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.