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ICF Alternatives: A Better Solution for Commercial and Residential Construction

Builders and archi­tects have utilized insulated concrete forms (ICF) in wall systems for both com­mer­cial and res­i­den­tial con­struc­tion since the 1960s. ICFs provide several advan­tages over wood-frame con­struc­tion: pro­tec­tion from fire and wind events, improved dura­bil­i­ty, and added energy effi­cien­cy. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, there are also sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges asso­ci­at­ed with con­struct­ing ICFs that must be addressed.

ICF walls are con­struct­ed of inter­lock­ing hollow insulated panels which are used as a formwork for pouring a concrete wall. Typically either extruded poly­styrene (XPS) or expanded poly­styrene (EPS) foam is used to make the panels. ICFs are used to form the exterior walls of the structure from the foun­da­tion to the roofline, and, occa­sion­al­ly, some of the interior walls. Once the forms are placed, rein­force­ment bar is inserted and concrete is poured into the hollow sections between the foam panels to complete the con­struc­tion of the walls.

While ICF buildings are durable and energy efficient, they can also be difficult to construct accu­rate­ly and effi­cient­ly. Con­struct­ing ICF walls is simple in concept, but is best done by well-trained spe­cial­ized installers who have access to the proper tools, scaf­fold­ing and bracing systems. ICF walls are also thicker than con­ven­tion­al framed walls and can take up excessive space on the foun­da­tion, which is a par­tic­u­lar dis­ad­van­tage in smaller buildings. Addi­tion­al­ly, ICF walls require a lot of concrete and are heavy, which may add to the overall cost of con­struct­ing the walls and foundation. 

An ICF alter­na­tive that avoids many of these problems is the Bautex Wall System. Bautex Blocks are EPS-cement composite blocks used to construct insulated concrete walls. The Bautex™ Wall System delivers the per­for­mance of ICFs while sim­pli­fy­ing the con­struc­tion process and opti­miz­ing the amount of resources and labor required to build high per­for­mance buildings.

Drawbacks of ICF Construction

ICF con­struc­tion can be fairly straight­for­ward, but requires expe­ri­enced, knowl­edge­able con­trac­tors to avoid delays or serious struc­tur­al problems. For example, specific care is required during the pouring process to ensure the concrete does not damage the ICF panels. The pressure of the wet concrete that is exerted on the light­weight foam panels during concrete placement can cause bulging and even rupturing of the forms. This can cause delays and addi­tion­al work to correct before the project can be completed.

Expertise is also required when pouring the concrete to avoid cold joints or voids in the walls. ICF walls are load-bearing, therefore the instal­la­tion of rein­force­ment bar and the placement and con­sol­i­da­tion of the concrete is vitally important. Any inter­rup­tion in the concrete or rein­force­ment bar caused by air pockets or cold joints can be detri­men­tal to the project. These problem con­di­tions are a challenge to fix, and sometimes go unde­tect­ed in the field.

While insects and rodents do not eat the foam in the ICF panels, they can burrow into the soft material or use the foam as nesting material. . Once inside the wall system, termites can damage the joist, flooring and other wood com­po­nents of a building. 

Some ICF wall systems are fire-rated, however the foam panels can still burn during a fire event. For that reason, the inside of ICF walls must be com­plete­ly covered with sheetrock or some other ignition barrier in order to prevent the spread of flames. The foam insu­la­tion on the exterior of ICF walls must also be tested to ensure flames can not travel ver­ti­cal­ly up the wall in the case of a fire on the outside of the building.

An ICF Alternative — Bautex Wall System

Archi­tects and builders should consider ICF alter­na­tives due to the complex nature of ICF con­struc­tion, along with the issues caused by the ICF’s weight and extra-wide footprint. A clear ICF alter­na­tive that reduces the con­struc­tion and size chal­lenges of ICF is the Bautex Wall System. The Bautex Wall System is an easy-to-install system that meets and exceeds rec­om­men­da­tions for best practices for con­tin­u­ous insu­la­tion in exterior walls.

  • Bautex Blocks are insulated concrete blocks that are denser and less sus­cep­ti­ble to damage during a concrete pour compared to ICF panels.
  • The EPS-cement composite material used to make Bautex Blocks are pest and termite resistant. The EPS foam used to make ICF panels, is not resistant to termites.
  • Bautex Blocks do not burn like ICF foam panels, with 0 flame spread and very low smoke devel­op­ment. The Bautex Wall System is a 4‑hour load-bearing struc­tur­al wall.
  • Bautex Blocks do not move during the pour. ICF is unsteady during the pouring process and requires extensive and expensive bracing systems. 
  • The Bautex Wall System uses half the concrete of a con­ven­tion­al ICF wall. A poured ICF wall weighs about 100 percent more than the Bautex Wall System. The heavier the wall, the more expensive and difficult the foundation.
  • The Bautex Block measures 16 inches by 32 inches on the face and 10 inches through the wall. ICF walls are typically 12 – 14 inches wide, which reduces the interior space of a building.
  • The Bautex Wall System does not require any specialty trades to be installed. Local concrete, masonry, framing or general con­struc­tion crews typically install Bautex walls for both com­mer­cial and res­i­den­tial construction.

Archi­tects and builders can avoid con­struc­tion and size related issues of the ICF wall systems with the Bautex Wall Systems. The Bautex Block in lighter and narrower than ICF panels, which allows for easier and more versatile construction.The Bautex Wall System also creates an energy-efficient building envelope that is moisture, pest, rot, disaster and fire resistant. Visit Bautex Wall System for more infor­ma­tion on ICF alternatives.