Freq Asked Questions
What are the key components in the ICF System?
ICF (insulating concrete forming) System consists of two layers of expanded polystyrene (EPS) insulation connected with web connectors molded into the EPS insulation.
Vibrating the concrete at the job site
Vibrating the concrete distributes the concrete evenly throughout within the forms.
Can I vibrate concrete in the ICF System
Yes, concrete is supposed to be vibrated. The unique design of the ICF System can withstand full internal vibration as per concrete placing standards.
Why is your product 419 mm (16-1/2") high?
A typical basement wall height 6 courses at 419 mm (16½”) high = 2514 mm (8'-3") plus sill plate at 38 mm (1½”) provides overall height of 2552 mm (8'-4½”) less the concrete floor slab thickness at 102 mm (4") provides a finish ceiling height of 2450 mm (8'- ½”).
How high can I go with your product?
ICF System can be used to form 152 mm or 203 mm (6" or 8”) thick reinforced concrete walls. The National Building Code (NBC) of Canada provides prescriptive design requirements for above or below grade walls up to 3.0 m (10’-0”) height. Consult your ICF System representative for other wall heights that may require specific engineering design input.
Can the product be used for above-grade applications?
Yes. A growing part of our business is above grade or whole building applications where building owners have recognized the advantages of energy efficient construction for their whole building.
ICF Construction used for a whole building application Here, the ICF System is used for an entire building construction, easily accommodating the above grade application.
What is the difference between a fire separation and a firewall?
Principal differences between a fire separation and a firewall relate to the construction materials that are permitted and the requirement for a minimum fire-resistance rating. The following NBC definitions will help to understand these differences:
1) Fire separation means a construction assembly that acts as a barrier against the spread of fire and smoke. NOTE: The fire-resistance rating of a fire separation may be waived in some cases on the basis of the presence of an automatic sprinkler system.
2) Firewall means a type of fire separation of noncombustible construction,
which subdivides a building or separates adjoining buildings intended to resist the spread of fire. A firewall has a fire-resistance rating as prescribed in the Code and has structural stability to remain intact under fire conditions for the required fire-rated time
3) Noncombustible construction means that type of construction in which a degree of fire safety
is attained by the use of noncombustible materials for structural members and other building assemblies. Except for closures, the NBC states that required fire-resistance rating for a firewall shall be provided by masonry or concrete. Party Walls The Advantage ICF System is a good choice for party walls to provide sound proofing and increased privacy.
Can I use the ICF System for a party wall?
A party wall is defined in the NBC as a wall jointly owned and jointly used by 2 parties under easement agreement or by right in law, and erected at or upon a line separating 2 parcels of land each of which is, or is capable of being, a separate real-estate entity.
1) In a building of residential occupancy in which there is no dwelling unit above another dwelling unit, a party wall on a property line between dwelling units can be constructed as a fire separation having a fire-resistance rating not less than a 1 h.
2) Except as noted above for residential occupancy a party wall on a property line must be constructed as a firewall.
Can you use ICF to construct firewalls?
As noted above, the NBC requires that a firewall be constructed of non- combustible construction. The fire-resistance rating of a wall constructed with the Advantage ICF System is provided by the 152 mm or 203 mm (6” or 8”) concrete wall thickness. However, the stay-in-place EPS insulation that forms the outside face of the wall is a combustible material. Therefore, acceptability for use in constructing a firewall must be confirmed with local code authorities at the time of building permit approval.
What goes inside?
Concrete with a 100 -150 mm (4" - 6") slump to provide a minimum 20 MPa (2900 psi) concrete strength reinforced as per design requirements.
How do you prevent wind from moving the forming system prior to the concrete pour?
The Advantage ICF System itself is light; therefore, we attach lumber bracing or a reusable metal scaffold to the wall when it is assembled. The Advantage ICF System Installation Manual provides additional details on bracing and scaffolding.
Does the concrete pressure cause blow outs in your system?
When a blow out occurs in an ICF block, 99% of the time it is due to installation error. As a rule, it is an easy fix using the method described in the ICF System installation manual and you lose no time. Installation of ICFs Supervised installation of the system ensures that forms are set properly and bracing is done in accordance with guidelines.
Who can install it?
Installation of the ICF System should occur under the direct supervision of either:
1) An experienced ICF installer (complete with references),
2) A journeyman carpenter (complete with a valid carpenter’s ticket),
3) A trained professional in the concrete industry (complete with references),
4) An Advantage ICF System trained installer.
Contractors with knowledge in framing and concrete applications are the preferred installers. Building construction experience is a prerequisite.
Is it harmful to the environment?
The ICF System incorporates EPS insulation, a rigid foam plastic insulation that contains only air within its cellular structure. EPS insulation is inert to a wide range of chemicals and does not contain any CFC’s or HCFC’s.
Is it harmful to me?
EPS insulation has been manufactured and processed for decades. The product is made with the same EPS foam as coffee cups. So in other words, no, it is not harmful.
Can I design any shape?
Typically, the ICF System can be cut to provide any shape as long as the structural supports for any projections or bays are designed accordingly.
How available is it?
Plasti-Fab maintains an inventory of ICF System block. However, in order to ensure prompt delivery to your location we recommend you allow a minimum of 2 weeks notice for delivery in your construction schedule to ensure prompt delivery. If you will be building during the busy summer construction season, additional time should be allowed.
What about insects or rodents?
Some kinds of insects and rodents also appreciate the thermal insulation provided by EPS insulation for their nesting places. An effective way to prevent burrowing insects or rodents from penetrating into the foam is to coat vulnerable surfaces with a parging from the top of the foundation wall above grade to 200 to 300 mm (6"-12") below finish grade.
What types of damp proofing products are recommended?
Many types of damp proofing products are suitable for use with the Advantage from traditional spray ones (cut-back asphalt) to the various types of wraps. We recommend the dimpled type of membranes as they provide both damp proofing and drainage. Ask for our technical bulletin on damp proofing and waterproofing for additional information.
What about stucco?
Conventional stuccos are applied by attaching wire straight to our ties with pan-head screws. Acrylic stucco manufacturers may require only typical foam preparation and then application directly onto the surface with no stucco wire.
What about siding?
Horizontal joints: strapping between the web connectors using metal banding may be required if siding joints line up with the ICF block joints.
J trim: bucks may have to be modified to allow for certain types.
Corners: strapping around corners with metal banding may be necessary for certain corner moldings.
What about electrical?
Standard electrical boxes which are 76 mm (3") deep can be cut into the EPS insulation panels leaving 10 mm (3/8”) extended beyond the face of EPS panels to accommodate the interior 13 mm (½”) thick gypsum board. Grooving for wires can be done with electrical chain saws, Branding iron, Hand saw,
What about plumbing?
The System is typically used for construction of exterior walls of a building. Plumbing is rarely placed in exterior walls, however, if necessary this is done by grooving out the foam as required with electrical chain saws, Branding iron, Hand saw,
What about setting floors?
Floors can be set on top of the concrete walls, cast in joist or hung off a ledger. The Advantage ICF System installation manual provides typical connection details. However, other structural details may be accommodated. Window Bucks Window and door openings are easily incorporated into the Advantage System.
What about installing windows and doors?
A door or window can work with the Advantage ICF System leaving architecturally pleasing deep wall thicknesses, window seats, ledges, etc.
How much does it cost?
The ICF System is competitively priced with stick framed buildings, however, reduced energy use, lower insurance, lower maintenance costs and enhanced resale price may provide additional long-term construction/ ownership values.
What is your R-value?
The effective R-Value of a wall formed with the Advantage ICF System is approximately R-23. See our R-Value information.
Concrete doesn’t burn.
Wood frame buildings are flammable. The majority of residential fires in Canada involve wood-frame buildings and usually involve significant property loss. Fire spreads easily in multi-unit wood residences, endangering occupants, their property, and firefighters.
The structural integrity of concrete provides added protection against earthquakes and severe weather.
Seismic design principles for concrete buildings of all sizes are well-established. Engineers, designers and construction crews are readily available, skilled and experienced in applying those principles to erect safe concrete structures that are known to stand the test of time.
Concrete is not moisture sensitive, is not subject to rot or to rain or wind damage.
With the exception of British Columbia, wood frame construction in Canada is restricted to four storeys or less because of fire safety concerns. Four-storey wood frame construction needs careful engineering.
There are significant public health and safety risks in the use of wood-frame construction in buildings of more than four storeys. Wood’s natural combustibility must be offset by costly measures to mitigate the spread of fire. Active sprinkler systems must be installed and maintained, and a sufficient water supply must be maintained at all times. This places additional water demands on the municipality to ensure fire protection to these structures.
Environmental effects on building envelopes increase with building height, and the design and construction of wood buildings to address these challenges is still evolving. There is a shortage of carpenters with the technical knowledge and experience to erect six-storey wood frame buildings, which rely on new design systems and materials for fire protection and seismic resistance.
All these factors affect building envelope stability and could compromise the safety and health of occupants, as well as leading to loss of value as the building ages.
Health and air quality
Most building materials and finishes are a source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are commonly found in indoor air. Many VOCs are toxic.
Concrete is not a source of toxic VOCs and presents no health risk to residents. It requires no protective finishes.
Furthermore, the solid construction of concrete buildings helps prevent the entry of pollen, dust and other airborne pollutants.
Wood is an organic material and supports the growth of mould, mildew and other potentially harmful microorganisms or insects. It is also vulnerable to rot and damage from moisture, wind and weather. For this reason, wood requires preservatives, sealants, stains and finishes, all of which are sources of potentially harmful VOCs.
Also plentiful in VOCs are the glues required to produce the plywood and chipboard used in wood-frame construction.
A wood-frame wall is a collection of components including studs, gypsum boards, sheathing and insulation. Each joint and connection is a potential air leak. These leaks can bring in pollen, dust, insects, spores and microorganisms.
Lower energy costs
Concrete residences are more energy efficient. The thermal mass of concrete allows concrete walls to act as thermal reservoirs. This means that, with the same insulation, a concrete home stays warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer than a wood-frame home.
Concrete construction forms an integral wall that is solid, continuous and airtight. Besides having the advantage of mass, today's concrete home building systems utilize cost-effective, highly efficient insulation to keep a residence dry and comfortable year-round, with lower utility bills.
The Cobalt Engineering Report shows average energy savings of 20% to 25% between light frame buildings (wood) and heavy frame buildings (concrete) in various locations across Canada when active energy systems such as hydronic heatings are incorporated in the structure. The Stantec Consultants Report compares annual energy use in a building constructed in the 1960s with one built using modern energy- efficient thermal mass concepts. The savings found through energy use monitoring are as high as 59%.
Wood-frame residences are lightweight, compared to concrete, and do not have the advantage of thermal mass. They require extra insulation to maintain comfortable steady state interior environments.
Because a wood-frame wall is a collection of components with many joints and connections, air leaks out, taking your heating and air conditioning with it. Air leakage accounts for a large percentage of energy loss from any home.
Lower repair and maintenance costs
Concrete is a natural building material that gains strength over time, with an effective 100-year service life that conserves resources.
Concrete is durable, which means few repairs, and lower maintenance costs – adding up to a solid investment.When it’s built with concrete, it’s built to last.
Concrete is an unappealing food source for termites, carpenter ants or rodents that often live in and dine on wood-framed walls, causing substantial structural damage.
Retaining property value is a concern with wood-frame buildings. Wood is less durable than other construction materials; continuous attention and timely maintenance are required to protect against weather damage, moisture infiltration, insects and moulds.
The solid construction of concrete buildings brings the added benefit of comfort and a greater sense of privacy in multi-residential buildings. Concrete walls and floors acoustically insulate you from your neighbours outside traffic noise. Allergens don’t gain entry, and it’s draft-free living all year- round. The lower energy bills are comforting too.
Wood-framed buildings transmit sound much more easily than concrete, both from inside and outside the building. Drafts and allergens are also more common.
ICF Homes – Beauty That Lasts
Discover a home building solution that offers a healthier living environment, advanced design possibilities and lower energy bills. The difference is ICF (insulating concrete forms), a building process well established in North America. Approximately 40,000 ICF homes have been built since the early 90s. Currently about 100 distributors and manufacturers of ICF systems serve the Canadian market. For the custom homebuilder, ICF represents a real advantage. It's quick to use, easy to manipulate, and requires a small number of skilled labourers – a real advantage in today's marketplace, given the shortage of skilled framers.
With innovative concrete homebuilding systems, you can build a beautiful concrete home in any style with great benefits such as energy efficiency and added safety, as well as peace and quiet. Concrete is simply the best way to build a better home.
Beautiful homes, built to last. That's the beauty of concrete!
Space Age Insulation
Today's concrete home benefits greatly from the progress that has been made in home insulation over the past 20 years. Many insulated concrete wall systems use polystyrene blocks or panels as the formwork into which reinforcing steel and concrete are placed. These polystyrene forms are left in place to give your home an exceptional R-value. For concrete masonry homes, insulation choices range from foiled backed batts to polystyrene panels. Standard hollow masonry units can be filled with insulating materials.
For more information see: Insulating Concrete Forms
Smart Design = Savings
When designing today's concrete home, smart builders are able to realize considerable savings by using concrete's energy efficiency to justify smaller heating and air conditioning systems. This results in a comfortable home with correspondingly smaller heating and air conditioning bills. The bottom line - savings are realized up-front and throughout the life of a home.
For further information see: Concrete Homes Save Energy
Concrete Homes Save Energy
Building a concrete home with insulating concrete forms (ICFs) saves energy and money. The greater insulation, tighter construction and temperature-moderating mass of the walls conserve heating and cooling energy much better than conventional wood-frame walls. This reduces monthly fuel bills. It also allows use of smaller heating and cooling equipment, saving money in construction.
How much will I save?
Houses built with ICF exterior walls require an estimated 44% less energy to heat and 32% less energy to cool than comparable frame houses. The bigger the house, the bigger the savings. In colder areas of the U.S. and Canada, savings on heating will be greater and cooling will be less. In hotter regions, heating savings will be less and cooling savings more.
The smaller heating and cooling equipment needed for such an energy-efficient house can cut construction costs by an estimated $500 to $2000. The biggest equipment savings come with the houses that have the most energy savings.
How do we know all this?
The energy savings estimates are from a study of 58 single-family houses across the US and Canada. Half had exterior walls constructed with concrete using ICFs made of expanded polystyrene (EPS) or extruded polystyrene (XPS) foam.
The other half were neighboring houses with wood-frame walls. All houses were less than 6 years old.
The researchers compared the energy bill of each concrete house to its frame counterpart, carefully correcting for important differences to get an “apples-to-apples” comparison.
Estimates of equipment savings are actual numbers reported by contractors who build ICF houses.
Where do the savings come from?
Insulating values for ICF walls using polystyrene foam are R-17 to R-26, compared to wood frame’s R-9 to R-15. ICF walls are expected to cut conduction losses through foundation and above-grade walls in half. And ICF walls are tighter. In tests, they averaged about half as much infiltration (air leakage) as wood-frame homes.
The energy efficiency of ICF houses has been independently verified by other agencies. They compared the energy use of single family houses with various exterior walls including ICF, concrete masonry and wood framing. The results show that in almost all climates across the US and Canada, concrete homes use less energy for heating and cooling.
But ICF walls do more than cut down on energy loss. Concrete gives them the heat-absorbing property, “thermal mass,” the ability to smooth out large temperature swings. It keeps the walls warmer when the outdoor temperature hits its coldest extreme and cooler when the outdoor temperature is hottest. The walls “add back” heat or cooling, which contributes about 6% of the required energy for free.
Since the energy needed is less, furnaces and compressors that heat and cool can be smaller. And the more the energy savings, the greater the possible reduction in equipment size —and cost.
Estimating the size of heating and cooling equipment for concrete homes is complicated because the effect of thermal mass must be simulated in a computer program. But the software tool “HVAC Sizing for Concrete Homes” takes care of the difficult calculations. All you have to do is enter information about the house, like location, house size and wall construction.
What's the bottom line?
In planning a new home, you can estimate that building with ICFs will save hundreds of dollars per year in energy costs. You may also save hundreds or thousands of dollars in construction costs for heating and cooling equipment. Talk with an ICF home builder for estimates.
ARE ICFS WORTH THE ADDED INITIAL COST?
The Canadian winter is a worthy adversary and every year we utilize a wealth of natural resources in keeping it at bay. One of the most effective arrows in the green building quiver are ICFs. These insulated concrete forms enable home and business owners to protect their buildings against the winter cold and summer heat. Creating an effective building envelope helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slash energy consumption. ICFs do cost more and so we must weigh the benefits of this cutting-edge building technology against the added cost to see if the initial outlay is worth it.
SO JUST HOW MUCH MORE DO ICFS COST?
ICFs are polystyrene blocks that are stacked to form the building’s outer shell. The wall systems are reinforced with rebar and then filled with concrete to form an insulated barrier against energy loss. Thanks to the revolutionary construction method, the walls can be built in a fraction of the time it takes to create traditional homes. Despite the savings in labour and time, the ICF wall systems will still cost 10-15% more than a traditional 2×6 wood-frame structure.
Despite the large initial outlay, ICFs have a ROI of 10-12 years as the home and business owner enjoys reduced utility bills. It must be noted that this saving can only be expected in structures where the insulated building envelope’s integrity remains high. This means that ICFs must be complimented with high R-value window systems and adequate roofing insulation. Where the building envelope is sound, owners can anticipate a 30-40% reduction in energy bills when compared to a stick-frame building of equitable proportions. Of course these estimates do not take into account the increased resale value of a property built with ICFs.
BENEFITS OF ICFS OVER WOOD-FRAME HOMES
Wood-frame homes have insulation gaps and thermal bridging through which precious energy is lost. The ICF structure is not afflicted by any of these issues and will enjoy an R-20 to R-28 rating for its entire lifetime. ICFs are extremely resilient and offer protection from fires, earthquakes, severe storms and flooding. ICF buildings can withstand winds of 200-300 mph (compared to the 120 mph of stick-frames) and have a 4-hour fire rating.
Because ICFs are made with concrete, they don’t rot or mold and are not affected by insects as is the case with wood-frame structures. Wood-frame buildings contain chemicals and adhesives that compromise indoor air quality throughout the building’s life. The concrete and EPS of ICFs are non-toxic and do not compromise indoor air quality at all.
The thick concrete walls created by ICF wall systems reduce noise by 30%, making them the perfect option for buildings near high traffic zones.
IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT
ICF homes last longer than wood-frame homes so the natural resources are used to maximum effect. Wood-frame homes utilize valuable timber and require more energy to heat and cool which results in more greenhouse gas emissions.
One of the biggest advantages offered by ICFs is thermal mass. Here the concrete walls absorb heat during the day and radiate this energy back into the house when temperatures drop. ICF buildings contribute a thermal mass of 20Btu/sq. ft. x °F compared to the 3 Btu/sq. ft. x °F offered by timber-frame homes.
Building with ICFs also vastly reduces construction waste when compared to timber-framed homes. 60% of the weight of ICF blocks is made up of recycled materials and ICF wall systems contribute 20 points to LEED ratings.
Accurate comparisons between homes are difficult at best. The integrity of a timber-frame home envelope depends largely on the quality of its construction. You can only take advantage of the added insulation offered by ICFs if the entire structure of the building is properly insulated (doors, windows, roofing and HVAC systems). Different ICF manufacturers offer different R-values and workmanship also plays a part in the overall energy savings.