A concrete home may sound like a cold structure with no personality, but homes built with insulated concrete forms (ICF) are far from this.
Faced with the challenge of building a Scottish castle for a client in 2014, Leigh Overland, owner of Leigh Overland Architect in Danbury, researched the best design for the structure and discovered ICF, which was developed in Germany and has become popular in the United States and Canada.
ICFs are hollow foam blocks that are stacked into the shape of the exterior walls of a building, reinforced with steel rebar, and filled with concrete, and then brick, stucco, or siding is attached to the outside, according to Overland. Plumbing and electrical are run through the foam after the walls are poured.
“It’s quite an interesting way to build a home, with many economic features not available in a standard wood-frame house,” Overland explains. “Additionally, for the same price as wood, ICF is fire-, storm- and mold- and termite-resistant.”
An ICF home in Union Beach, N.J. was the only building left intact when Superstorm Sandy struck the beachfront properties in 2012. “I foresee ICF having a high demand for rebuilding recently devastated areas,” Overland comments. “It will not burn, sag, crack, absorb moisture, rot, or grow mold.”
“ICF’s growth has seen a significant surge in this past decade, and I expect it to outperform our wood construction within the decade,” Overland asserts, adding that all of his buildings are now built using ICF.
Recently, Overland designed a home in Easton using ICF, and he sees the demand for this product growing. “This particular client approached us with a request for a modular home. We provided her with significantly more customization with the speed of a modular, but many times the quality at the same price,” Overland recounts.
The home also includes an SIP (structural insulated panel) roof that’s lowered onto the structure and sealed from the exterior. With no gaps in the walls and roof, ICF homes test at three times the efficiency of wood-frame construction, Overland says. “This can save ICF homeowners 50% to 75% on utility costs.”
“We put in an energy recovery ventilation (ERV) system, which is the energy recovery process of exchanging the energy contained in normally exhausted building or space air and using it to treat (precondition) the incoming outdoor ventilation air in residential and commercial HVAC systems,” Overland explains. “The ERV brings in air from outside, and as it comes in, it filters that air (and warms or cools) and little tubes bring the air into each room. If the air is coming through joints [as in wood-frame homes], you’re breathing in air that’s not as good as from the ERV system.”
The Easton home is on a busy street, but when you close the door, you hear nothing. ICF homes have good acoustics, allowing for a quieter and more enjoyable living space.
“The client is living in a design she loves with minimal maintenance, and it doesn’t take a lot to cool or heat,” Overland concludes. “Her happiness is going to be consistent.” For more information, visit ldoverland.com.