Adam D'Arcangelo

Robert Lopez has a major budget anomaly to report.

The construction costs on his new 144 townhome community in Johnston, R.I., are coming in way below market rate at $65 per square foot. Contrast that with the $103 per square foot national average cost for townhome construction (a typical home clocks in at $111 per square foot).

Now the kicker: Lopez’ townhomes are built with insulated concrete forms (ICF), a cast-in-place concrete formwork process that uses lightweight steel-reinforced Lego-like blocks to create a casting wall. The stacked assembly (the foam blocks remain as an insulating element) forms a steel-reinforced concrete envelope of robust structural stability, thermal efficiency, and extreme resilience. All for $65 per square foot.

Adam D'Arcangelo

No Secrets

Lopez isn’t secretive about that low-ball number, either. To the contrary, he wants every profit-minded home and multifamily developer and builder to think about it.

“I’m building these for far less than stick-built,” he explains. “I negotiated directly with suppliers to get the numbers down to where I needed them. I’ll share any of this information with anyone. It’s my small part to help lower our carbon footprint.”

A Prediction

The rent-only community is called Boulder Farms Villa. Lopez’ construction company, Network Management Constructors Corporation, is the general contractor. Each two-story unit is three bedrooms with two and one-half baths.

Adam D'Arcangelo

Lopez started out in the stick-built world more than 30 years ago, at one time building 8,500-square-foot wood-framed custom luxury homes. Today he’s all in with a building method he predicts will dominate home construction within 15 years. A few reasons why:

  • Status Quo Is Broken. “I’m able to do this by thinking outside the box. If you really want to make money, you have to be even more competitive. Building the same old way isn’t going to survive,” he says.
  • Shallow Learning Curve. Much is made of the industry’s lack of skilled talent. It doesn’t worry Lopez. “In one week three guys can completely build a whole building. I put laymen on the project. They stack blocks the day they start.”
  • Safe and Secure. “These forms are so light you can throw them. If it hits you on the head it’s just a Styrofoam bump. In the last seven months, we’ve laid 250,000 square feet of ICF. I’ve never had a blowout,” he reports.
  • Modular-Friendly. Today it’s stackable blocks. Tomorrow? Lopez says, “… it’s going to be 8- to 10-foot-tall preassembled ICF panels. It will help us save time and money.”
  • Warm and Quiet. Lopez loves the operational efficiency. “We’ll operate a 1.3-ton HVAC system for a 1,700-square-foot home and garage. My dog loves to bark at outside noise. That’s why he hates coming to Boulder Farms. He can’t hear past the ICF wall,” Lopez quips.

This is just the beginning. Lopez and his team live by the mantra, “today's innovations combined with yesterday's work ethics for tomorrow’s sustainable journey.” They have their sights set on developments east, south, and west … over 1,000 homes per year. “America should be building with ICF. Cost isn’t the issue. I’ve proved it here.”

To learn more about using ICF on your next home construction project, visit