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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.