass property of concrete helps ensure temperature extremes – hot or cold – have minimal impact on interior comfort. ICFs do not emit VOCs or any harmful off-gas.
  6. Owner Affordability. Aina says, “In multifamily or mixed-use applications, the owner can expect payback in as little as a year. With residential, the numbers are even more compelling,” Aina reports, noting that energy bills are typically cut by 50 percent or more.

Are ICFs the industry’s silver bullet? Aina won’t argue against it. “They work within the labor force we have and deliver a much better product that people can afford. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

To learn more about ICFs for residential and commercial construction, visit Build With Strength.