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What Is Insulating Concrete Forms? And What Are Its Strengths?

Insulating Concrete Forms (ICF) is a type of formwork for reinforced concrete normally made with thermal insulation (polyurethane or polystyrene foam) that serve as a permanent exterior and interior substrate for walls, floors, and roofs. The formwork used in ICF are permanent interlocking modular units that fit together like a puzzle which are subsequently filled with concrete, delivering more high-performance buildings than any of the traditional methods. Even though the formwork in ICF is made of foam, the self-supporting blocks lock together to deliver a structure that is strong enough to hold the poured concrete.

Where ICF began

The ICF model was pioneered in Europe after the Second World War as an easily affordable and durable substitute to reconstruct destroyed buildings. As developing countries are now establishing more energy efficient and natural disaster resistant building regulations, ICF has come to be the prevailing construction practice notably for high-performance residential and low rise commercial construction. Even though there was a consistent increase in the use of ICF construction after the 1970's, ICF construction is now included in most building regulations in the developed world as a result of it being the most energy efficient and strongest wall system offered for residential and commercial construction.

The end result of Insulated Concrete Forms is an R-17-plus wall that contains permanent insulation on either side with a solid concrete mass core. The foam blocks and panels also enable exterior and interior finishes to be conveniently attached, together with the ability for 'let-in' mechanical runs such as wiring and plumbing without cutting into the concrete core. However, any type of wall penetration or pipes running through the walls should be taken into account before any construction begins.

A better alternative to traditional buildings

Not only is ICF an ideal alternative for walls, but also for floors and roofs too. As an example, ICF flooring can weigh around 40% less than customary concrete flooring and can be constructed independently, or designed to create a continuous reinforced structure with the buildings walls. Not to mention, the polystyrene and polyurethane foam used in ICF doesn't burn and expedite the spread of fire. Most manufacturers of ICF add flame retardant to the foam, making it essentially self-extinguishing.

Costs involved with ICF

While ICF will cost more up front (roughly $3 - $5 per square foot when compared to traditional wood framing), the cost savings in energy acquired throughout the life-cycle of the product will evidently counter the higher upfront costs.1 As a result, ICF are being utilised by contractors to achieve energy credit and other forms of ratings, for example LEED. The benefits of using ICF over traditional methods like wood, masonry, or concrete, is that not only does ICF deliver a continuous insulation and sound barrier, but also a backing for drywall on the inside, and brick, stucco, or lap siding on the outside.

Other advantages of ICF

  • Some additional perks that Insulated Concrete Forms provide include:
  • ICF are given R ratings from R-17 to R-26 as opposed to a rating of R-9 from wood framing
  • The foam used in ICF will not attract rodents or insects due to the fact that there is no food value to them
  • ICF can be used on buildings and walls higher than 40 feet tall
  • There are no vapour barriers required with ICF due to the fact that the insulated forms serve as natural moisture barriers
  • ICF reduce infiltration by as much as 50% when compared with wood framing
  • ICF are immune to mould and mildew issues
  • ICF have double the sound resistance than wood framing
  • Inserting utilities into ICF walls is effortless and reduces labour costs.

As you can see, there are many reasons why ICF construction is best approach for residential and commercial buildings. Not only will your floors and walls be more energy efficient, insulative, fire resistant and noise reducing, but your environmental imprint will be drastically reduced.

If you're interested in utilising ICF for your next construction project, talk with the formwork specialists at Uni-Span by phoning 1300 882 825, or visit their website for more information:

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